2008 BMW X3 Review – So German, It Hurts

BMW Expert Reviews

2008 BMW X3 - Steptronic automatic transmission
The X3 sports a great motor (the 3.0L inline-six) with plenty of power and decent gas mileage…sadly hamstrung by the slowest automatic transmission since my 1979 Cutlass Cruiser.

Seriously: I accelerated faster by leaving it in Regular mode, because punching the gas in Sport mode caused a downshift so protracted that I sprouted whiskers waiting for it to finish kicking down to second gear. But when I left it in regular mode, it wouldn’t downshift at all no matter how much gas I gave it. The stick shift is a much better option. Trust me on this.

Of course, once the transmission gnomes finish smelting the raw iron ore, mixing and pouring the steel, forging a new transmission gear, polishing the splines, and installing it on the shaft, that motor kicks in — and you’ll have a great time jamming it all the way up to redline.


BMW’s mission is to provide sports car performance with an SUV’s carrying capacity, and they’ve succeeded. After an instant of deliberation, the X3 settles into the corner and whips around like it’s on a tether.

One thing you must ask yourself, though: do you really want sports-car performance? The X3′s suspension is so taut, and the seats so firm, that you not only notice when you run over a quarter in the road — you can tell which face is up. Every imperfection of the pavement is directly and instantly communicated to your butt.

It’s a very involving driving experience, but you may not always want to be quite so involved, especially if you live someplace with bad roads. I can’t help but think the shocks are slightly overdamped.


When you stop to think about it, it’s amazing that BMW has managed to make SUVs that are still unmistakably a BMW. Porsche couldn’t do it with the Cayenne, and the Japanese brands don’t have enough visual identity to matter one way or the other…but it’s obvious to everyone that the X3 is a Bimmer.

That being said, the styling doesn’t distinguish itself…it’s conservative, and neither attractive nor offputting…except for the 19″ wheels, which probably contribute to the harsh ride, but look quite sharp. If you want to impress people, I’m not sure that a compact SUV is the best place to start, but the X3 makes the best of its heritage.

Value and Conclusion

The X3 is unquestionably a great-handing car, with BMW looks, fit, and finish, and the feeling of driving a much larger, more substantial vehicle. However, the laggy AT really killed the intangible feeling of driving enjoyment for me. I felt like I needed a stick shift to push the X3 to its potential…but if you’re making the kind of daily-driver compromises that require a compact SUV, will you really want to deal with the harsh ride and a manual transmission? Some people will say “yes” — but I fear that the number of those people that also have upwards of $50K to drop on a compact SUV isn’t all that large.

That being said, revalved shocks would probably do the X3 a world of good, and if BMW could fix their transmission issues, this would be a great vehicle with much broader appeal — but for $52K, I expect that to be taken care of for me.

2008 BMW X3

As Compared To: Acura RDX

I reviewed an Acura RDX earlier this year, and think it’s useful to contrast the two. The X3 definitely looks and feels like the more expensive car, inside and out: Acura really hasn’t figured out how to build a true luxury car yet. Performance and handling are about equal, but the feel is totally different: the X3 handles more deliberately and feels like a much larger and heavier car, whereas the RDX feels light and agile, but less substantial. The RDX, however, gets the same performance with a more comfortable ride, its automatic transmission doesn’t lag, and it has those paddle shifters. I’d rather look at and sit in the BMW, but I’d rather drive the Acura.

My ideal compact SUV would have BMW’s look and feel, with Acura’s driveline and suspension. (And Lexus’ navigation system.)

Who should buy it?

Anyone who wants a no-compromise sports car, including the harsh ride and manual transmission — but needs the cargo and passenger room of an SUV.


Build 4.5 You get what you pay for
Interior 4.0 Classy, great ergos, minus a point for hard seats and nav issues
Performance 3.5 4.5 if you get the manual…engine is great, AT is terrible
Handling 4.5 Excellent handling if you can stand the harshness
Styling 4.5 About as good as you can get for a compact SUV
Value 3.0 Costs a lot more than the competition

Build Interior Performance Handling Styling Value Overall
Rating 4.5 4.0 3.5 4.5 4.5 3.0 4.0/B

2008 BMW X3 2008 BMW X3 Review – So German It Hurts
By John G.

“The X3 is unquestionably a great-handing car, with BMW looks, fit, and finish, and the feeling of driving a much larger, more substantial vehicle.”

2008 BMW X3 2008 BMW X3 – First Impressions Review
By Holly R.

“The features are really, really nice. The 8-speaker sound system is excellent, and the panoramic moon-roof is to die for. The Xenon headlamps lit up my favorite dark, curvy road so well that I drove with total confidence. “

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2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i | 2008 BMW X3

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