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      01-03-2011, 01:46 PM   #1
Jason
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Post C&D: 2011 X3 xDrive35i Road Test Review

2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i - Short Take Road Test

BMW’s X3 crossover grows up and gets its turbo on.

BY MIKE SUTTON

VIA: http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/...take_road_test

Introduced seven years ago, the original 3-series–based BMW X3 was getting old. In spite of a mid-cycle refresh for 2007, in our last comparison test of small luxury crossovers, we called it “a five-year-old BMW on stilts,” and poked fun at its tight back seat, dated interior, and high cost. (Of course, its fine driving dynamics meant it still charged to a second-place showing behind the then-new Audi Q5.) And so we welcome this new-for-2011 model. Like most vehicular reprises, the latest X3 has grown up and grown out—mostly to make room for the smaller X1 in BMW’s lineup—with a larger silhouette, more available power, and a marked increase in comfort.

With dimensional swelling in nearly every direction, most notably 3.4 inches of additional length, the X3 has a greater presence on the road, a trait also helped by a new exterior design featuring sharply creased sheetmetal. It’s roomier inside, with a back seat that’s now tolerable for adults, and a 40/20/40 split rear bench can now be optioned in place of the standard 60/40 split. The cabin is much nicer than before, although it is bereft of its own personality, closely mimicking the generic layout and design of the X5 SUV and 5-series sedan. An optional 8.8-inch iDrive screen sat fat atop our test vehicle’s center stack, and BMW’s now-ubiquitous electronic-joystick shifter has been adopted.

Ride Can Still Get Harsh

The X3’s suspension consists of struts up front and a multilink rear. When equipped with the optional Electronic Damping Control shocks, the suspension (and various other chassis settings, such as throttle sensitivity) can be configured through the iDrive controller; quick adjustment is accomplished via a toggle on the center console that flips among Normal, Sport, and Sport+ settings. The ride is much better than what we recall from the previous model, although it isn’t exactly plush even in Normal mode. Given that, we’d recommend avoiding the sportier suspension settings and optional 19-inch wheels (18s are standard). In those modes, and even with our test example’s 18-inchers, the X3 still fairly clomps over frost heaves and pavement seams. We also found the new X3’s electric power steering a tactile letdown, heavy and artificial like the new 5-series sedan’s.

Curb weight has been kept in check in the generational changeover. Despite being larger and adding some new equipment, our 4211-pound, top-spec xDrive35i tester and its single-turbo inline-six weighed just 70 pounds more than the last naturally aspirated xDrive30i we sampled.

With eight automatically shifted gears—a manual is no longer available—and 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque on hand from its N55 six-cylinder, the X3 xDrive35i delivers strong acceleration. Our test results matched BMW’s 5.5-second 0-to-60-mph estimate, and power delivery is velvety smooth across the rev range, with only slight dips during otherwise unobtrusive gearswaps. The quarter-mile goes by in 14.2 seconds at 97 mph, with the firm, reassuring brakes halting the X3 from 70 mph in 165 feet. (The outgoing X3 xDrive30i was 1.6 seconds slower to 60 and 1.3 seconds slower to the quarter-mile post, but notched essentially the same braking figure at 169 feet.) The new X3’s acceleration and braking numbers are strong enough to outdo all the players in the aforementioned comparison test by a significant margin, including the Lexus RX350, Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC, and Volvo XC60 T6 AWD. (Unfortunately, an early December blizzard covered the high-speed oval and skidpad at our test facility, preventing us from measuring skidpad grip and top speed for now.)

You’d think the slow-moving winter traffic during our test might have helped our observed fuel economy, but we saw just 18 mpg. The X3 xDrive 35i is rated by the EPA for 19 mpg city/26 highway.

How Fancy Are Your Pants?

While the standard xDrive28i model (and its 240-hp, naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-six) starts at $37,625, our X3 xDrive35i wore a base price of $41,925. (For comparison, the xDrive30i was the only model offered in 2010, and it started at $39,725.)

From there, however, the bottom line for the vehicle tested here swelled to $55,100—more than a well-equipped X5 xDrive35i—thanks to options like the $3450 Premium package (Nevada leather, auto-dimming mirrors, 16-way power front seats, universal garage remote, and panoramic sunroof, the latter of which was absent on our pre-production vehicle), the $3200 Technology package (rearview camera, park-distance control, Bluetooth, and real-time traffic information), and the $1400 Dynamic Handling package (EDC dampers with performance control, variable sport steering). Our X3 also had the $1250 Sport Activity package (sports seats and steering wheel, sporty transmission programming, unique exterior trim with satin-finish roof rails), the $1150 Convenience pack (power liftgate, keyless access/start, rear window shades), and the $1150 Cold Weather package (heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, headlight washers, and the 40/20/40-folding rear seat). A premium audio system upgrade tacked on $875, while Mineral Silver metallic paint and smartphone integration added $550 and $150. Suffice it to say, no butt went uncoddled in this X3.

No 3-Series Wagon

The X3 looks fresh in its new duds, and the comprehensive overhaul keeps it among the leaders in its class. That said, a few of our main complaints have carried over: The new model still offers little value when laden with options, and while the back seat is larger, it could still be more accommodating. Of the newly introduced niggles, we expect BMW to continue tweaking the electric steering system’s programming until it delivers the feel and performance we’re used to in the brand’s vehicles. BMW’s own 3-series wagon offers better dynamics with similar practicality for less money—albeit with no turbocharged engine option—but in this SUV and crossover-crazed country, that’s largely irrelevant. And so those who look at wagons with scorn in their eyes and contempt in their bellies will largely be pleased with the new X3, which at least now feels like a contemporary BMW on stilts.
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      01-03-2011, 04:18 PM   #2
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Seems like BMW still has not sorted out the Electric Power Steering on the new models. Hopefully soon BMW will fix this to bring it back to a more confident feel with feed back on the new X3 as well as the new F10 5-series.
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      01-03-2011, 04:29 PM   #3
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Hydraulic power steering please...
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      01-03-2011, 05:05 PM   #4
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$$$ rule. Electronic steering is cheaper so good bye hyraulic system. Just a matter of time before it spreads like a cancer through the rest of the line. Heck even my lowly Toyota 08' RAV4 uses a similar system already. And no I love my 335 steering and just ok with the RAV4's, but I don't decide what they give us.
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      01-03-2011, 06:11 PM   #5
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Quote:
You’d think the slow-moving winter traffic during our test might have helped our observed fuel economy, but we saw just 18 mpg. The X3 xDrive 35i is rated by the EPA for 19 mpg city/26 highway.
The 28i dissapointed me when I saw it was 19/25 even worse mpg than the 35i. I hope the 18mpg observed on the 35i has something to do with the break in period?
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      01-03-2011, 06:28 PM   #6
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Great quote at the end about the superiority of the 3-series wagon. Too bad North American customers can't be more open to "wagons".
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      01-03-2011, 06:46 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 3s-a-charm View Post
Great quote at the end about the superiority of the 3-series wagon. Too bad North American customers can't be more open to "wagons".
It would be perfect timing for BMW with the S4 Avant no longer available here…I would personally love a 335xi or even 335xid touring!
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      01-03-2011, 09:09 PM   #8
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Car was a disappointment to me. Both, steering and looks.
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      01-03-2011, 10:37 PM   #9
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I liked the way it looked but have got to say I drove the xDrive 35i last weekend and was also extremely disappointed in the steering.

Quote:
Originally Posted by adamm3k View Post
Car was a disappointment to me. Both, steering and looks.
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      01-04-2011, 12:04 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by E90076 View Post
I liked the way it looked but have got to say I drove the xDrive 35i last weekend and was also extremely disappointed in the steering.
Curious if the X3 you test drove had the dynamic handling package?
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      01-04-2011, 02:17 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by E90076 View Post
I liked the way it looked but have got to say I drove the xDrive 35i last weekend and was also extremely disappointed in the steering.
This is the first car I am ordering without a test drive for all reviews except this one have been super positive, I have changed my mind now, I need to drive first, a lousy steering is the worst thing to live with.
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      01-04-2011, 03:14 AM   #12
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It is an expensive little sucker.
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      01-04-2011, 09:18 AM   #13
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[OUOTE] ...We also found the new X3’s electric power steering a tactile letdown, heavy and artificial like the new 5-series sedan’s. ... [quote]

Although I usually am in agreement with C&D's reviews, this was just the opposite of my impression during my 30 minute test drive a couple of weeks ago. The car I drove had steering that was actually quite light and "over-boosted" in the "Normal" setting and still on the "light side" but with better (actually very nice ) weight in the "Sport" setting. I can't imagine anyone calling the steering "heavy".

With the BMW CA in the car I never got above 60 mph and there were no long sweeper turns, but I did nail the throttle on a few 25 mph corners and was able to induce a little oversteer. The steering feedback was fine and quickly let me know that a little reverse lock was needed (at least in the "Sport" setting).

What I found more disconcerting, since I'm used to driving only manual transmission cars, was the transmission suddenly dropping down 2 or 3 gears in a turn as power is gradually applied, completely screwing up the balance of the car. I guess that's what the "Manual" shift mode is for.

UPDATE: Just read "Inside Line" Roadtest which includes the following:
"The first thing any BMW-ophile worth his blue-and-white blood will notice is the steering weight. Their improbably jacked forearms, veined and gnarled from years of manhandling heavy steering at low speeds will find the grandma-friendly hyper-light steering unnerving. A stiff breeze hitting the wheel could get this SUV to change direction."

I wouldn't call it "hyper-light" but their opinion is much more in line with my experience than that of Car & Driver's reviewer. Maybe C & D got a early prototype that was not typical, or maybe BMW tweeked the C & D sample to have higher steering effort to avoid having C & D say it was "too light".

Last edited by Lotus7; 01-04-2011 at 10:27 AM.
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      01-04-2011, 10:23 AM   #14
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The new X3 is on my list for this Spring, so I appreciate this article being shared (haven't read this issue yet).

I'm looking forward to driving both the 28 and 35 models. If the steering is anything like my recent 2011 535 loaner, I won't like it.
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