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.