- Curvy looks
- Upgraded cabin
- Responsive drivetrain
- Handling is balanced
- Ride quality better than average
- Electronic steering feel
- Expensive options
A great-looking crossover with its most carlike performance yet, the BMW X3 also has more interior room and better materials than before.
Today's X3 is German at heart, but it's built here in South Carolina--since last year, when the latest version went into production here. At the same time, BMW redesigned it, making it longer, wider, more spacious, more appealing, and most importantly, more like its energetic 3-Series sedans.
It's not the first luxury crossover you might think of when the pavement turns to dirt, but the X3 hits all its marks. The badge brings in image-conscious buyers while the newly suave styling telegraphs exactly the brisk acceleration and grippy handling to come.
On styling alone, the new X3 is a big improvement over prior versions. It's more gently curved from nose to tail, with a light application of the sculptured panels that brought uncomfortable change to the 7-Series and 5-Series before BMW settled down its styling pens and integrated the grabby surfacing in a more restrained way. The cabin's grown up, too, with a dramatic upgrade to its finishes and the clarity of its controls.
This year, a pair of six-cylinders are available. The base 240-horsepower in-line six does an estimable job of pushing the chunky X3 down the road, to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. But it's the turbocharged, 300-hp version that pings all the right BMW hotspots: its 0-60 mph times of 5.5 seconds aren't far off the mark set by the M3 of a couple generations past, and while there's no manual transmission available, the 8-speed automatic has paddle shifters to keep drivers engaged. Every X3 has sophisticated road manners, generated by a combination of electronically controlled all-wheel drive biased to send torque to the rear wheels, and a well designed independent suspension that offers up excellent ride quality.
The current X3 is nearly the size of the original X5 SUV. Not surprisingly, the usable space inside is noticeable, especially in the back seat. Head room soars throughout the vehicle, and the space under the front seats will make size-13 back-seat passengers happy. As an option, the back seat can split, flip, and fold to boost the X3's usefulness.
Safety features include all the usual airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability systems. In Sport mode, drivers of a navigation-and-iDrive-equipped X3 can customize that Sport mode for differing levels of stability control.
Now that the BMW X3 is built in the U.S., its features cater to American tastes. Every model gets power features, power seats, automatic climate control, a USB port, HD Radio, Bluetooth, and a 12-speaker, 205-watt audio system. The iDrive systems add an 8.8-inch LCD screen strapped to the dash. A panoramic roof, leather, and iPod integration are options.