2014 BMW X3 Review

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Trims

xDrive28i
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Starting At: $38,594
xDrive35i
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Starting At: $42,999

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2014 BMW X3 Overview

2014 BMW X3

For the past decade or so, high-end luxury car brands like BMW and Mercedes-Benz have been venturing into the lower end of the automotive marketplace, testing the waters with more affordable premium vehicles. In an attempt to broaden sales to price-conscious buyers, these automakers have released new lines like the 1 Series and the C 250 Sedans, respectively, with price tags hovering around $30,000, or even lower in some cases. Typically these smaller luxury-oriented vehicles are unveiled and tested in Europe first before making their way to U.S. shores. That's the exact route taken by BMW's newest and smallest compact SUV, the X1, which debuted in Europe in 2010 and in Canada in 2012 before hitting U.S. showrooms for the 2013 model year. And judging by early sales figures, BMW's move toward vehicles with a smaller footprint is proving to be a big hit with buyers.

While it doesn't quite crack the sub-$30,000 mark, the X1 features all of BMW's latest technology and hottest design philosophy stuffed into a diminutive and affordable package measuring just 176.5 inches in length, which makes it 6.5 inches shorter than the BMW X3, 6 inches shorter than the 3 Series sedans and 4.3 inches longer than the 1 Series sedans. When stacked up against competitors like the Infiniti EX37, the X1 again comes up short by 5.8 inches. You get the picture. However, BMW works a certain kind of magic inside, since the X1 doesn't necessarily feel small. The same applies outside, where the X1's long snout, lowered cabin, rising sidelines and well-balanced proportions make it look larger than it really is.

Passengers will find relatively generous cabin space, especially in the front, where the driver and passenger have plenty of legroom and headroom. Even the back seat should prove comfortable enough for two adults, though squeezing a third person into the second row can make for a tight fit. In another positive development, the X1 offers plenty of cargo space, even with its small footprint. With the 40/20/40-split rear seatback up, the X1 offers 25 cubic feet of storage space, which expands to 56 cubic feet with the rear seatback folded down.

Following its U.S. launch in 2013, the 4-door BMW X1 Sport Activity Vehicle, as it's officially referred to by BMW, receives only minor updates for 2014, all on the options list. For instance, BMW now offers such features as power seats, automatic headlights and a premium Harman Kardon surround-sound audio system as standalone options, while satellite radio and ambiance lighting are now part of a Premium Package.

For 2014, BMW again offers the X1 in rear-wheel-drive (RWD) sDrive28i and all-wheel-drive (AWD) xDrive28i and xDrive35i trims. A 2.0-liter twin-turbocharged 4-cylinder engine powers the sDrive28i and xDrive28i trims, while the xDrive35i continues to receive a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6. The 4-cylinder generates 240 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, while the V6 puts out 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque. Because BMW borrowed both engines directly from the larger X3 and fitted them into the smaller, lighter X1, they deliver good, solid performance, with 0-60 times of around 6.3 seconds for the 4-cylinder trims and 5.3 seconds for the V6-powered 35i. In the sDrive28i and xDrive28i, the 4-cylinder engine mates to an 8-speed ZF Steptronic automatic transmission with Sport and Manual shift modes, while the V6 in the xDrive35i links to a 6-sped Steptronic automatic. Fuel economy numbers for the 4-cylinder engine check in at 24 mpg city/34 highway, while the V6 manages 18/27. Both engines feature an auto stop-start function, which helps conserve fuel, and both require premium fuel.

The X1 gets good marks from reviewers for its capable performance and handling, aided in part by plenty of low-end torque and the smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic transmission in the 28i trims. Turbo lag remains minimal, if evident at all, thanks to BMW's TwinTurbo technology. But because of the 35i's older 6-speed transmission, many reviewers recommend the 28i trims, especially the xDrive28i with AWD, which they say offers the best performance of the lot.

The X1's ride feels firm, testers note, due in part to X1's short wheelbase, but it's not an uncomfortable ride, even over rough road surfaces. The X1's underpinnings provide an agile ride with good overall road manners, and the power steering systems deliver a precise feel with good feedback, although some testers prefer the older hydraulic steering system on the 28i trims to the electronic Servotronic vehicle-speed-sensitive steering unit on the 35i. Buyers who seek sportier handling can opt for an M Sport Package, which adds a sport suspension and an aerodynamic exterior kit, as well as a number of sport-oriented interior features like sport seats and a leather-wrapped M sport steering wheel with paddle shifters.

Inside, the X1 offers a classy, comfortable cabin, with high-quality materials and good fit and finish. The dash and instrument cluster will look familiar to anyone who has spent any time inside a BMW, with the instrument panel slightly angled toward the driver, and clean, flowing lines in front of the passenger. Some testers aren't happy with the shift lever, which they say is awkwardly located, but the front seats are supportive and comfortable, with 8-way manual adjustment, and the high sitting position for the driver provides good visibility out the front. Standard features in the cabin include leatherette upholstery, with optional leather, and a 3-spoke leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with a tilt/telescopic column and integrated audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls. Satin Silver Matte interior trim adds an upscale feel, while tech features include BMW's programmable iDrive onboard computer and controller, as well as an 8-speaker, 180-watt audio system with HD radio, a CD/MP3 player, an iPod port and an auxiliary input jack. Remote keyless entry and power windows and door locks are also included.

BMW offers a number of add-on packages for the X1, but they can quickly inflate the price, reviewers note. In addition to the M Sport Package, a Cold Weather Package adds heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, while a Premium Package adds leather upholstery, ambiance lighting, 8-way power-adjustable front seats with driver's-side memory, a panoramic moonroof, satellite radio and auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors. An Ultimate Package also includes a navigation system with real-time traffic, a rear-view camera and Park Distance Control. Buyers can also add navigation separately as part of a Technology Package. An 11-speaker, 340-watt Harman Kardon Surround Sound audio system becomes a separate option for 2014, although it requires an upgrade to either the Ultimate or Technology Packages.

Outside, BMW's signature dual-kidney grille dominates the front end, while a raised hood with angled lines, sweptback halogen headlights and halogen free-form foglights add to the X1's muscular appearance. Matte black roof rails come standard, along with LED taillights and chrome exhaust tips. The sDrive28i and xDrive28i ride on 17-inch light-alloy wheels, while the xDrive35i gets 18-inch light-alloy wheels.

Standard safety features for the X1 include 6 airbags, daytime running lights, Hill Descent Control, Dynamic Stability Control and ventilated antilock disc brakes with Dynamic Brake Control, brake drying and brake-fade compensation. BMW also includes its Assist eCall system, with automatic collision notification and emergency request, and its Remote Services, which includes remote door unlock, stolen vehicle recovery and BMW app services.

While owners generally like the 2013 X1, they do offer a few words of caution for prospective buyers of the 2014 version. In many ways, the X1 meets or exceeds owner expectations, but some complain that fuel economy numbers are not as good as promised, and a few report problems with the tires. However, overall owners find the X1 to be practical, comfortable, reliable and fun to drive, and some even call it a good overall value, thanks to its affordability.

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