2011 BMW X3 Review

2011 BMW X3 - BMW offers a different take on the typical compact SUV.


When everyone was introducing an SUV to its line a few years ago, BMW decided to join in with a small SAV of its own creation.

The difference, of course, was that SUVs were sport Utility vehicles, while SAVs were sport Activity vehicles, with an emphasis on activity in keeping with the BMW philosophy of producing vehicles with a performance character capable of getting you from here to there quickly without wasting time idling at the light.

SUVs carried people and their things and got you from here to there even if there was snow in your path, but SAVs carried people and their gear and got you here to there with a broad smile on your face.

SUVs boast the ability to get you to work and back regardless of how many inches of snow block your patch. SAVs, meanwhile measure the ability to play and accelerate from 0 to 60 m.p.h. in 6.7 seconds and reach a top speed of 130 m.p.h. in the xDrive28i we tested, or a 0 to 60 m.p.h. spurt in 5.5 seconds and a top speed of 150 m.p.h. in the top of the line xDrive 35i

The BMW X3 built in Austria was a new entry in 2004. A new generation II has arrived for 2011 and is now built in Spartanburg, South Carolina, alongside the X5 and X6 sport utility vehicles rather than in Austria.

As is typically the case with any vehicle introduced in the last few years, the original intent of offering a small, high mileage machine has given way to offering a bigger, more powerful vehicle. While downsizing is easy to perform on vehicle bodies, it isn't as easy a task on human bodies whose hips, thighs, arms, legs and melons aren't regulated by the federal government to help conserve fuel and reduce exhaust emissions---at least not yet.

The BMW X3 has two roles to play. First it has to be at home on or off road regardless of the weather or the conditions of the terrain beneath---whether smooth and dry or rough and filled with mud or snow, which is why it comes with xDrive or all wheel drive as standard to engage all four wheels when slippage is detected.

And in keeping with the BMW DNA, it has to cater to get up and go performance, which is why it boasts a top speed of 130 m.p.h. and a 0 to 60 m.p.h. acceleration time of 6.7 seconds.  

The growth spurt for Gen II X3 saw wheelbase increase by 1/2 inch, overall length by 3.36 inches, width by 1.1 inches, and height by 1/2 inch. To make it easier to maneuver off road, ground clearance was also raised by 1/2 inch.

The other major Gen II change finds the 3 liter, 260 h.p. in-line six cylinder replaced by a 3 liter, 240 h.p. in line six and a 3 liter, 300 h.p. turbocharged in-line six cylinder.

While the 260 h.p. six was rated at 17 m.p.g. city/24 m.p.g. highway with either its 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, the 240 h.p. V-6 is rated at a higher 19/25, while the turbo six is rated even better at 19/26. Both the 2011 engines are teamed with a new 8 speed automatic. The manual is gone.

So more room, more power, and more mileage.

With the bigger dimensions you expect and enjoy both better ride and handling and car-like response to steering wheel and pedal input. Too bad that BMW didn't improve the SAV's riding comfort, however, with a little more padding underneath the leather seat covers. Long distance travel could leave you a bit antsy and eager to take a coffee break to stretch the limbs.

Odd, because there is ample leg, head, and arm room front and rear, but the seats fall a bit short in offering enough cushion for back and butt. The cargo hold has good storage space, with added capacity in a few nooks and crannies under the cargo floor. There's also grocery bag hooks in the rear sidewalls, and a small tub in the floor along the side wall to fit a milk jug in the cargo hold.  

The X3 has the BMW performance character, both from the performance of either six cylinder engine, as well as in the smooth ride and nimble car-like handling. Stability control ensures proper manners on road while Hill Descent control allows you to descend step inclines without suddenly gaining speed and loosing control when off road. Optional electronic suspension damping automatically adjusts ride firmness or softness based on the surface of the road underneath to compensate for on or off road motoring.

The BMW xDrive 28i starts at $36,750. The test vehicle came equipped with a $1,150 cold weather package with heated front and rear seats as well as heated steering wheel, a nice package to have. The premium package at $3,450 adds wood trim, garage door opener, panoramic sunroof with open glass up front/fixed glass in back and auto dimming mirrors, features you could do without to save $3,450. Keyless entry ran $500.

If the budget is unlimited, options include a navi system ($2,150), back up camera ($400), park assist ($750), and a power open/close tailgate ($500)--- probably the most worthwhile and probably the most used feature in the group.

The manually operated tailgate has a neat feature, a power lock. Finish loading all the gear or groceries into the cargo hold and then press the lock button and close the tailgate and the doors and gate are locked tight so you can do more shopping or grab a cup of coffee without having to press a key fob or individually slip in the key and lock each door. Nice touch.  

2011 BMW X3 xDrive 28i

Wheelbase: 110.5 inches
Length: 183 inches
Engine: 3 liter, 240 h.p., in-line six cylinder.
Transmission: 8-speed automatic.
Mileage: 19 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway.
Base price: $36,750.
Price as equipped: Add $1,500 beige leather seats, $750 cold weather package with power folding and heated mirrors and heated seats, $1,750 Premium package with power dual pane sunroof, automatic climate control, and Harmon-Kardon sound system, $1,000 sport package with 18 inch alloy wheels, white bonnet (hood) stripes, and xenon headlamps, $1,250 automatic transmission with manual mode, $500 for park distance control, $250 center arm rest, $500 keyless entry, $500 blue metallic paint, and $700 freight.

Jim Mateja

Jim Mateja enjoyed a 42 year career with the Chicago Tribune before retiring in 2007 as the newspaper's automotive columnist. He received numerous awards for his reporting and writing, including the National Automotive Journalism Association's "Moto" award for best regularly published column and automotive feature writing, and a Best in Show award for his test ride of a horse in conjunction with the Tribune's 150th anniversary. He also earned the Detroit Press Club Foundation's Gold Wheel Award for best car reviews, and a Tribune Professional Performance Award for his column and regular reporting. He still writes occasional car reviews for the Tribune, is one of the nation's 50 automotive journalists who serve as members of the North American Car of the Year judging panel, and is a panel member who helps select Best Buys for "Consumers Digest" magazine. Mateja also is the founding President of the Midwest Automotive Media Association.