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.
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. BMW says that the X3 28i accelerates to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, but even that feels a bit conservative.
BMW's 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. With direct injection, Double-Vanos variable camshaft timing and Valvetronic variable valve timing, and twin-scroll turbocharging, 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).
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. Automatically, those numbers bring "3-Series" to mind, and with good reason--they're almost enough to knock off some recent vintage M3s. 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.
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.As with most other current BMW models, the X3 comes with Auto Start-Stop, which smartly shuts the engine off when you're at a stoplight, with your foot on the brake pedal. The engine restarts the moment you even start to lift pressure off the brake. Most of the time it's quite seamless, but at times the restart will shake the X3's body.
While the X3 doesn't look super-rugged, 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.
Suspension and steering controls are user-configurable in the X3, but it's better executed than in some other BMW vehicles. The basic suspension is still classic BMW, with MacPherson struts and a multi-link rear. The electronic shocks grafted on can be adapted to the driver's tastes 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. It's a BMW--so it's not a shock that it feels best in Sport mode, where the electronics set up swifter steering responses and tauter ride feel.
We're not huge fans of the base steering system, which builds up cornering feel even during lower-speed turns and lane changes but doesn't unwind with much feel or linearity. A good compromise may be the available Variable Sports Steering, which is essentially just a good variable-ratio rack, providing a relaxed feel on center, at high speeds, but allowing you to more easily maneuver at lower speeds, around tight corners. And we think that you actually get more road feel through this unit.