2007 BMW X3 Expert Review:Autoblog
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Pugs are a toy breed, and their wrinkled little countenance is vaguely reminiscent of a clenched fist, hence the name, a possible corruption of Pugnus, the Latin word for fist. The BMW X3 is likewise more an ornament for the driveways of the moneyed than it is transportation for the everyman. The main reason we draw a parallel between the compact pooch and equally tightly-packed Sports Activity Vehicle is the uncanny resemblance. The X3's headlamps don't mirror the Pug's froglike bulging eyes, but the rest of the front view carries the same jowl line, even the downturned corners of the mouth are there on the BMW.
Furthering the zoomorphism is the X3's disposition. Our week with the vehicle revealed a temperament that was at times playful, often stubborn, and very much like living with a little being possessed of a mind of its own. In general, the X3 wasn't the devil on our shoulder, though it'd play cut and thrust if you demanded.
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When the X3 debuted, it was roundly criticized for its interior and ride quality. Performance, too, was not as sprightly as the blue and white indicia might suggest. For 2007, the X3 is available exclusively in the 3.0si trim level, packing 3000 cc of high-tech Bayerische inline-6-cylinder underhood. Our tester was comprehensively outfitted with the Sport, Cold Weather, and Premium packages, too. The full plate of equipment will demand bags full of money, $45,000 for this smallest of BMW utes. You could step into an X5 for that kind of cash.
While any BMW gives off an air of spendiness, the X3's appearance doesn't carry off the fact that you've tied up the price of a Florida vacation home in a car quite as well as one would hope. There's a disjointedness around the stretched out Hofmeister kink that's more evocative of a Kia Rondo than a 328. If they'd just foregone the styling convention and brought the D-pillar down to the character line, the look would be much smoother. The bumper fascias have been revised and are now painted body color, instead of the Rubbermaid-esque black plastic lumps of yore, and tweaks to the front and rear lighting clean up the stubby X3 nicely.
The sport package adds a full aero kit, the 18-inch "M" badged alloy rims and "shadowline" trim to the exterior. The aero kit is as subtle as a tack-on job can be, and it does help handsome-up the X3. The sill extensions are ill-conceived, however. They never failed to rub our ankles every time we exited the vehicle. At BMWCCA events, you'll be able to locate X3 owners by their dirty calves.
It's too bad that the Sport Package didn't add any "M" badged equipment in the engine room. The runt of the BMW SAV litter is also a porker – hitting the scales at 4,100 pounds. 260-horsepower saddled with that load can only do so much. It's not a laggard, 60 ph rolls up in 7.1 seconds if you plant your right foot, says BMW. You won't be keeping up with V6 Altimas, but the good news is that the engine spins readily out to its 7,100 rpm redline, and it sings from the BMW songbook while doing it.
BMW has a lock on the title of World's Best Inline Six. We're not the only ones that think that so, Ward's has included it in its 10 Best Engines for the last two years. The N52B30 three liter gets a new block for 2007, made from an alloy of magnesium and aluminum, which holds the Alusil liners. Up above the pistons, BMW's Valvetronic plays with the amount of valve lift, and keeps the torque steady between 2500 and 4000 rpm. Power delivery is very refined, to the point where I had a passenger request I "open it up" as we pulled away from a tollbooth, my foot already mashed down. Speed builds, but you never get shoved back in the seat. Well, you might when taking off from a stop, response is a tad jumpy.
As sweet as the engine is, the six-speed automatic is a dullard. The upshift to second occurs nearly immediately, around 10mph. That makes for a difficult time if smooth driving is your goal. To avoid the neck-snapping, you have to manually select second gear before moving off. Shifting games also ensued while climbing grades at neighborhood speeds; we thought hunting autos went out with the '80s. The transmission is the only demerit on the X3's powertrain. The AWD system, a lift from the 330xi, is superlative in its unobtrusiveness. There's gobs of traction, or perhaps just not enough grunt. Either way, the X3's reluctance to break its wheels loose is an attribute in slick going or off road.
The rest of the chassis has come into its own, after starting out doing an approximation of a buckboard. Wheel control is tightly snubbed without undue harshness. The highway ride is sometimes perturbed by expansion gaps and other high amplitude aberrations, but the stiff structure soaks up impacts well, with nary a jiggle from the steering column. The X3 largely glides right over stuff that makes you wince when you come upon it.
Handling is well schooled, of course. There's a creamy way the X3 rounds corners, even at speeds north of sensible. Near 50-50 weight distribution makes transitioning out of one corner and into another entertaining, and the higher center of gravity doesn't put the wet blanket you might assume over the 3-series architecture. There's more body roll than in its 3-series bretheren, but the X3 doesn't loom over cars like larger utes, it's just a little taller. When it's time to bring it all to a halt, the X3 has some of the most responsive and heroic-feeling brakes we've ever sampled. Response to the brake pedal is immediate, sometimes even grabby. There's plenty of reserve braking capacity should you be enjoying the other aspects of the X3 a little too much, though the techno-electro trickery in the binders makes modulation a hair difficult.
It's a good thing that they made the exterior of the X3 the ugly part. You don't have to look at it when you're driving it, and the cockpit could be your new happy place. The materials and fit and finish are gorgeous inside the X3. Every surface issues forth quality, from the aromatic leather, to the chunky M branded wheel. Even the gauges have tight tolerances, with their needles set unbelieveably close to the gauge face, as if they were assembled by Rolex. Ergonomics can be bewildering at first, with a Button-O-Rama initial impression, but the controls are laid out logically and after deciphering the pictograms, it all makes sense.
The leather stunk just right and covered divine seats that easily adjust to keep you snugly planted in comfort at the helm. The bolstering is perfect, and the excellent support is tweakable in so many ways, you're sure to fit the X3 to your physique. With black leather, dark wood, and nary a hint of brightwork inside, you'd think the X3's interior might come off as dour. Counteracting any tendency toward acting like Eeyore is the monstrous sunroof that lightens the mood while brightening the interior.
Thoughtful and clever details are everywhere in the cabin. Even the seatbelt latches have their own cutout designed into the rear seat cushion, so they can neatly stow. Speaking of the rear seats, they also get heaters, so your 3rd and 4th wheels can have warm bums like Captain and Shotgun. There are plenty of storage pockets and cubbies, and there's even passable cupholders in the X3. They're still Germanic, especially the passenger's hideaway beverage perch, but we found the X3 more amenable to the way we roll than the 335i's über-Teutonic Jim-Buoys were.
If you absolutely must have a BMW, and you want an SUV, ahem, SAV, the X3 will do its thing for you. The price is a hard pill to swallow, though. 45 grand will get you the same wonderful engine in the far more handsome and roomier X5's shell. The interior is indeed a jewel, and rounding corners with the X3 is a hoot, but honestly, the Subaru Forester 2.5XT offers much of the same thrills for about $15,000 less. We don't think of BMWs when it comes to trucks, which is essentially what any beastie in this form factor is attempting to masquerade as, and we like it that way. The X3 needs to exist, lest BMW alienate its customers looking for such a vehicle, and it is a real BMW now that it's gotten a nip, tuck, and recalibration. We just can't help thinking we'd prefer all of the filling baked into a 3-Series wagon wrapper.
New Car Test Drive
Revised looks and more power.
The BMW X3 enters its fourth year of production flush with success, but there's more competition than ever among the smaller, more fuel-efficient SUVs. BMW's response is a stronger engine, revised styling, and more safety features, standard equipment and options.
The 2007 BMW X3 is available only with the new engine, a 3.0-liter six-cylinder. It also offers more torque and better acceleration than last year's engine of the same size yet at no cost to fuel economy. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a new six-speed automatic is a no-cost option and replaces last year's five-speed automatic.
The X3's drivetrain is equipped with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, Dynamic Stability Control and Hill Descent Control, revised for 2007 to give it even better grip and control in less than favorable conditions.
The X3 is quick and fast, and almost as fun to drive as any of BMW's passenger cars. The xDrive puts it at the head of the class when weather or road goes north. It's roomy, both for passengers and cargo. And just as important, it's replete with safety features, both active and passive.
For 2007, the BMW X3 comes in one model, the new 3.0si. Replacing last year's 225-hp 3.0-liter inline-6 is a totally new 260-hp 3.0-liter inline-6.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a new six-speed automatic with Steptronic is a no-charge option.
The 2007 X3 3.0si ($38,000) is stuffed with standard equipment. Cockpit amenities include automatic climate control with micro-filter and air recirculation; Sensatec leatherette upholstery; eight-way power adjustable front seats with two-way manual headrests and driver seat and mirror memory; a new three-spoke leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with fingertip cruise control; front center console armrest; storage nets on front seatbacks, in front passenger footwell and cargo compartment; two aluminum fastening rails and slip-proof reversible flooring in cargo compartment; split 60/40 fold-down rear seats; vehicle and key memory; remote entry, including two-step unlocking and remote tailgate release; Panorama glass moonroof with fully automatic, two-piece glass panels, power slide and lift control, wind deflector and power interior sunshade; tilt/telescopic steering wheel column; rain-sensing windshield wipers with automatic headlight control; automatic-dimming rearview mirror; power front windows with one-touch up/down and power rear windows with one-touch down; front-rear map-reading, footwell and visor-mirror lights; locking glovebox with rechargeable take-out flashlight; dual cupholders in front and rear; AM/FM/CD audio with eight speakers, wired for portable music players; a new auxiliary input jack on the back of the center console; Service Interval Indicator with miles-to-service readout; flat tire warning system; a four-function on-board computer; pre-wiring for cellular phone, garage-door opener, 6CD changer and auxiliary input.
The 3.0si Premium package ($2,450) adds Nevada leather upholstery, four-way power lumbar support for both front seats, automatic dimming inside rearview mirror, and BMW Assist (with four years of service) with Bluetooth integrated wireless communication system. For 2007, it's augmented by a compass in the rearview mirror, a universal garage door opener and power-folding auto-dimming exterior mirrors. The Premium Package Seat upgrade ($700) substitutes comfort seats with lumbar support.
The Sport Package ($2,200) includes an 8x18-inch wheel upgrade; a full body-color aerodynamic kit with body-color side skirts; a sports suspension with stiffer springs and anti-roll bars; 235/50R18 all-season tires; Shadowline exterior trim; a sport steering wheel; and eight-way power adjustable front sport seats with two-way manual thigh support. Big 19-inch wheels ($950) with mixed-size performance tires replace the 18s in the package.
The Cold Weather Package ($1,000) includes a headlight washer system; a ski bag; heated front seats and, new for 2007, heated rear seats. Other options include Servotronic steering ($250), xenon adaptive headlights with auto-leveling ($800), front and rear Park Distance Control ($700), 18-inch double-spoke alloy wheels ($300); 18-inch Star Spoke alloys ($500); heated front seats ($500); heated steering wheel ($150); cargo net ($150); navigation system ($1,800); BMW Assist with Bluetooth technology ($750); privacy glass ($350); premium sound system ($675); and comfort seats with lumbar support ($1,000).
Dealer-installed accessories include a trailer-hitch kit; skid plates; running boards; roof-rack systems; aerodynamic body components; Sirius satellite radio; 6-disc CD changer; special shift knobs and handbrake grips; cargo organizer; cargo-area floor net; cargo-area carrier for two bicycles; alarm system; and interface for an iPod.
Safety features include ABS, two-stage frontal airbags, front door-mounted side-impact airbags and curtain airbags for front- and rear-seat head protection, front safety belts with automatic tensioners and force limiters. The upgraded braking system now i.
The BMW X3 gets a new look for 2007, and though there's a close family resemblance to the new, larger X5, a closer look reveals significant differences.
The 2007 BMW X3 3.0si makeover is more than just a new badge. Most noticeable is the new front bumper that frames a new, slightly larger twin-kidney grille, its chrome vertical slats complemented by a chrome strip along the base of the side windows. The new headlight assembly no longer includes the DOT amber reflector, which has been moved to the fender to give the light cluster a cleaner look, and the foglights have been moved into the bumper. The optional xenon headlights now include the corona light rings, and should the Cold Weather package be ordered, the headlight washers now retract into the bumper.
From the front, the stance looks much the same as the X5's, with fenders tautly blistered over wide and widely spaced tires, giving the X3 a BMW-like, road-grabbing face. The headlamp lenses and kidney grilles are shaped differently, as is the bumper and lower grille openings, and the bumper is black as opposed to the X5 bumper's body-color treatment.
The 2007 X5 also has distanced itself further from its smaller sibling in most dimensions. Compared to the X3, the new X5's wheelbase is now more than five inches longer, its overall length is almost a foot greater, and it sits almost four inches higher. The X5's track, the distance between the tires, is also wider by a larger margin than before. It looks sportier, more hunkered down than the X3.
The X3 looks like the X5 in side view, though the cut line from the front wheel wells to the front doors was eliminated for a cleaner look. A mild character crease bridges the space between the fender blisters, and a relatively low beltline adds openness to the side windows. The trademark dogleg in the rear quarter window has been stretched a bit, however.
From the rear, the new X3 displays a new light cluster with horizonal LED taillights and a new bumper. The main difference between the X3 and X5 back here is the single, double-tipped exhaust exiting on the left side whereas the X5 sports dual oval exhausts exiting at the corners. For 2007, the X3's pipes are chromed. The angle of the rear glass is more upright in the X3 than in the X5, and the X5's hatch-integrated spoiler adds a further touch of sportiness to the big SUV.
Standard running gear is newly styled 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, while 18- and 19-inch wheels are available.
People familiar with BMW interiors will immediately feel at home in the X3 and will appreciate the changes made for 2007 for a more refined ambience. Controls are where they should be and feel the way they should, with the proper directional movement, resistance and detents. Instruments are easy to read at a glance and communicate the proper and necessary information.
For 2007, the revised interior uses new materials that are meant to upgrade the look and feel, and for the most part the effort paid off. In a few areas, however, the X3's level of materials and finish quality isn't quite in the same league as its more expensive big brother.
There's much to like, including the new three-spoke steering wheel, the more finely grained dashboard material, the new materials for both the instrument panel and door panels, the new look around the gauge cluster with the instrument hood integrated into the dash, and the door panels and armrests wrapped in either leather or leatherette.
The display for the navigation system is one of the most thoughtfully positioned of the lot, rotating up out of the top center of the dash, gray instead of black, so it's visible to driver and navigator but nestled unobtrusively halfway down in the recess where it stows when not in use.
Passengers will climb in over aluminum doorsill trim with the BMW logo and will find refined interior trim and materials. Dark ash wood trim is now standard; gray poplar or light natural poplar, which we especially like, are no-cost options.
The front seats are supportive and comfortably bolstered. The standard seats are more comfortable than the Sport seats and quite adequately restrain occupants' posteriors when the road begins to wind. Seatbelts feel right, properly tensioned. Ranges of seat adjustment are extensive, to the point a six-footer can enjoy major amounts of headroom and actually put the steering wheel and forward footwell well out of reach; at these extremes, however, rear-seat legroom is seriously diminished.
In terms of roominess, the X3's interior compares favorably with its most likely direct competition, the Lexus RX 330 and Infiniti FX35, giving up an inch or so here and gaining the same there. On the downside, the X3's rear seat is quite firm and virtually flat, like a church pew, where the X5 and the others offer more form fit and comfort. The X3's rear center head restraint is fixed, offering no vertical adjustment.
Cargo area, at 71 cubic feet, is impressive, exceeding the X5's by 10 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, and slotting in between the RX 330's 84.7 cubic feet and the FX35's 64.5. Caesar the 170-pound mastiff was happy here, with the second row of seats flipped down.
Storage areas are numerous and flexible, many fitted with netting that stretches to accommodate odd shapes and medium-sized water bottles. The mesh nets in the lower front doors, though, have been replaced by dual storage bins for better small-item storage. Rear-door map pockets forfeit several square inches to the Europeans' unabated addiction to ash trays.
So much for the tape measure. Where the X3 disappoints is in the intangible and tactile, how the interior looks and feels. Textures and materials have been improved, including a higher quality of optional leather, but there's still no mistaking the X3 for one of BMW's luxury sedans. There are two front cup holders, but the one mounted on the center console is sized more for soda pop cans than coffee cups or water bottles and looks like an afterthought, something cobbled together and glued in place forward of the armrest/storage bin. The passenger cup holder pops out of the end of the dash by the door, where it gets bumped by knees when the passenger is climbing in or out of the car. Door closings are followed by a hint of a hollow echo, instead of the solid 'thunk' we expect of BMWs.
BMW calls its SUVs Sport Activity Vehicles and, indeed, driving the BMW X3 is not like driving other SUVs. While the Lexus RX 330 tends toward the luxury end of the scale, the X3 leans more to turning two-lanes and the occasional twisty dirt track into a fun drive. Our first impression after driving an X3 3.0si around the Bavarian back roads south of Munich was one of smoothness and precision engineering.
The X3 readily swallows mile after mile of high-speed highway. It feels confident in the wet, and really shines on dusty, gravel-strewn back roads and slushy boulevards. With the X3, a driver can accomplish feats that normally require the talents and reflexes of an accomplished rally driver, a benefit of the xDrive all-wheel-drive system working with BMW's multifaceted Dynamic Stability Control. Unerringly, just about the time the driver senses the X3 begin to slide and intuitively readies a saving countersteer, the xDrive calmly tucks the rear end back in line. It's a superb system.
Dynamic Stability Control is even better for 2007, working more quickly and efficiently with the upgraded brake system. The four-wheel discs now include Brake Drying, which helps them stay dry in the wet, Brake Standby, which poises them for quicker action in emergency situations, Start-off Assistant, which automatically holds the X3 on hills to aid smooth ascents, and Brake Fade Compensation, which adjusts the clamping force in response to the slightest hint of brake fade. In other words, these are the brakes of a vehicle that can be pushed to further limits than the average SUV.
For those who are comfortable driving at the limit, Dynamic Stability Control now includes, for the first time in a BMW SUV, Dynamic Traction Control. A button lets the driver choose a higher threshold of wheel-slip before DSC engages, and though this technique is good for starting off on loose snow, it can also be used to turn the X3 into even more of a driving machine.
The new six-speed automatic proved to be as smooth and precise in normal, everyday driving as last year's five-speed automatic. Just put it in Drive and go. When pushing it in the slippery stuff, the automatic frees the driver to focus on braking, accelerating and steering. This can be a lot of fun. When so inclined, the driver can use the Steptronic feature to hold the transmission in a specific gear, manually shifting up or down as the incline or traction dictates or invites.
The six-speed manual transmission, on the other hand, is everything people who know and like BMWs have come to expect and appreciate. Shifts are smooth and precise, clutch engagement predictable and gears properly spaced to keep the engine in the sweet spot of its power band, although it is geared a bit high for relaxed long distance cruising. We prefer the automatic.
Acceleration is still silky and linear, it just happens more quickly now, thanks to the new 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine's 260 horsepower, 35 more than the outgoing six. The power delivery is also smoother because of Valvetronic, BMW's sophisticated control system that helps optimize engine response while also reducing fuel consumption. The 3.0si records 0-60 mph times of 6.9 seconds for the manual and 7.1 seconds for the automatic. While not blistering performance figures, they are significant improvements over the 2006 X3 and, considering the vehicle's weight, are no cause for shame.
The optional Servotronic steering is flat-out wonderful. It's speed-sensitive, adding more assist at low speeds, and invisibly altering the steering ratio, so the car turns more with less steering input. Parallel-parking is a breeze, as are quick, mid-block U-turns. As speed increases, assistance diminishes and the ratio slows, making for good on-center feel and sure lane changes. Perhaps the best thing about the Servotronic steering is its transparency; unless a driver moves directly from the X3 to another vehicle without the f.
The 2007 BMW X3 3.0si is hard to beat for people who want BMW's heritage, looks, powertrain and packaging, but desire the flexibility a sport-utility vehicle offers, or vice versa. The xDrive, Dynamic Stability Control and Hill Descent Control combine to offer excellent handling, grip, traction, stability on gravel roads, muddy two-tracks and snow-covered backroads. Overall fit is to the marque's standards, but the interior finish is disappointing. Leaving the options boxes unchecked yields an affordable and capable SUV that requires no apology, and judicious checking lets even a cost-conscious shopper have the desired luxuries.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed the original report from Northern California, with Greg Brown reporting on the 3.0si from the Austrian foothills south of Munich.
BMW X3 3.0si ($38,000).
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($2,450) includes universal garage door opener, Nevada leather upholstery, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, 4-way power lumbar, and BMW Assist with Bluetooth; Servotronic steering ($250); Xenon headlights with auto-leveling ($800); rear door-mounted, side-impact airbags ($385); on-board navigation system ($1,800); Park Distance Control, front and rear ($700).
BMW X3 3.0si ($38,695).
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