Shoppers walking into a BMW showroom looking for one of its Sport Activity Vehicles this summer will certainly be spoiled for choice – the now four-strong range steps up through the latest entry, the X1, to the X3, the X5 and the X6 – but it’s a good bet most will still drive off in one of the new-for-2011, second-generation X3s.
Which shouldn’t be surprising as the original X3, which made its debut in 2004 as a follow-up to BMW’s first effort X5 – despite coming up a bit short in some areas and being almost universally flagellated by the auto media for its “brutal” ride – has proven a popular crossover alternate with Bimmer enthusiasts. And the new one is the best seller of the bunch so far this year.
That could change when the less-expensive, compact, entry level X1 hits its stride – it’s anticipated to account for as much as a quarter of X-model sales. But maybe not, as the now larger – both outside and in side – and otherwise refined X3 will remain more right-sized and priced for many buyers of this type of BMW.
The new-gen X3 arrived early this year in two variants. The X3 xDrive35i is priced at $46,900 and powered by an inline-six displacing 3.0 litres and turbocharged to pump output up to 300 hp. The entry xDrive28i, which we’ll look at here, has a similar 3.0-litre, normally aspirated motor making an improved 240 hp and lists at $41,900.
This latest X3 is built (in the United States) on a new platform that brings with it improvements in safety, rigidity and lighter weight. It’s a little larger in most dimensions, with length up 83 mm, width 28 mm, height 12 mm, and it has a longer wheelbase and a wider track.
Benefits include enough additional room inside to at least partially answer complaints about the rather tight quarters of the previous generation. This is most noticeable in the rear compartment where space for most body parts improves and new doors make getting in and out easier. But the middle passenger, perched on the hard pad in the rear seat’s centre section, still won’t be very happy.
Cargo space has also been increased a bit to a useful if still not generous 1,600 litres, accessed by a larger hatch.
Around all this has been wrapped restyled sheet metal that retains the gen-one character but with additional eye-appeal, and manages to convey the sense it’s larger and more substantial than the increases in dimensions would dictate.
The interior redesign is particularly attractive and still very much driver-focused with an instrument panel that presents the simple gauge cluster through the top segment of a thick-rimmed wheel, and a centre stack within reach to the right with large info screen and HVAC controls. A contoured centre console, covered on the test unit in $585 worth of Fineline Sienna Wood trim, is topped by the neat shift lever and the easy enough to figure out fourth-generation multi-function iDrive controller.
The power/heated seats are typically BMW, firmly bolstered and covered in a good-looking leatherette and the equipment list includes the things you’d expect for the price, including auto climate control and Bluetooth.
Overall, this interior gets high marks. It’s not cluttered with gadgetry, but has all the things you need to drive the vehicle and control your personal environment.
Those opting for the entry 28i won’t find it short of performance, with the silky 3.0-litre inline-six making 240 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque. That’s not a lot of torque to motivate an 1,865-kg crossover but a transmission with eight ratios in its repertoire makes the most of it to deliver lively around-town drivability – 0-100 km/h acceleration time of 7.1 seconds is only a little more than a second slower than the 35i – and easy and fairly frugal cruising.
Fuel economy ratings are 10.8 litres/100 km city and 7.9 highway (9.3 at real highway cruising speeds). Average after a week was an indicated 10.0.
BMW took to heart complaints about the ride, but while the new double-ball-joint spring-strut front and multi-link rear suspension produce ride dynamics less abrupt and impactful on passenger’s posteriors, it’s still very firm. As it has to be to attain BMW-style handling in a vehicle of this type and which the 28i delivers.
Given the price – which would perhaps allow you to tick off a few more boxes on BMW’s always extensive option list and perhaps stay within your budget than the 35i – and its more than acceptable overall driving performance, the xDrive28i is the sensible choice between the two.
2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i
Type: Luxury SUV
Price: $41,900; as tested, $47,385
Engine: 3.0-litre, DOHC, inline-six
Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/221 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.4 city/7.9 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Acura RDX, Audi Q5, Land Rover LR2, Cadillac SRX, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Infiniti EX35