In the old days, BMW was known for making small, nimble sporting sedans such as the legendary 2002. It was a gust of fresh air in a world of heavy, poor handling, low quality, driver unfriendly cars. But that was then. Today, BMW makes everything a buyer could possibly want, with the possible exception of a pick-up truck. They stuck a toe in the SUV water (SAV in BMW-speak, standing for Sports Activity Vehicle, thank you very much) with the very competent, full-sized, X5. However, the Sport-Ute world evolved and smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles came to market and challenged BMW's good, but large offering. Vehicles like the Toyota's RAV-4 and Honda's CRV pointed the way and the "Sport-Cute" revolution became a reality. Not to be out done, BMW came to market with a smaller X5 - the X3 - a vehicle that had several very good things going for it. First, and possibly most important, it was a BMW. Quality, styling, power and handling being the watch words and with few exceptions, like a jiggly ride due to its shorter wheel base, it was well received and became a market success. Today, the marketplace demands even more fuel efficiency and, for once, BMW is in the vanguard with their new BMW X3 xDRIVE28d. Whew! That's a mouthful but it's a a lot of vehicle. The heart of their new SAV is a powerful yet fuel frugal turbo-charged diesel four-banger. Let's take a closer look and see if they have another winner.
First Impression - The new X3 has the new aggressive BMW grill / light treatment so the sport-cute face is gone, thank you very much. Our test driver came in refrigerator white, not the best choice for photography but the paint was flawless - and I looked! As for size, unless you have an X5 next to the X3 (or peeked at the badges) you would have to be a BMW expert to be 100% sure which model you were seeing - that's a good thing. Again, you can forget any description with the word cute in it, please.
The interior in our test X3 had acres of rich looking, great smelling German leather. As with the paint, it was expertly fitted on the seats and door panels. Perhaps, to please the tweed-cap set, there are wood accents everywhere with chrome accents. It looks better than I made it sound.
As befitting a family "truckster", there are neat little cubbys and pockets here and there so both driver and passenger can stash their electronic gear, water bottles, coffee cups, etc. Look at the cavernous pockets in the doors to see what I mean. Speaking of cavernous, the trunk area is big enough for your kid's hockey bag and the bags of a few young passengers.
Speaking of passengers, the rear seat residents will not feel like they are confined to the penalty box. There's a lot of knee, elbow and head room behind the front seats. Surprising, when you consider the X3's overall dimensions.
Final score, the interior gets high marks.
Behind the Wheel - Slide behind the wheel and you instantly know you are in a BMW. The seats are firm and supportive with lots of adjustments to accommodate drivers of almost any size save, maybe, NBA centers and NFL line backers. Controls are pure BMW meaning that the switch gear feels like someone with an oil can lives in the dashboard and lubes the controls just before you click, twist or push something. As they say in NJ - "Like Buttah". The ever present iDrive is still ever present, but, as has been noted in other of my BMW reviews, it's vastly improved and, with practice, easy to master. Visibility out the greenhouse reminds me of the aforementioned BMW 2002 series cars. There are no blind spots - a hallmark of good design.
On the Road - The heart of any BMW is under the hood and so it is with this X3. The new "oil burner" jumps to life easily and settles down to a smooth and eerily quiet idle almost immediately. Click the console-mounted shifter into D and you're off. The only transmission is an 8-speed (not a typo) STEPTRONIC automatic with both sport and manual overrides and it delivers sewing-machine-like smoothness. In normal driving, you will probably never notice the shifts unless you are watching the tachometer.
Acceleration from the small (2.0 liter) engine is brisk and quiet. The new new mill produces 180 horsepower and a respectable 280 lb-ft of torque, available from 1,750 rpm. That package accelerates the vehicle, according to BMW, from 0-60 mph in just under eight seconds. So, gone are the days of diesel clatter and black smoke. Instead, you are whisked along, cosseted in leather, all-wheel-drive solitude. I would bet that passengers would never notice that this was a diesel powered vehicle but the driver will because of the gobs of low end torque (great for get-up-and-go around town) and relatively high fuel mileage. (The EPA rating was not available at test time but expect 20-25% better MPGs than a comparable gasoline model.)
Conclusion - The X3 has always been a favorite of mine so I'm a little prejudiced toward this appealing little SUV (make that SAV). It has, in my opinion, the right combination of size, performance and price. Now, with the addition of a peppy, frugal, clean and quiet diesel engine, it's moved up an even higher notch in my book.
Take a test drive and see if you agree.