Compact luxury crossovers are the Swiss army knives of the automotive world, promising four-seasons comfort in a package spacious enough to stow a big yard sale find or a week's worth of vacation luggage, but small enough to not drive like a truck.
The BMW X3 delivers on all fronts, earning high marks for its potent yet efficient engine options, plush cabin and dynamic handling.
BMW has made enhanced USB functionality and Bluetooth connectivity standard on all X3 models. Owners can now browse their libraries via Bluetooth and sync a second hands-free phone.
The X3 is BMW's middle-ground crossover, slotting between the X1 and X5 in terms of size and price.
Inside, it belies its mid-level positioning with a handsome cabin that's understated in design and upscale in material quality, with supple leather and attractive wood trim creating a luxurious ambience. Simple, effective and old-fashioned white-on-black analog gauges contrast with BMW's latest iDrive infotainment system, which has evolved over the years into one of the most user-friendly interfaces for controlling entertainment, navigation and climate control functions. Redundant controls composed of conventional knobs and buttons provide an alternate means of accessing often-used features.
The navigation system is available with Google point-of-interest search and real time traffic information, and it also features a touchpad mounted on the iDrive knob that lets users write out phone numbers, contact names and navigation destinations - and also zoom in or zoom out the map - with a finger.
Numerous extras are available to enhance the cabin experience further, including a 16-speaker, 600-watt premium sound system, a panoramic sunroof, navigation system with real-time traffic updates and BMW Apps, which lets users access Facebook, Twitter, web radio services and more through iDrive.
Passenger space is ample - even for rear seat passengers - and super-supportive sports seats along with heated seats at all four corners can be spec'd to make the experience even more comfortable. When it comes time to fill the X3 full of cargo, the 'ute can swallow 27.6 cubic feet, or 63.6 cubes with the rear seats folded flat.
Bavarian Motor Works
The X3 is offered with the buyer's choice of three engines, all of which live up to the promise of the Blue Roundel automaker's name.
The standard motor is a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder capable of 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It's available in two forms - the all-wheel-drive X3 xDrive28i, and the new, entry-level rear-wheel-drive X3 sDrive28i.
Power-hungry types can opt for a 3.0-liter turbocharged straight-six - found under the hood of the X3 xDrive35i - that pumps out 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. AWD is the only configuration available.
The latest addition to the X3 engine range is a 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine. Installed in the AWD-only X3 xDrive28d, it produces 180 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque and is the fuel economy champ of the range.
Fuel economy ratings for the various X3 permutations are as follows: 21/28 city/highway for the sDrive28i and xDrive28i; 27/34 mpg for the xDrive28d; and 19/26 mpg for the xDrive35i .
All X3s shift through an eight-speed automatic transmission that provides quick, smooth shifts and can de-couple the drivetrain in coasting situations from 30-100 mph in order to save fuel.
With a buttoned-down chassis and precise steering, the X3 is one of the better-driving models in its segment. Further livening things up is the optional Dynamic Handling Package, which adds variable sport steering that continuously adjusts steering ratio and effort to suite driving conditions. Also included is performance control, which maintains a rear-biased torque split for sportier responses.
Standard and Optional Features
The X3 xDrive28i and sDrive28i come standard with the turbo four-cylinder motor in addition to leatherette upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 12-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system with HD radio along with AUX and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity, a power liftgate, automatic windshield wipers, auto on/off headlights, foglights, full power accessories and 18-inch alloy wheels. New standard features for the latest model year include interior ambiance lighting, auto dimming exterior and interior mirrors, a universal garage door opener, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats and a storage compartment package.
The X3 xDrive35i brings the turbocharged straight-six as well as a panoramic sunroof, wood trim and bi-xenon headlights; the latter three items are optional for the xDrive28i and sDrive28i.
The optional xLine trim package brings metallic bumper inserts, satin aluminum side cladding, imitation underbody guards. It also allows buyers to choice between a range of unique leather upholstery, trim strip 19-inch wheel options.
The M Sport trim line adds an aggressive bodykit, shadow line exterior trim, sport front seats, anthracite headliner and sport-tuned steering and suspension. An exclusive variety of paint color, leather upholstery, trim strip and 19- and 20-inch wheel options can also be selected.
The Driver Assistance Package includes front and rear parking sensors and a rearview camera. It can be upgraded to the Driver Assistance Plus Package with a lane-departure warning system, frontal collision warning, pedestrian warning, city collision mitigation and rear- and top-view parking cameras.
The Premium Package adds leather upholstery, lumbar support for the front seats, satellite radio and remote start. For xDrive28i models, it also garners a panoramic sunroof.
The Technology Package brings a navigation system and upsized display screen, a head-up display, BMW apps and BMW remote services emergency communications system.
The Cold Weather Package includes heated front and rear seats along with a heated steering wheel.
All X3 models are fitted with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems.
Also included is BMW Assist eCall, which automatically notifies a BMW call center in the event of a crash and can even predict the severity of occupant injuries.
Lane-departure warning is available as part of the Driver Assistance Plus Package, as are frontal collision warning, pedestrian warning and city collision mitigation. The latter three are all designed to prevent or mitigate the severity of frontal collisions with vehicles, pedestrians and stationary objects.
Competing against the X3 in the premium small crossover segment are the elegant Audi Q5, the surprisingly stylish Volvo XC60 and the rugged-looking Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class.