BimmerFile Review: 2011 X3 xDrive28i

There is no better way to test the American made BMW X3 then to subject it to a family road trip culminating on the 4th of July. Outside the windows it ‘s all long straight highways and picturesque small towns that exude Americana. Inside it ‘s black coffee upfront and Cheerios in the back (and on the carpet). When BMW designed and engineered the X3 they didn ‘t have the ‘Ring in mind as much as the sippy cup. And as much as that grates at my enthusiast mentality, I appreciate the care that BMW put into solving the everyday sort of challenges that many drivers face. And I really appreciate it when I have my own family in tow.

Does the X3 deliver as a BMW? That of course depends on the scale with which you grade it. It goes and stops burdened by an extra 585 lbs over a 3 series wagon and that weight is in all the wrong places. The result of that weight is that the X3 has a much less fleet of foot feel and is less eager to change direction. In short, it ‘s less fun. It also has less efficiency and (somewhat surprisingly) less rear cargo capacity. There ‘s little doubt it ‘s not as fun to drive as the similarly priced 3 series wagon (more on that in the coming weeks).

So it seems to fail on paper when compared to BMW ‘s own 3 Series wagon. That shouldn ‘t come as a huge shock. We at BF have been asking why anyone would buy an X5 or X3 when BMW already makes exceptional utility vehicles that are better in every way in the wagons. However, that ‘s not how the rest of the US (and many other markets) seem to see it. So if we ‘re going to compare the X3 to anything it needs to be Audi ‘s Q5 and the like.

Judged on those terms the X3 excels. From the seating position to the cabin finishes, BMW took everything they learned from the previous X3 and built a machine that the consumer clearly was clamoring for.

They ‘ve also given you more for less with a base of $37,625. At $2100 less than the previous X3 of similar trim the new X3 represents something that isn ‘t commonly associated with BMWs; value. Add to that more rear seat room and cargo room (19 cubic feet and 56.6 with the seats folded) and you have a few of the more important boxes ticked.

Upfront the more for less theme continues with an 8.8 ” screen and iDrive being standard. While navigation is still a $2150 option, the screen has gotten dramatically larger, higher resolution with modern software and processing powering it.

Combine the better materials and a more cohesive interior look and feel created by BMW designer Ulrich Strolhe and you have a much more upmarket cabin to spend the commuting hours. Replacing those nasty bits of plastic from the old X3 are soft touch leather, real wood and high-end plastic that all flow seamlessly together. The design has a modern BMW approach that neatly defines one space for the driver and one for the passenger. It allows the center stack and instruments to be oriented towards the driver while delivering an attractive view to the passenger. It is as good as any current BMW offered and is better than competing products from the Germans and Swedes.

Outside, BMW Designer Erik Goplen has created a look that gets better every time we see it. There ‘s real depth to the car and the design where the previous X3 felt very slab-sides and boxy. Yet, somehow the overall effect is one of smart evolution. From the friendly yet aggressive face to the distinctive Hofmeister Kink, Goplen (who penned the E46 3 Series) has created perhaps the best proportioned BMW crossover yet.

The sum of these parts represent one of the best examples yet of BMW taking it ‘s DNA and twisting it into a product that has mass appeal. When judged on that level the new F25 X3 is successful. Does it appeal to the enthusiast? When the real world gets in the way of that mythical automotive life-style of backroads and manual transmissions, yes. In fact on a hot day in July with a baby sleeping in the back and the trunk packed with luggage, I can ‘t think of a more appropriate vehicle to be piloting.

Well, maybe with one exception.

Track Gallery

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  • rwa

    The advantage that the X5 has over the 5 series wagon is the availability of the third row of seats.  They aren’t very useful for adults, but they fit kids fine.  You can also access them easily with car seats in place in the middle row, so if you have two kids in car seats and need to additionally carry two more kids at times the X5 has a real advantage over the wagon even were it to return to the US.  You can also fit a kid between two car seats in the middle row, so if you are carrying kids the X5 can carry 7 people (5 kids, two adults in the front).  This was the reason we replaced our 3 wagon with an X5d rather than a used 5 wagon.  The same can’t be said for the X3.  It really has no advantage over a similar generation 3 wagon as it does not have the 3rd row available.

    The availability of the diesel in the X5 makes it a pretty good family car.  We get better in-town mileage in an X5d than we did in a 328xi wagon, can carry three more people and have similar straight line performance.  Handling obviously isn’t as good as the wagon, but if you need to carry a lot of kids the X5d is a compelling option.

    What would really be nice is more options on engines in more body styles, but we’ll probably have to wait for increased CAFE standards to bring that about.

  • Lenn1937

    One point that no review ever comments on is entering and exiting.  Not everone stays 30 years old.  I am 74 and love my r56s but my wife will only drive our suv for ease of stepping in and stepping out.  The same for loading the back. 

    • Anonymous

      Lenn, BMW takes note of this concept and that is why the 5GT rides at the level it does. They determined the perfect height for entering and exiting a vehicle and that is between a sedan and an SAV.

    • Anonymous

      MINI clients I speak with enjoy the height of the Countryman and say it is perfect for getting in and out… if you have injuries, are older, or if you’re a woman wearing a short skirt 🙂

      I don’t know how it compares to the 5GT, sorry… haven’t really looked at the GT.

  • M8o

    If the BMW wagon came in AWD in the USA like it does overseas — where it can be had w/TDI no less, tho not the biggest baddest of them all — then the “vs” comparison would be firmly on the side of the wagon and there would be little reason for the X3 to exist IMO.

  • M8o

    If the BMW wagon came in AWD in the USA like it does overseas — where it can be had w/TDI no less, tho not the biggest baddest of them all — then the “vs” comparison would be firmly on the side of the wagon and there would be little reason for the X3 to exist IMO.

    • Anonymous

      Both the E91 3 Series and the prior generation E61 5 Series came with AWD (the E61 was ONLY in AWD) in the US. The e91 can be had in RWD or AWD in 328 form stateside. 

      You can get the 535d in F11 format in Europe which until recently was the biggest output.

      • Herr26

        Yes we have now added the 550i Touring which for a while was only available if you bought your F11 in either 1:43 or 1:18 scale.

        Around this time next year we will add the BMW 550d Touring.

      • M8o

        Unless one wants the latest gen awd touring vehicle w/all the latest gen has to offer in power, efficiency, and goodies.  😉   I’m sure BMW USA wants to sell as many X3’s to us as they can; it helps them be able to declare it a resounding success, which it probably would still be even if we had the higher powered or TDI awd wagons here.  Wish the US buyer’s preference was like the EU’s and I might have what I want now.

    • Anonymous

      Both the E91 3 Series and the prior generation E61 5 Series came with AWD (the E61 was ONLY in AWD) in the US. The e91 can be had in RWD or AWD in 328 form stateside. 

      You can get the 535d in F11 format in Europe which until recently was the biggest output.