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BMW's 3-Series is widely thought of by enthusiasts (and us) as being one of the best compact sport sedans in the world; which makes it all the more surprising that, until the introduction of the current X3, for 2011, BMW hadn't yet found its compact-crossover mojo with the X3.
While the previous X3 was a little harsh, a little plasticky inside, and just too much like an ill-tuned 3-Series wagon on stilts, the 2013 X3 hits all the right marks, satisfying luxury buyers with its badge and its 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 numbers.
The X3's look, if we had to sum it up, would be lean, pert, and graceful. The sweeping character lines that distinguish its doors now wouldn't be out of place on a 3-Series wagon. It doesn't try too hard to look rugged; and all of it--and the key to the X3's high-class look--is infused with more attention to detail and more attention to surfacing than before, without going overboard on functionless style, as BMW's seen in its recent past. Inside, there are soft-touch materials everywhere the driver or passengers might put their hands, and the way it all comes together is not just calming, but de-cluttered an at ease with its mission.
BMW has gone all-turbo with its sedans already, and for 2013 it happens for the X3. What had essentially been the unthinkable just a few years ago is now reality: Instead of the sweet, much-loved normally aspirated in-line six-cylinder engines, there's a 2.0-liter Twin Power four in the X3 xDrive28i and a 300-hp turbo six in the xDrive35i. Essentially, it's the same 2.0-liter 'N20' TwinPower four that's offered in those other cars—making 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That's the same power, but 39 pound-feet more torque than last year's engine. And the payback is significant: EPA fuel economy ratings get boosted to 21 mpg city, 28 highway, up from 19/25 for last year's six-cylinder xDrive28i.
BMW says that the 2013 X3 28i accelerates to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, but even that feels a bit conservative (the 35i takes just 5.5 seconds, though). The BMW four spools up very quick, with peak torque reached at a diesel-like 1,250 rpm (all the way up to 4,800 rpm). Factor in the quick, ratcheting-yet-isolated shifts of the eight-speed automatic transmission here, and the character of the powertrain is muted and smooth yet precise and responsive. And with a Driving Dynamics Control system, you can select between several 'attitudes,' like Eco Pro, to best fit your priorities.
Now almost the size of the first X5--although still not as large as the Cadillac SRX, for instance--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 power tailgate is newly standard for 2013, while 19-inch wheels are added to the M Sport Package; separately, Lane Departure Warning is newly offered as part of the Driver Assistance Package.
All models have standard power front seats; automatic climate control; Bluetooth; and an audio system with 205 watts of power, 12 speakers, a USB port, HD and satellite radio. BMW's iDrive system is standard, too, but if you add navigation you also get a large 8.8-inch LCD screen that displays information from the audio, phone, and navigation systems, and comes bundled with real-time traffic information and full iPod integration. A head-up display, panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting, Park Distance Control, xenon adaptive headlamps, a heated steering wheel, and a navigation system with real-time traffic are all among the possibilities, mostly grouped in rather expensive option packages. All said, you can price even an X3 xDrive28i well above $50k.
- Pert yet curvy look
- Soft, finely detailed cabin
- Excellent seats
- Responsive, efficient powertrains
- Great maneuverability
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- Kludgy start-stop
- Expensive options
- Noisy idle (28i)
- Tall, but not much for the trail