2013 BMW X3 Review

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The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 2, 2017

The BMW X3 is a great-looking crossover, with a spacious, versatile, and classy interior; and with the introduction of a new base turbo four for 2013 in the xDrive28i, it gets better mileage with no compromise in performance.

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.

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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 scoots 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 its quick-shifting 8-speed automatic, and the powertrain has a muted and smooth character, precise and responsive. With BMW's Driving Dynamics Control, the owner can select between several pre-programmed modes 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 interior space, 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.

Every X3 has stability control and airbags. Some models with navigation and iDrive allow drivers to change the sensitivity of the stability and traction systems.

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.

8

2013 BMW X3

Styling

The 2013 X3 is pert yet swoopy, and builds upward from BMW's sedan designs.

The X3 was completely redesigned for 2011, to become longer, wider, and more physically impressive than before. It also found more in common visually with other BMW vehicles, in addition to the larger X5.

Rugged and blocky are out, insofar as the X3 is concerned, while 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. The nose tapers low, gently, avoiding the tall, blocky trap set by some other compact crossovers as they attempt to ape "real SUV" lines. LED taillamps like the ones on the 3-Series sedan cap the tail.

All of it--and the key to the X3's high-class look--is infused with more attention to detail and surfacing than before, without going overboard on functionless style, as BMW's seen in its recent past.

The instrument panel won't be unfamiliar to anyone who's been in a BMW vehicle in recent years. The dash arcs to envelop controls and angles them at the driver, adding to the more sedan-like air surrounding the new SUV. But perhaps more importantly is that it's fitted completely with soft-touch surfaces; everything from the middle of the doors on up is soft to the touch and nicely grained.

The overall effect is a relaxed, calming appeal. It's an easy place to live and work, what with its streamlined climate and audio controls--once you accept the iDrive controller sitting below a large LCD screen that links into the connected-driving zeitgeist.

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8

2013 BMW X3

Performance

With a new TwinPower four, the X3 xDrive28i is now quicker and more fuel-efficient; and it handles with the sophistication of a sport sedan.

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 X3 28i accelerates to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, but even that feels a bit conservative; it's the most fleet-footed of the new-generation turbo fours, and 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).

Factor in the ratchet-smooth shifts of the 8-speed automatic here, and the powertrain's character comes across as muted and smooth but responsive. Driving Dynamics Control can change all that, as drivers select from among its modes, from Eco Pro to Sport+.

With the turbo-6 engine in the 35i models, 60 mph comes in just 5.5 seconds, on the X3's way to a 150-mph top speed. Those numbers bring "3-Series" to mind, and for good reason--they're almost enough to knock off some recent vintage M3s. Of the crossovers that claim car-like handling, the X3 backs it up best, with much of the 3-Series' excellent road manners left intact despite the tall-wagon body.

Just as in the 3-Series and 5-Series, 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 moment you even start to lift pressure off the brake, the engine restarts--quite seamlessly most of the time. What disappointed us in this application was the way in which the engine shut off--with a full-body shudder that actually shook the X3's body on its tires if we'd already rolled to a full stop. Whether it's different engine mounts, the taller body, or something else, it's less refined here.

The X3's user-configurable suspension and steering are executed better than those 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 sharpest in Sport mode, where the electronics set up swifter steering responses and tauter ride feel. The steering needs another round of fiddling, as it 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 dare say we got more steering feel through the unit, surprisingly, than through the base electric steering system that's now included in the sedans.

Although mild off-roading isn't completely off the 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.

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2013 BMW X3

Comfort & Quality

Superb details and excellent fit and finish, combined with soft-touch materials throughout, set a premium ambiance.

At about 183 inches long and 74 inches wide, with a wheelbase of 110.6 inches, the X3 is sized almost identically with the Audi Q5, and a bit longer than the Mercedes-Benz GLK Class or shorter than the Cadillac SRX.

The 2013 X3 makes good use of its space, with firm, properly angled front seats surrounded by copious head and leg room. Second-row passengers have even more space--it's where the added length is most noticeable, and where the X3 takes the lead over vehicles like the Q5 and GLK Class. The back seats have room carved out for feet, under the front seat, and head room soars. Get the sport seats in front--which we recommend--and you get extendable thigh bolsters and more aggressive side bolsters; they feel a little firmer at first, but they're great for long-distance comfort.

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 split 60:40, or optionally, in 40:20:40 segments for better flexibility. The cargo area itself is lovingly detailed, with rich carpet, some of the most refined seatback latches we've ever seen, and metal cargo rails with zero tolerance for poor fit.

Overall, the new X3 is so much more sophisticated in design and execution, especially inside. All the materials from the middle of the doors on up are soft-touch, with really nice-looking grains, and the net effect is that the cabin has a muted ambiance that helps soak up harsh sounds both from conversations inside the car and, we suspect from the outside. Although the ride is firm, and you do hear the mechanical sounds of the four-cylinder engine a bit at idle, the cabin is in general very well isolated from road and wind noise.

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2013 BMW X3

Safety

Top Safety Pick status plus excellent handling and some active-safety options add up to impressive safety.

The 2013 BMW X3 manages, like many offerings from high-end German luxury makers, to satisfy both a need for tried-and-true occupant safety, as well as some innovative advanced-tech safety features.

Standard safety features on the X3 include all the usual airbags, active front head restraints, 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 stability-control mode with a higher threshold of intervention also aids traction and confidence in snow. A head-up system is also on offer and might help reduce driver distraction.

In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, the 2013 X3 gets "good" ratings for all its relevant crash tests, which means the crossover is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. It hasn't yet been rated in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test, however, nor by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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2013 BMW X3

Features

Ticking all the option boxes can send the X3's pricetag well over the $50,000 mark--even for four-cylinder models.

The 2013 BMW X3 comes with no lack of standard features; but just as with other BMW models, if you want some of the best infotainment, luxury, or performance items, you'll need to pay extra.

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.

And for those who want to keep their eyes on the road, there's an available head-up display on offer that projects all the information essential to driving in a discreet section of the windshield.

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.

Other optional offerings include a Sport Activity Package (aluminum-satin roof rails, sport seats, sport steering wheel, X-line exterior trim, anthracite headliner); Premium Package (universal garage-door opener, panoramic moonroof, ambient lighting, additional storage); Technology Package (rearview camera, Park Distance Control, navigation with real-time traffic, BMW Assist); Convenience Package (xenon headlamps, rear side sunshades, and Comfort Access entry); and Cold Weather Package (heated front seats and a heated steering wheel).

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6

2013 BMW X3

Fuel Economy

The X3 xDrive28i gets much-improved gas mileage--thanks to a new turbo four-cylinder engine.

Change has come to the X3 lineup for 2013--with a turbocharged four-cylinder replacing the outgoing normally-aspirated six in the X3 xDrive28i.

The new xDrive28i is rated by the EPA at an impressive 21 mpg city, 28 highway, while the 300-hp xDrive35i earns 19/26-mpg ratings. Both versions get the benefit of an eight-speed automatic.

U.S. versions now also get the Auto Start-Stop system, which wisely stops the engine at stoplights, with your foot on the brake, then restarts the engine when you start to lift off the brake pedal. Unfortunately in the X3, with the four-cylinder engine, it's a little rough in the way that it shuts the engine off.

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April 29, 2015
2013 BMW X3 AWD 4-Door xDrive28i

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Love driving this car. Navigates well in all weather conditions and is sporty enough to get your heart racing on teh corners. Hate the iDrive system for navigating the controls as they are not intuitive and it... + More »
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Styling 8
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 9
Safety 9
Features 8
Fuel Economy 6
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