Spent an evening dog-sitting and car-testing for some friends this weekend. Kindly, they left me their 2011 BMW X3, since I’d previously driven their 2011 BMW 535i GT.
Skin-deep first impression: love the angular, meaty front side; not crazy about squashed the rear (though I think it has gradual love potential). The X3 doesn’t come standard with LED corona-ringed xenon headlamps, a non-issue for most I’d guess, but disappointing to me, the detail stalker.
Firing it up, many familiar sights and sounds come alive. The X3 shares its gauge cluster, HVAC controls, gear selector, and most other items with its car and SUV family. Engine sound is a bit rougher, especially in the cold, than the bigger 6-cylinder in the 535. After 2011, BMW replaced the 3 liter I-6 in the X3, 328, 528, and Z4 with a 2 liter 4-cylinder, which has more horsepower and better acceleration, but undoubtedly sounds less refined – less BMW-like, than even this one.
First impression on the inside: light leather was attractive and felt high-quality, light wood trim meshed well with pale leather and dark molded plastic trim. You can see in the X3 where it is a less expensive model than the 5 – hard plastic trim on areas you don’t normally contact as a driver or passenger (rear cargo area and some pillar trim), and the doors shut with an unconvincing knock.
Driving, things that worked: gentle from-a-stop acceleration, and excellent giddy-up, all the way to nearly redline, when pushed. Sportier and more confident handling than the larger, heavier 5 series. Tall ride position gave commanding view of the road, though the car itself is not unwieldy. Suspension and ride were competent at dispelling broken surfaces.
Driving, things that didn’t work: driver’s seat was too high; even at it’s lowest adjustment, for my thighs to rest comfortably on the cushion – resulting in slight circulation loss. Steering was generally soulless, except for in glimpses at curves or turning movements. Fine for moms moving from minivans, but not for true bimmer enthusiasts.
Verdict: perfect if you (1) don’t like wagons, but need space, (2) like SUVs and their tall benefits, but don’t want to needlessly kill the planet, slowly, or (3) you’re deciding between other similarly-sized models (e.g. Mercedes GLK, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60), and you want a solidly-built, reliable, and stylish ‘ute.
I wouldn’t buy one for a couple of reasons: I prefer a lower seating position, prefer wagons, and prefer models that emphasize handling to convenience. Otherwise, it was an enjoyable vehicle to play househusband with for 24 hours.