2011 X3 Reviewed: Bigger, Faster and Lighter

BMW has recently changed the game of releasing info for new to launch models, allowing the motoring press to preview the cars before even the final camo is removed. We were lucky enough to spend some time recently with the MINI Countryman which is to launch early next year. A select group of the media recently previewed the completely redesigned 2012 X3 which will be built in South Carolina and be released at the end of the year.

The X3 was the first “compact ” luxury multi-purpose vehicle and it mopped up sales for a great many years before it had any competition. The competition has caught up and passed the current version by a long while so this next X3 has to be something special to be the choice of consumers in an overly crowded model segment- it looks like BMW has done just that from early reports. Reviews have been universally positive with the general consensus being that BMW finally has a small crossover that will compete (and win) against the likes of the Audi Q5.

Edmunds Inside Line (amongst others) published some noteworthy facts and figures about the new F25 X3. The X3 is also somewhat of a preview of the next generation 3 Series set to launch in the year 2012 as they will share some components.

Once we arrived and clambered into the new X3, we noticed the new vehicle ‘s clearly better ingress and egress given the broader overall dimensions and slimmer side sills. Exterior length for the new 2012 BMW X3 grows 3.2 inches, width by 1.2 inches and height by a bit more than half an inch. The wheelbase has been stretched a little more than a half inch as well. Basic cargo room is up to 19.4 cubic feet behind the second-row seat, an increase of almost 3 cubic feet. the 2012 BMW X3 has the new, ZF-built, eight-speed automatic transmission featured by the X5, both for the X3 xDrive28i that will be introduced in January 2011 and then the X3 xDrive35i that arrives a bit later. Even though the new X3 is set to be taken more seriously with all its bigger dimensions, the xDrive28i and the xDrive35i models weigh 45 pounds less than their corresponding outgoing models.

It seems while the X3 has grown in size, weight has for once DECREASED! It is being reported that overall quality of the interior materials has vastly improved; which as we all knowwould not be that hard to accomplish since the outgoing model resembled a cheaply built Chevy more than a BMW. Edmunds also notes that the driving dynamics have greatly improved and the vehicle is much more mature now. As hinted here in the past, a 4 cylinder turbo option is in consideration for the X3, we here will put our money on the X1 to debut a 4 cylinder before we see it in the X3- but the 4 cylinders are coming.

One of our favorite reviews thus far comes from our friends at Kilometer magazine. Here ‘s an excerpt:

An increase in virtually every critical dimension is also partly to credit for taking the new model a couple rungs up on the compact SUV ladder, especially the additional 86 mm of track width that push the wheels further apart for a more planted feel. The greenhouse has been widened as well, adding 40 mm of front shoulder room and 20 mm to the rear, eliminating the tall and narrow feel of the original X3 cockpit. Overall length has grown by 80 mm — to a total of 2810 mm — on a 15 mm longer wheelbase. The growth is modest, but it’s in all the right places. Seeing the old model alongside the new, it’s hard to spot the dimensional changes; and yet somehow the awkward, Converse-hightop-like proportions seem to be gone.

Kilometer goes on to critique the ride, or rather compliment it:

Despite going on a diet, the new X3 is considerably stiffer than the outgoing model. This additional structural rigidity, which was immediately noticeable on our rural backroads drive, gave the chassis engineers greater latitude in tuning the suspension for improved passenger comfort. The setup is essentially the same as the current 3-series wagon with xDrive — MacPherson struts up front, multi-link in the rear — but geometrically optimized and tuned specifically for Sport Activity duty. It’s still a firm-riding vehicle, but there’s a more supple quality to small, low-speed bumps, and less suspension noise in the cabin as well. Three-mode Dynamic Damper Control (Normal, Sport and Sport+) will be offered as part of the sport package, allowing the driver to dial in an even firmer ride at the push of a button. Unlike the DCC setup on other BMWs, however, there is no Comfort setting on the X3. We wonder if that might change, though, as the Normal setting is far from soft.

According to both Kilometer and Edmunds the X3 will launch with a naturally aspirated inline six producing around 260hp in the X3 28i and the N55 300 hp twin scroll turbo six in the X3 35i will debut a bit later on.

Photos: BMWNA via Edmunds

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  • Micah

    Lighter weight is a welcome change in direction. Question: will the USA market be getting a manual transmission option? My GF is very interested for her next car for commuting, road trips, dog transport, and the like, but will only drive a manual. If BWM does not offer it, she will not cosider the X3 even though it is her current favorite.

    • The take rate on the E83 was so poor for the manual it will not be offered moving forward. Remember this new model is more or less the E53 X5 in size. The X1 may still get the 3rd pedal.

  • goat

    To paraphrase James Joyce, BMW seems bent on “refining the manual transmission out of existence”. I suspect DCT will replace the manual option in the majority of upcoming models, for better or for worse (better for those who were otherwise going to spec an automatic transmission, worse for a portion of those drivers who spec manual boxes).

  • Micah

    I must say that sucks…so much for “joy” and “ultimate drivers car”. I have yet to meet an automated manual that produces near the level of involvement or excitement as a real manual, and there are still some men and women who prefer to drive our damn vehicles ourselves. There are so few smaller SUVs/SAVs remaining with a manual that I suspect anyone who produces a decent sporty one will actually have a market advantage.