Refined, Not Redefined 2011 BMW X3 - Click above for high-res image gallery Long before the segment-bending X6, BMW's crossover strategy was simple: offer the utility of a traditional SUV but in a package that's not only luxurious, but fun to drive. The original X5 Sport Utility Activity Vehicle kicked things off in 1999, and only a few years later, the smaller X3 arrived. Now, luxury crossovers are a dime a dozen, and automakers are clamoring to be a part of the small CUV segment. In just the past few years, we've been introduced to the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Volvo XC60 and Infiniti EX35, among others. But as the X3 aged, its unusually harsh suspension and not-so-great interior plagued sales. In 2004, BMW moved roughly 35,000 X3s off dealer lots, and just last year, that number dropped to less than 10,000. Things aren't looking good for 2010, either. Instead of trying to reinvent the formula, BMW has improved on the X3's original idea by offering more refinement, top-notch driving dynamics and heaps of technology focused on efficiency and connectivity. The end result is a compact crossover ready to regain its spot at the head of the class. Find out if BMW succeeded after the jump. %Gallery-105348% Photos copyright ©2010 Steven J. Ewing / AOL One of the primary issues that needed addressing was the X3's design. That's not to say the original X3 wasn't attractive, but its styling grew more outdated with each year, not only within the segment, but within the BMW lineup. The 2011 X3 uses the full suite of modern day BMW design language – larger, upright dual-kidney grille; angular, sideways-T taillights – and 80 percent of the time, it looks great. The other 20 percent? When looking the X3 in the eyes, there's a strong character line below the headlamp cluster that's been softened, and the clear headlamp surround is more squared off. The end result is an oddly awkward front fascia, as if BMW's designers sculpted the new X3 and then realized they forgot to add headlights. It isn't horrible by any means, it just looks... off. We like the side profile of the new X3 with its stronger character lines and upward slope to the rear window, and things are crisp, clean and fresh out back. We highly recommend opting for the Sport Activity Package ($1,550 or $1,850, depending on model) as it adds the X-Line exterior trim treatment and larger, more attractive wheels. Still, standard-issue X3s like our tester aren't too hard on the eyes, and while the overall design is sleek and fresh, it lacks some of the unique visual interest that you'll find on a Volvo XC60 or Mercedes-Benz GLK. The X3 is slightly larger than its outgoing model, gaining 3.1 inches in length (183.0 total), 1.1 inches in width (74.1 inches) and 0.5 inches in height (65.4 inches). BMW points out that the new X3 is similar in size to the first-generation X5, and this dimensional increase means the …
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