By David Colman
For: Handling Acumen, Spacious Cockpit, Huge Silent Sunroof
Against: Jerky Throttle Tip-in
The North Main exit from Southbound I-680 in Walnut Creek is a prodigious feat of engineering. It’s a perfectly banked, 2 lane wide off ramp that reverses direction 180 degrees, lasts nearly a quarter of a mile, and tests handling like no other piece of road in the Bay Area. Late one night, in light traffic, I tossed BMW’s turbocharged, all-wheel-drive X3 into the endless North Main sweeper, not expecting a whole lot of grip from either the top heavy SUV, or its all-season Goodyear tires.
Entering the turn, I could see a pair of single headlights closing rapidly in my mirror. But by the time I reached North Main, there was no one in sight behind me. The X3 had danced through the sweeper with agility equal to BMW’s best sports sedan, the M3. While stopped at the next traffic light on North Main, those lights that vanished on the off ramp reappeared next to me. The driver of a Porsche Boxster Spyder was looking at my X3 with open-mouthed astonishment. His face said it all: how could your clunky-looking SUV put my precious Porsche to shame? And worse yet, do so in a never-ending corner of all places!
In addition to being an incredibly practical vehicle, the spacious X3, with the top level 35i engine package (300hp and 300lb.-ft. of torque) is simply a blast to drive. Now that BMW has deleted its sweet running straight six turbo from 3 and 5 Series sedans (in favor of turbo fours), the X3 is the last bastion of the big 3.0 liter six. An 8-speed transmission offers a gear for every need, instantly accessible via fat paddles on either side of the thick-rimmed wheel. Pulling out of a side road into traffic on a 55mph stretch of Highway 12 near Rio Vista, I was instantly able to match the speed of oncoming vehicles. Whether you shift for yourself or let the 8-speed do its own thing, the X3 is capable of meeting any acceleration requirement.
Handling is first class as well. The steering is meticulously weighted to provide informative feedback. The resolute 245/45R19 Goodyear RS 2 Run-Flats prove that American tire companies can still match the best grippers from Europe and Japan. Yet all these grand touring benefits come in the shape of a beefy, tall wagon that will carry 5 passengers and 27 cubic feet of cargo at the same time. Flatten the rear seats, and your interior space increases to 57 cubic feet.
The base price of the turbo X3 is an enticing $42,700. Of course finding a stripper at that price might be difficult since most X3s are loaded with options. Ours had $550 worth of Space Gray Metallic paint, a $1,750 Sports Activity Package (19 inch double spoke alloys, sport steering wheel with paddles, aluminum satin roof rails, sport seats, X-line exterior trim, anthracite headliner), a $700 Cold Weather Package (heated steering wheel, heated front seats, split fold rear seats), a Cold Weather Package II (heated rear seats and headlight washers), a $1,400 Dynamic Handling Package (performance control, variable sports power steering), a $3,450 Premium Package (power tailgate, keyless entry, rear side window shades, ambiance lighting), $950 worth of Premium Sound (satellite radio 1 yr. subscription, premium hi-fi radio), and finally, $3,200 for the Technology Package (park distance, navigation, rear view camera).
If you’ve been keeping score, the options on the test X3 amount to $12,450, or more than 25 percent of its base price! Personally, I’d pass on the Cold Weather Packages, and the Technology Package. But I have to admit that the heated steering wheel was just the ticket on a recent 40 degree morning, and the vivid navigation screen proved ever so useful when slightly lost on a back road near Dixon. Even at the all-in price of $56,295, the X3 is still a bargain in terms of its yield: sports car fun, family practicality, decent (19MPG/26MPG) fuel economy.
2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i
- Engine: 3.0 liter, 24 valve DOHC inline6, turbocharged, Valvetronic
- Horsepower: 300hp
- Torque: 300 lb.-ft.
- Fuel Consumption: 19 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
- Price as Tested: $56,295
- Star Rating: 9 out of 10 Stars