Updated: December 22, 2014
A friend of mine is a gangsta. No, not really, but he likes his cars. Which is why he bought an X3, and let me slobber over his expensive seats. Well, he actually let me drive this thing. Now, as you might imagine, with a twin-turbo 3.0-liter diesel, 8-speed ZF automatic and on-demand all-wheel drive known as xDrive, this ought to be interesting. Kind of Audi A6 interesting.
So, today, we're gonna do another fancy test. A car for not-quite mortals. But if you're an executive, a diplomat, or just have enough spare cash, then you might want to consider BMW X3. To help you with your decision, I'm gonna do my usual share of road fun. Follow me.
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BMW X3 is officially an entry-level executive crossover. I'm not really sure about that entry-level tag. With the price just shy of USD114,000 in my little corner of our planet, this hardly qualifies as noob level, especially since you can have this kind car for half that price in the US, and slightly more than that in the UK. Crazy.
But what does that practically mean? A crossover, all right. But it's powered with one of the best turbo-diesels on the market. It's a straight-six, displacing 2993 cc, and it produces 260 HP at 4,000 rpm, with the immense torque value of 560 Nm starting at 2,000 rpm. If you're wondering how much that really is, most supercars have less. In practice, this is reduced to a 0-100 km/h sprint of just 6.2 seconds. Top speed is 230 km/h.
Remember our Audi A6? It has less horses, more torques, and its lower aerodynamic coefficient lets it speed up to 100 km/h in about the same time, but it's faster on the open road, with a 250 km/h limit. Now, if you're not satisfied with just 260 HP in your BMW X3, you can also try the uprated 310HP edition, with 630 Nm of torque. That's almost jumbo jet towing capability.
To help you deliver all that power to the wheels in a safe fashion, you have an 8-speed auto. Normally, I'm against auto, but up to a point. Roughly 400 Nm. Beyond that, it takes skill to transfer the engine's rage into proper friction. Then, to make things even more interesting, the futuristic gear knob comes with a bunch of buttons, which switch the car's response between eco, dynamic and sport modes. This is called Driving Dynamic Control, if I'm not mistaken, please don't hurt me. But it sure makes a ton of difference. Tighten it up, and the throttle gets snappier, the suspension goes stiff, it's amazing.
But we've hardly touched the equipment. The generous SE trim includes 17-inch alloys, brake regeneration, Start/Stop, keyless entry, leather upholstery, cruise control, rain sensors, dual-zone climate control, a very sexy and elegant multimedia unit with a 6.5-inch screen, and the somewhat baffling iDrive, which lets you tweak your car's functions like mad. You also get parking sensors, navigation, seat heating, and still more.
BMW X3 is not the prettiest car on the market, but it sure is much better looking than its bigger brothers, X5 and X6. It also loses battle To Audi's Q offerings. Many other less-posh SUV can also claim better aesthetics. But at least, X3 wins over Porsche's Cayenne. All in all, it's fairly dull, and the looks hide the monster that's under the engine hood. You would not expect this thing to accelerate faster than 90% of the cars out there.
All BMW have the same composed interior. Stretched left to right, with clean, precise, logical lines that are so apparent in pretty much all German designs. It's spartan in a way, but then, it's also quite elegant and simple. Functionality meets practicality. The driving position is quite good, the instruments, buttons and gadgets all make sense, except the iDrive, which can be a bit boring. But then, it's all right. You will feel fine, unless you're really old and techno averse. Well, if so, don't buy this car.
Quality and attention to detail are excellent. Everything fits nicely, and there are no weird sounds. You can also hook your iPhone and such very easily, again within the limits of your ability to operate fancy electronics. I like the work area. It inspires confidence. It's posh as well as interesting. However, most of the time, the emotions will be timid, docile. Not a racer, despite being one, secretly.
Seats are quite comfy. More lateral support is in demand, though. Executive means plush, but that does not necessarily translate into the best thing for your kidneys and lumbars and whatever anatomy. The steering wheel is all too round. Yes, I know, but cars with a bit of sporty spirit ought to have the bottom piece flattened, even if it's just an extra millimeter. This way, it's identical to all other cars across the entire range, even though with just half the power and torque. But then again, those with more, too.
As I've mentioned earlier, the inline twin-turbo six in X3 makes this one of the fastest SUV on the market, rivaling many bigger, more expensive cars with large engines, more cylinders and even more raw power. Diesels are not meant to be exciting, but X3 xDrive30d sure is. It's immensely fun. Like Audi A6, you need to nudge it into the sport mode, and then magic happens.
Acceleration is simply stellar. You feel force pushing into your back, and the car gains speed like mad. Within seconds, you leave everyone far behind, and angry X5 drivers will do their best to chase you and prove you wrong. Phenomenal. No matter what the driving conditions are, one or four people on board, air con, hot and humid, there's always plenty of torque to spare. And you won't hear the engine rev up, get noisy, rattly, strained or anything of that sort. Just pure horizontal g forces.
While you're doing all these things, you need to take into account how the car feels, too. The steering is quite precise. The ride can be a little frightening, especially through corners. There's no loss of control, but there is a perception of such a loss. X3 is always a comfortable car, even when tightened up, and there's a bit of body roll, due to its high center of mass and whatnot, so you feel like the vehicle is about to slip, even where's a whole acre of asphalt purchase still left. Likewise, the acceleration comes through the back. Or from the behind, as some love to say. This makes the front end light, with the bazillion torques doing their magic, and you might feel like the car could take off any minute. The actual margin is many leagues away, but still.
While you're pretending to be a better driver than you are, the auto box will shift up and down without the slightest hint of ever being there. I don't recall feeling even a single gear change, despite being so many of them. It happens transparently, in the background, without any intrusion into the cabin, your foot or your senses as a driver. The most seamless experience I've had with automatic boxes. Awesome. Normally, I hate auto, and it's always somehow detrimental to the driving fun, but not in this case. BMW X3 works fabulously.
Fuel consumption is relatively low. Round 8 liters per 100 km, including a fair deal of artificial cooling of the interior, lots of urban driving, lots of high speed, lots of hard acceleration, and a generous use of the sportier modes. All in all, it's an excellent figure for the car this shape, weight, size, and aerodynamic drag. If you're being extra careful, you will average 7 liters/100 km, better than most family cars with their average 1.6-liter petrol and such. That's the power of diesel for you. The power of diesel compels you!
Nothing that my friend would confess to me. But if you had a car like this, would you? Then again, I couldn't find any big problems or faults, either. The wipers are okay, if we compare to Audi A6. The all-digital iDrive might be intimidating. And you need not have a mistress to own this vehicle. There.
BMW X3 xDrive30d is an amazing car, but mostly for the reasons that you would not expect. It's well equipped, built with class and quality, comfortable, spacious, safe, luxurious, and all that. The turbo-diesel engine also gives you decent economy. But what makes this CUV so exciting is the engine's massive torque and the flawless auto box, which give you a sensational driving experience.
All other parameters definitely count, but if you're someone who likes the simple joy of acceleration, you can't go wrong with X3. Now, beauty wise, there are better options. Audi A6, for instance, rides more firmly, and it gives you a more refined sense of control. The interior might not be to everyone's taste. You might not like big or tall vehicles. The price tag may scare you away. However, in this review, I can only focus on the overall feel that remains once you exit the car and the keyless system locks the doors without any action on your end. It's a pretty good feel, and you want to step back into the cockpit and floor it, to enjoy those million torques do their magic. Grade wise, something like 8.5/10. And we're done.