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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, satisfying luxury buyers with its badge and its newly suave styling, giving enthusiasts more to cheer about with its brisk acceleration and handling, and making more room for all its passengers while boosting its gas-mileage numebrs.
On styling alone, the latest X3's a vast 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 eight-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.
Now almost the size of the first X5, the X3 has added noticeable, usable space inside, mostly in rear-seat leg room. There's soaring headroom all around, and behind the front seats, nice rectangular nacelles that might even fit a pair of size-13 feet. The rear bench seat comes in two variants, one segmented to flip and fold in more ways for added cargo flexibility.
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.
A revamped features list shows, indirectly, some of the cost benefits of bringing the X3 in to the American family. Automatic climate control, eight-way power seats, a basic iPod and USB adapter, Bluetooth, HD Radio, and a 205-watt, 12-speaker sound system are all included even in the base X3 xDrive28i model. A big, bright 8.8-inch LCD screen looms front and center on navigation-equipped vehicles. Leather seating, a big panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate controls and a full iPod integration kit are available, bringing the X3 fully into the luxury-crossover fold.