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With rather impressive gas mileage and on-road handling, the 2014 BMW X3 hits the crossover market at the right point for the German automaker. It satisfies the image-conscious in some of the same ways as the related 3-Series sedan, while granting drivers more passenger space. Despite all the arrivals in this luxury niche, the X3 remains one of the better choices.Just don't expect the X3 to look rugged or outdoorsy. That, it doesn't; instead, it looks lean, pert, and graceful, like a tall sport wagon--but with just enough visually in common with the larger X5. Inside, the X5 is elegant but soft, calming, and decluttered--actually blending a driver-centric cockpit feel with the brand's warmer interior look.
The 2014 BMW X3 continues with its all-turbocharged engine lineup, including the new TwinPower four-cylinder that was introduced last year in the X3 xDrive28i. That change booted the naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine to X3 history, but aside from losing the wonderful sound of the six there's nothing to complain about, as the new base engine is stronger and more fuel-efficient. BMW's 240-hp turbo four is the perkiest and most V-6-like of the new-generation turbo fours; foot to the floor, it moves, with no hesitation. Step up to the 35i, and you get the 300-hp, 300 lb-ft TwinPower six that sizzles to a 60-mph acceleration time of 5.5 seconds, and to a top speed of 150 mph. It's just the slightest bit confusing to your mind, since the X3 rides tall like a crossover, but launches with every bit of the authority of a great 3er--that's right, there's just not a lot of squat or nosedive in this vehicle.While the X3 doesn't look trail-focused, mild off-roading isn't off the BMW X3's roster of capabilities. All X3 models come with BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system, which splits power delivery 40/60 percent and is especially good for maintaining traction and poise when the road surface is slippery. It sends 60 percent of torque to the rear wheels in normal driving but can flex to send 100 percent to the rear.
Packaging is where the 2014 X3 sure makes a lot of sense. At about 183 inches long and 74 inches wide, with a wheelbase of 110.6 inches, it has a footprint that's at the large end of compact, among U.S. cars, while its added height gives it roominess and usefulness as an all-purpose family conveyance. It's about the same size as the Audi Q5, and a bit longer than the Mercedes-Benz GLK Class or shorter than the Cadillac SRX.With seating for five, the X3 has a large 19-cubic-foot rear storage area that swells to 56.6 cubic feet when the rear seats are folded down. The rear seats now all have a ski pass-through and 40:20:40 segments for better flexibility and seatback folding. In back, there's space carved out for feet, under the front seat, and head room soars. We recommend the sport seats in front for their extendable thigh bolsters and more aggressive side bolstering; they may feel firmer at first but they're better in long-distance support. And throughout the cabin, BMW has paid close attention to the details.
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.
All X3 models have a power tailgate; power front seats; automatic climate control; a garage-door opener; fog lamps; rain-sensing wipers; dynamic cruise 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, and for 2014 it gets a significant upgrade, to version 4.2--which has many navigation improvements, plus easier menus, a new split-screen layout, improved voice recognition, and 3D city maps. The Technology Package brings many of the top-tech items, including navigation, the head-up display, real-time traffic info, Remote Services, and BMW Apps. Otherwise, options like Lane Departure Warning, Dynamic Damper Control, heated rear seats, and adaptive lighting aren't widely offered, even among luxury-brand crossovers this size.
For 2014, the M Sport Package is offered with a wider range of interior-trim choices, and the Cold Weather Package is offered with Premium Package or Nevada Leather seats. USB and full Bluetooth smartphone integration are newly included with the Technology Package, and all 35i models include trailer pre-wiring.
- Pert, nicely sculpted exterior
- Soft, finely detailed cabin
- Supportive seats
- Strong, fuel-efficient powertrains
- Great maneuverability
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- Expensive options
- Start-stop sometimes misses a beat
- Noisy idle (28i)
- Tall, but not much for the trail