Although at the time of this writing The Car Connection hasn't yet driven the base model, we have spend a driving day with the single-turbo six-cylinder X3, tweaked to 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. BMW promises a 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds to 60 mph with this powertrain, along with a limited top speed of 150 mph. Those numbers approach the figures generated by the 3-Series sedan, not to mention a few generations of M3 derivatives; it's the kind of straight-line acceleration that confuses your brain, which thinks that this kind of ride height automatically translates to "plodding."
The sole transmission this time around in the X3 is an eight-speed automatic. There's no manual option, but the automatic is staged so lower gears boost grunt, while upper gears lock up via a torque converter to help fuel economy. Available paddle shifters (in a crossover!) are a mixed message: they keep you from removing a hand from the wheel, but we couldn't find any gear indicator on any of the LCD screens.
More electronics bedazzle the suspension and steering, but in the 2011 X3 they've been configured to encourage set-and-forget driving. It's still classic MacPherson strut and multi-link rear suspensions, with electronic shocks grafted on and tailored with a Driving Dynamics Control switch located near the gearshift lever. Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes are offered, and they adjust not only the dampers, but the throttle, transmission and steering feel according to the selected mode. For better or worse, the X3 feels best in Sport mode, with swifter steering and tauter ride feel. The ride quality isn't harmed at all—it's not meaningfully cushier in Normal mode, but there's head toss all the time, the burden of carlike handling imposed on tall vehicles—and the steering bulks up to BMW's usual heft. The steering feel could use more fiddling, as it builds up cornering feel even during lower-speed turns and lane changes but doesn't unwind with much feel or linearity.
Although mild off-roading isn't completely off the 2011 BMW X3's roster of capabilities, the road is still the priority. 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 can flex to send 100 percent of available power to either end of the vehicle. A Performance Control system fixes the split at 20/80 when the corners grow close and tight, and other programming in the strong brakes clamps down on the inside rear wheel to cut a tighter path.