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      11-11-2010, 09:58 AM   #1

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Post 2011 BMW X3 First Drive Review by Motor Authority

MotorAuthority shares their first drive impressions of the 2011 BMW X3, calling it sturdy in feel, amazingly quick on its feet, and finally un-punishing on everyday roads.

Attention, Glenn Beck and the rest of right-tilting America: this is the new, camera-ready face of legal immigration.

The 2011 BMW X3 is a newly minted citizen, and clearly, it went overboard studying for its naturalization exams. How else would it know offhand, the easy path to success blazed by other tailored-for-America products?

If you missed it in civics or marketing class, cheat off our paper. Make it bigger, make it faster, make it richer--but don't make it too off-roady.

The new X3 ticks all those boxes, from its un-knobby tires to its gently curved roof. It's grown in almost every dimension, and gained a great new interior with more second-row seat room. (It's almost the size of the original X5, now.) It looks fantastic, inside and out. It's fast enough to blur any memory of its stiff-riding, cheap-cabin ancestors. It has all the hallmarks of a big U.S. splash, down to the patriotic tug on the heartstrings, now that it's assembled in South Carolina, alongside the X5 and X6 sport-utes.

But in its new incarnation as something more than a compact luxury crossover, with something more than casual off-road capability, is the X3 a real pole-vault ahead of a crowded class overstuffed with the Cadillac SRX, Audi Q5, Volvo XC60 and a slew of other multi-mission utes? Does it hit the luxury-crossover hot button more quickly, and accurately?

We set off to rural Georgia to deep-dive into the latest BMW blend for those answers, and some outstanding pecan pie niblets that strayed into their demise. An elaborate pavilion pinned down in strong winds by a wide range of BMW four-wheel-drive vehicles drove the off-road point home before we even laid hands on keyfobs--yes, the X3 still can stray off pavement. So did the handy farm trails carved into hundreds of surrounding acres.

But it was the winding backroads in the first death throes of autumn color, and slogs of Interstate 85 that underscored how much better it's become in daily-drive duties. And how much more trouble the resurgent X3 can cause for those arrivistes.
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If you consider that a major improvement--and we do, because the idea of a BMW SUV still strikes us as three letters too many--the X3's interior will convince you that theis crossover's an acceptable substitute for the rear-drive glory that the turbo 3-Series sedans muster. It's so much more sophisticated in design and execution, that it renders the prior X3 generations into early used-car oblivion. Who would want dark, hard, plasticky controls in a two-year-old, off-lease X3 when this version's innards are silky as pate? The dash arcs to envelop controls and angles them at the driver, adding to the more sedan-like air surrounding the new SUV.

BMW says it's paid special attention to upgrading the interior materials, too, and it's immediately obvious. Tough textures have gone soft, in the proper ways. A large LCD screen links into the connected-driving zeitgeist, and there's a head-up display on offer that projects all the information essential to driving in a discreet section of the windshield.

It's a calming influence at work. Whether it's the big, clear dials in the instrument pod, the simplified audio and climate switches, or even the off-centered iDrive controller, the X3's cabin seems more rested and at ease with its mission. Which, we think, is information first, comfort a close second--and clutter, never.
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It's all about timing

In the U.S., BMW will offer the 2011 X3 with a choice of two six-cylinder engines
. The base X3 xDrive28i is normally aspirated, and churns out 240 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque, which the automaker
says should be good for a 0-60 mph cruise of 6.7 seconds--faster than the prior edition and its similar engine.

We weren't able to drive that version just yet, as BMW had just offlined enough X3s from its European launch to stage its first drive. No pity here, though. We spent the entire driving day with the single-turbo six-cylinder X3, tweaked to 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. BMW promises a 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds to 60 mph with this powertrain, along with a limited top speed of 150 mph.

Those numbers approach the figures generated by the 3-Series sedan, not to mention a few generations of M3 derivatives. With it, it's starkly obvious in the X3 that "carlike" applies mostly to street performance. Some minor-league exhaust rumble comes with the major-league BMW sensations of power, but who's complaining? It's a footnote to the kind of straight-line acceleration that confuses your brain, which thinks that this kind of ride height automatically translates to "plodding."

The sole transmission this time around in the X3 is an eight-speed automatic. There's no manual option, but the automatic is staged so lower gears boost grunt, while upper gears lock up via a torque converter to help fuel economy (final EPA numbers haven't been released). Available paddle shifters (in a crossover!) are a mixed message: they keep you from removing a hand from the wheel, but curiously, I couldn't find any gear indicator on any of the LCD screens.

Another side excursion: Our test car had a version of BMW's start-stop technology wired into its electronic engine and transmission controls, and unfortunately it's not ready for prime time over here. The system aggressively shut down down on schedule--but restarting often left the X3 lurching out of parking lots and on to secondary roads, with a worst-case moment of lag as the engine computers juggled turbo staging, transmission shifting and calls for all-wheel-drive traction.

More electronics bedazzle the suspension and steering, but they've been streamlined for X3 use into a package that encourages set-and-forget driving. It's still classic MacPherson strut and multi-link rear suspensions, with electronic shocks grafted on and tailored with a Driving Dynamics Control switch located near the gearshift lever.

Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes are offered, and they adjust not only the dampers, but the throttle, transmission and steering feel according to the selected mode. For better or worse, the X3 feels best in Sport mode, with swifter steering and tauter ride feel. The ride quality isn't harmed at all--it's not meaningfully cushier in Normal mode, but there's head toss all the time, the burden of carlike handling imposed on tall vehicles--and the steering bulks up to BMW's usual heft. The steering feel could use more fiddling, as it builds up cornering feel even during lower-speed turns and lane changes but doesn't unwind with much feel or linearity.
It's the Audi Q5 and to a lesser extent, the Lexus RX that the new X3 has in its headlights. Sturdy in feel, amazingly quick on its feet, and finally un-punishing on everyday roads, the X3 gets our nod--and not just because it's a fellow countryman.
Full review -

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      11-11-2010, 11:23 AM   #2

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Steering seems to be the only thing slightly criticized about this car in most of the reviews, first time I heard there are issues with stop/start though. Good review, thanks for posting!
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      11-11-2010, 11:28 AM   #3
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Can't wait to see and drive this in person.

My last service loaner was an X3 30i that I enjoyed quite a bit, if this is that much better, it might be time to make the SAV plunge.
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      11-11-2010, 12:46 PM   #4
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i will get it if it really can go 150mph, bmwusa state that 130mph for 35i
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      11-11-2010, 03:17 PM   #5

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Originally Posted by yiboi View Post
i will get it if it really can go 150mph, bmwusa state that 130mph for 35i
If it's the same as other BMWs, it will be 130mph without the sport package and 150mph with it.
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      11-11-2010, 03:56 PM   #6

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Originally Posted by yiboi View Post
i will get it if it really can go 150mph, bmwusa state that 130mph for 35i
Who the heck wants to go past 100 Mph in the USA? Are you crazy?!
2013 F10 BMW 535i Alpine White / Oyster Dakota Leather / Anthracite Wood Trim / Steptronic transmission / M Sport Package / Premium Package / Technology Package / Rear-view camera / Park Distance Control
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      11-11-2010, 07:48 PM   #7
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so the start/stop feature won't be in here in the U.S.? i was really looking fwd to that.
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      11-12-2010, 07:32 AM   #8
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The exterior[excepting the rear] and interiors are still mucky.
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      11-12-2010, 09:19 AM   #9
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Given the reliability nightmare of other BMW's lately, I just want it to START and STOP, the normal way!!
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