We recently spent some time behind the wheel of an X3 xDrive28i prototype and, while the name of this vehicle may be a mouthful, we expect it will be one that dealers hear often. It builds on everything that worked on the 35i we tested last month with a lower base price and less (albeit still adequate) power.
The first generation X3, was to put it mildly, a huge success for BMW both in terms of sales and overall profits and this new generation will be no different. And like the very first few years of the original X3, BMW has once again gone back to their practice of offering two engines. The powerful and relatively quick X3 35i, features the 300 hp/ 300 lbs ft N55 dual scroll turbo inline six and the X3 28i uses the carryover N52 aluminum-magnesium naturally aspirated masterpiece. Both familiar and both exceptional powerplants.
The prototype we drove did not have the final finishes on the materials but the overall layout and design is superb. Ergonomics are excellent as everything is in a comfortable reach and easily discernible. The dash insets and angles appear more masculine than some of BMWs other interiors. Like all of BMWs recently launched models, the cabin is more upscale in looks and materials. Compared to the last generation, the passenger cabin has increased in size allowing for more shoulder and leg, room but the biggest change is in the increased ambience and luxury.
With many cross-platform sharing of parts, the familial relationship is unmistakable- from the dash cluster to the standard sports steering wheel you will be right at home in the X3 if its stable mate is a new 5 Series of even the 7. Options and safety equipment have trickled down to this all new vehicle from parking cameras to active cruise control, and the X3 finally has a version of iDrive!
The X3 like the more recent BMW redesigns completes shifts via an 8 Speed automatic from the German manufacturer ZF, and it is the true star of the show. The instant lock up during acceleration gives the vehicle the feel of one with much more grunt and makes it more engaging than it otherwise would be as an automatic. Shifts are quick and the ability to skip shift is something we are still amazed by, this auto redefines what a slushbox is and what every other transmission moving forward must compete with- that is one tall order.
Initially when we heard we were driving the naturally aspirated version of the X3, we had a feeling the vehicle would be underpowered and slow sans turbo, but that simply is not the case. The X3 is no sports car, it is meant to drive to and from the grocery store, soccer practice and through snow- its not for carving through chicanes on a track or even hard core offroading so if you want those attributes look elsewhere. What this X3 does is offer a practical package with decent acceleration and engagement while being safe and fun to drive. The naturally aspirated inline six quickly revs and is buttery smooth, it is what we love but often take for granted. The power builds along with the revs but the song it sings is muffled by the luxury persona of the vehicle.
Equipped with the base suspension, our tester was significantly more composed than the first generation. Gone is the jarring feel when going over multiple bumps and while there is some lean in turns it is not overwhelming like what occurs in some of the other vehicles in class (We’re looking at you XC 60). Another obvious change was that the latest generation of runflats are better than the last in absorbing road imperfections OR the suspension gurus have finally dialed things in just right because bumps did not yield a loud thud (something 3 Series drivers are all too familiar with) that sounds like an explosion rather than just hitting a bump or pothole. For a vehicle with a relatively high center of gravity the X3 was receptive to our steering inputs and was eager.
To save some fuel BMW has equipped the X3 with a steering system that is elctromechanical nature. Besides seeing tiny improvements at the pump the other thing people will take away is that it feels different to them or that there is less engagement. In reality there is just the right feel, the steering communicates the information you need to know rather than the road noise that you don’t need. You’ll feel exactly what you need to, like when the wet leaves that have introduced slip and decreased traction require some braking and a steering adjustment. The steering remains heavy compared to the competition.
The new X3 is everything BMW set out to bring consumers with the original luxury small sport ‘ute and then some. The level of refinement, luxury and overall performance have all been increased. Though bigger in every dimension and with more standard features it has actually lost around 200 pounds through the use of aluminum and other weight savings techniques.
With increased competition in a tough market segment mean that BMW had to bring their “A” game with this X3, and they have done just that. It is practical and offers drive characteristics the competition still has not figured out or simply can’t offer. We’re sure that BMW will sell countless X3s and with the new ability to custom order them, BMW may have just hit the right nerve with consumers.