Like other hilly Central California roads, the drive to Pacheco Pass is not drastically steep, nor is it very high at 1,300 feet of elevation. But the 14-mile stretch of state highway 152 in Santa Clara County is also challenging.
I’ve driven the eastbound and westbound road more than 100 times en route to or departing the Monterey Peninsula. Maybe it’s the tight cement restraining barriers or what feels like an odd road camber. It’s just a winding downhill (or uphill) highway section that drives more difficultly than it should.
Of course, that makes it a perfect place to test drive a vehicle. And that’s exactly what I did recently in both directions in a BMW X3. The 2007 version of the compact sport utility vehicle was restyled and its six-cylinder 3.0-liter engine features an updated transmission, increased horsepower and all-wheel drive.
As stated in the car review publication, Consumer Guide, the BMW ’07 offering has been “rebadged.” It’s now called the 3.0si, replacing the 3.0i. The upgrades include a six-speed automatic transmission, instead of the 2006 five-speed (A six-speed manual transmission remains from previous years). Horsepower has been increased from 225 to 260.
Like any BMW, the new X3 does well on the open road. It accelerates promptly at all speeds, maneuvers adeptly in traffic and offers driver and passenger(s) sufficient, but not overly spacious comfort.
Although classified as a compact SUV, the X3 has a larger feel. It negotiates bumps with ease and its steering and handling are strong. The vehicle’s turning radius is tight and braking is firm — all qualities expected of the German/Austrian-built BMW.
But like I have with numerous other vehicles, one true test comes when negotiating the unique terrain of the aforementioned Pacheco Pass. I’m not a particularly aggressive]]> driver and in some SUVs, I’m leery on sharp cornering. But it wasn’t an issue with the X3. Steep, sweeping descents were handled without issue or any “tipping over” feeling.
Conversely, on the return route, the X3 didn’t do as well as expected on several sustained inclines. The BMW didn’t struggle, but particularly when the air conditioning was on, the X3’s road authority waned.
Like all BMWs, the X3 has a handsome if unspectacular interior. My test vehicle’s “Highland Green” exterior was nicely complemented by “Sand Beige” leather seats and a black console.
The standard features list for the new BMW is generous, but several important, high-priced optional packages and additional charges add nearly another $10,000 to the base price.
There are some minor issues. There could be more cupholders and XM radio should be included for the manufacturer’s upscale reputation. And the overly sensitive obstacle sensors are annoying.
Still, there’s little of substantial importance to criticize about the X3, with the exception of its hefty price. Compact SUV and $50,000 don’t seem like compatible terms.
Safety Features — Dual front and door-mounted side impact airbags. Rear airbags options
Fuel Mileage (estimates) – 19 mpg (city), 26 mpg (highway).
Warranty — Bumper to bumper, 4 years/50,000 miles; Corrosion, 12 years/unlimited miles; (24-hour) roadside assistance program, 4 years/50,000 miles; Free schedule maintenance, 4 years/50,000 miles
Base Price — $38,000.