The BMW X3 small luxury sport-ute reflects only minor changes for 2008. Sharing "platform DNA" with BMW's compact sport sedans ensures that this all-wheel-drive crossover celebrates its "ultimate driving machine" pedigree.
Motivated by BMW's new aluminum-magnesium composite 3.0-liter inline six, which produces 260 hp, this sport-ute's power exhibits the traditional BMW "silky and linear" characteristics. The low end is powerful, and the upper RPM range is bright and energetic. Although 0-60 times vary among reviewers, BMW gives 6.9 seconds with the manual transmission and 7.1 with the automatic. The X3 is available with either a six-speed manual transmission (unique for a sport-ute) or a six-speed Steptronic automatic at no extra charge. The EPA estimates 16/23 mpg with the manual and 17/24 with the automatic - using premium-grade fuel, of course.
Handling is another area where the X3's BMW DNA shines through. Reviewers hail the sporty, competent handling of the vehicle and its minimal body roll, taut and precise steering, and firm, responsive brakes. There was, however, some criticism of the ride's firmness. Some reviewers complain the ride is a bit harsh, while others enjoy the canyon-carving capabilities the firm suspension provides.
The X3's four-wheel disc brakes are a marvel of BMW engineering. Standard equipment includes Brake Drying, which helps dry the rotors in wet conditions; Start-off Assistance, which automatically holds the X3's brakes on for hill starts with the manual transmission; Brake Fade Compensation, which adjusts for any hint of brake fade; and Brake Standby, which sets the brakes for emergency response.
More superlatives appear with regard to the X3's xDrive four-wheel-drive system. It is considered "one of the best all-weather all-drive systems on the market." Based on a computer-controlled multi-plate clutch setup, the rear-wheel-biased system engages front-wheel drive during acceleration and hard cornering. The system is further tied into the Dynamic Stability Control, which adjusts lateral traction to counter oversteer and understeer.
As usual for BMW, the standard safety equipment list is impressive. The X3 features front-seat side air bags, full-length side curtain airbags, active headrests, the Stability Control System, antilock disc brakes, and the various braking features already mentioned. The Institute for Highway safety rates the X3 "good" - its highest score - for both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
The X3 cabin emphasizes functionality over luxury, which is to say it's set up for serious driving. That's not to say that the five-passenger interior is stark. Reviewers praise the tasteful wood trim on the instrument panel and center stack, the leatherette-wrapped armrests, and the nearly perfect driving position afforded by the standard eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with its telescoping steering wheel.
A few reviewers feel the interior materials are not up to the level of the X3's lofty price point. They point out that most class competitors provide leather, rather than vinyl, upholstery as standard. Most reviewers found the cabin's legroom and headroom adequate, although there was some criticism of the firm rear seats as less than comfortable. However, the X3's cargo area, which holds 71 cubic feet when the 60/40 rear seats are folded, won unanimous praise.
The X3 is a BMW-defined sport-ute that combines an intelligent, performance-engineered design with practical cargo-hauling capabilities.