By John G.
- Solid, Germanic look and feel. You’re definitely driving a BMW
- Sticks to the road like…something very sticky
- Strong engine
- Well-appointed interior
- Harsh ride
- Laggy automatic transmission
- Nav system clunky, outdated
- Feels like a much larger vehicle than it is
There’s something about German engineering. Theoretically, the X3 is one of those tiny, car-based cargo boxes disparagingly termed “cute-utes” by people who drive 3-ton trucks with solid front axles and know what a locking differential is. But to its driver, the X3 feels like a big, substantial sports sedan whose driver’s seat just happens to be two feet higher, which is impressive for something that you can both carry a dishwasher and parallel park in a city. The only time you notice its small size is after you get out.
The X3′s performance comes at a price, though, figuratively and literally: the suspension blows straight through “firm” on its way to “harsh”, the laggy automatic transmission really makes you wish you got the manual instead, and you’ll pay over $50K for it.
You can theoretically get a base X3 xDrive30i SAV (BMW’s full model designation) for $39,400, but are you really going to buy a BMW with a “leatherette” interior? Without heated seats, or the good stereo system? Please. Add the navigation system, the sport package with 19″ wheels, and a few more random luxuries, and you’ll top out at around $52,000, just like we did.
BMW cuts no corners on or in the X3. Doors slam nicely, I could find no fault with the interior or exterior finish, and everything I tested worked and felt as it should on a $50K car. The substantial and sumptuous leather-wrapped steering wheel deserves special mention, particularly for those of us with large hands.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
Imagine all your German stereotypes as applied to ergonomics: stolid, conservative, yet meticulously functional. Orange-lit white on black gauges, while neither sexy nor futuristic, are very easy to see by day or night — and unlike many luxury cars, the climate control does not require a Masters in systems engineering to operate. All the driving necessities fall nicely to hand, and the tall cabin and highly adjustable seat allow anyone short of Yao Ming to drive without drama.
Like most HID headlamps, the X3′s are flamethrowers. The sunroof is huge, the little pop-up deflector dramatically reduces wind noise…and the X3 comes with what might just be the loudest factory sound system I’ve ever heard. (It’s crisp and clean, too, though the golden-eared types will notice a hint of boominess in the bass that can’t be dialed out.)
The seats, however, are extremely firm. High-performance sports car firm. Special posture-correcting chair firm. If you are a lightweight you may not even wrinkle the leather.
Also, the navigation system poses several problems. First, BMW put the controls on the passenger side. Second, there is only a single knob, meaning you can’t scroll the map around to see anywhere besides where you already are. And, most irritatingly, since it doesn’t automatically dim or change color at night, I had to turn it off in order to see the road! These are bizarre omissions for a car whose driving ergonomics are otherwise so solid.
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