- Swift and agile
- Manual transmission option
- All-wheel drive is standard
- Enough ground clearance for off-roading
- Dated look
- Stark interior
- Cramped backseat
- Poor fuel economy
- High base price
The 2010 BMW X3 beats other luxury crossovers in handling and gutsy performance, but it's still less satisfying than BMW's own 3-Series wagon.
The 2010 BMW X3 is a compact crossover vehicle with luxury features, the most important of which may be the BMW badge on its nose. A four-door with tight backseat space, the tall-bodied X3 has some traditional BMW handling zest infused into its all-wheel-drive body. Priced from about $40,000, the 2010 X3 takes on the likes of the Cadillac SRX, Acura RDX, Infiniti EX35, Land Rover LR2, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK, and Volvo XC60.
There's nothing wrong with the 2010 X3's exterior or interior styling, except that newer crossovers like the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 have made its clean, flat body panels and dash look dated. It doesn't help that the X3 shares many cues with the larger, more staid-looking BMW X5 and with the new small 2011 BMW X1. What it lacks in distinction, the X3 makes up in balance: The side view is neat and tidy, there's little wrong on the rear end, and even the smallish grilles on the nose don't disrupt its look It's simply in a no-ute's-land, flanked by the bluff-looking Benz GLK and Land Rover LR2 on one side and the sleek Audi and Volvo on the other. Inside, the BMW X3's stark black dash frames big dials and is punctuated by small rectangular buttons, in the old BMW idiom that's being revamped in the newer vehicles coming from the company.
The 2010 X3 is offered with a 260-horsepower, 3.0-liter in-line six-cylinder engine. BMW still offers a six-speed manual transmission with the X3-because it sells many in other markets-but all-wheel drive is standard. A six-speed automatic is a no-cost option. The drivetrain delivers on the expected BMW traits; it's a brisk performer, and with either gearbox, the X3 is responsive and eager. The independent suspension, taller tires, and high 8 inches of ground clearance, however, translate into driving feel that's not what BMW sedan drivers might expect. It's not as sharp or as balanced as the distantly related 3-Series, but it is crisper than most competitors. BMW tones down the harsh, jittery ride of previous editions, but opting for the big 19-inch wheels hardens the X3's responses a bit. The 2010 X3's fuel economy is mildly disappointing at 17/24 mpg, in a class where the Cadillac SRX earns 17/25 mpg and the Volvo XC60, 16/27 mpg.
At 179.9 inches long, with a 110.1-inch wheelbase, the BMW X3 sounds big, but in reality, the space allotted to passengers and cargo is somewhat tight. Front-seat occupants get comfortable, supportive seats and plenty of room, but adults in the backseat will likely find their knees mashed up. The interior's recent update added more storage spaces for smaller items, but the cargo space in back is still only average, at 30 cubic feet behind the second row and 71 cubic feet when the rear seats are lowered. The Acura RDX has nearly as much space with a wheelbase half a foot shorter-and the inexpensive Hyundai Tucson has more interior room at half the price. The X3 has very good fit and assembly quality, but some finishes look inexpensive, particularly the hard plastics around the shifter and on the door panels. There's also considerable tire noise heard in the rear seats.
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has not crash-tested the 2010 BMW X3, but the IIHS gives it "good" ratings for front and side impact protection and calls it a Top Safety Pick. Front side and side-curtain airbags are standard, along with electronic stability control. Rear seat-mounted side airbags are an option. BMW offers parking sensors, but not a rearview camera.
The 2010 BMW X3 has some luxury features in its list of standard equipment, but it's shy of the standard set by some other brands. Mostly, that's because BMW fits all-wheel drive standard and offers an automatic transmission as a no-cost option. All 2010 BMW X3 crossovers come with automatic climate control; dual front power seats; vinyl upholstery; an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with HD radio and an auxiliary port; 17-inch wheels; and heated mirrors. Nifty options include a panorama-style sunroof; heated front and second-row seats; 18- or 19-inch wheels; a sport suspension and sport seats; a premium audio system; a heated steering wheel; Bluetooth connectivity; Sirius Satellite Radio; and an iPod connectivity kit. A DVD navigation system is available, but can seem fussy to operate.