The redesigned second-generation BMW X3 is larger and roomier, providing fast acceleration and nearly sports-sedan handling and good utility. There are only minor trim changes for 2012.
This 2011 model is larger and looks much like a “baby” BMW X5. It’s 3.4 inches longer, 1.1 inch wider and half an inch taller than its predecessor. It also has a slightly longer wheelbase and a little more ground clearance. Yet it weighs less than its predecessor.
The $36,750 four-door X3 xDrive 28i model, which I tested, comes with a 3-liter, six-cylinder engine generating 240 horsepower. Although down from the 2010 version’s 260 horsepower, it provides strong acceleration with high revs and should satisfy most X3 buyers.
There’s also a new intercooled and twin-turbocharged $41,050 xDrive35 model with a 3-liter, 300-horsepower engine for even faster merging and passing. This version has wider tires on 18-inch (versus 17-inch) wheels and a numerically higher axle ratio to further enhance acceleration. Handling is sharper, but the ride is less comfortable.
Estimated fuel economy with the 240-horsepower engine is 19 mpg in the city and 25 on highways. Expect a few miles per gallon less in the city and on highways with the 300-horsepower engine.
A new, responsive eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift feature replaces a six-speed automatic. The new automatic quickly and smoothly selects the right gear. However, quickly letting up on the accelerator pedal when accelerating sometimes momentarily confuses the transmission until it knows what gear to select. A manual transmission no longer is offered.
An advanced standard all-wheel-drive system for both versions helps keep things stable. So do stability and traction control systems.
The 28i model has a good amount of comfort, convenience and safety equipment. It includes power front bucket seats, air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, a 12-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system and plenty of air bags.
There’s a bunch of option packages, none of which are especially cheap. My $36,750 test car’s bottom line price was $43,875 with such options as the $3,450 Premium Package that contains a panoramic moonroof and foldable heated outside mirrors. The price also includes an $875 transportation charge.
The $1,150 Cold Weather package is a good idea for Northern stateX3 buyers, with its heated front and rear seats and heated steering wheel.
Some options, such as the heated front seats, can be ordered separately. “Nevada Leather” upholstery costs $1,450. And, of course, there’s an $875 premium sound system, along with $350 Sirius satellite radio (with a 1-year subscription).
The commendably quiet interior ir roomy up front and in back—although the hard center section of the rear seat is uncomfortable. Best to pull down the center rear armrest, which contains nicely placed cupholders.
There is BMW’s signature split grille, and the rest of the body has nicely sculptured lines. Interior quality also has been upgraded to a classy level. The white-on-black gauges can be quickly read, and controls are easy to use once you get the hang of them. However, the shift lever partially blocks the twin cupholdes at the front of the console.
There’s a decent number of cabin storage areas, but it’s surprising BMW still uses its old fuel economy indicator, which uses a needle that constantly swings to the left or right.
The X3 handles much like a sports sedan. Its formerly stiff ride has been made more comfortable, with well-controlled body motions. Steering is quick, although rather heavy. There is little lean during sharp cornering and the pedal for the strong four-wheel anti-lock brakes has a linear action for smooth stops. Electronic brake distribution shortens stopping distances.
Getting in and out calls for extra effort because of the X3’s high floor, but occupants sit high for better visibility. Rear door openings, though, are rather narrow. Outside door handles are large for quick entry, and inside handles are easily grasped. The power front seats are very supportive.
The large cargo area has a low opening and a hatch that swings up smoothly on twin struts. Rear seatbacks easily fold forward and sit flat to greatly increase space for cargo. A shallow covered area below the cargo floor might occasionally come in handy.
The hood also swings up smoothly on struts.
The X3 is a good choice for those who would like a mid-size BMW sedan but need more utility.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com