The new BMW X3 is currently the middle child in BMW's SUV lineup but is it worth not forgetting?
...How I got ahold of an X3 on a layman's budget...
BMW wanted me to drive the new X3 so badly that they designed the e60 we currently own to eat its own a/c compressor. The Ultimate Driving Machine company knew I couldn't afford their refrigerant recovery machine so while they fixed my car for me, they had a shiny new black X3 ready for me to drive up to the snow. Yeah, it's a stripped out courtesy vehicle but so what... Press car!
What drives a person to reject THE SEDAN that has been the benchmark of driving dynamics and luxury for decades? I'm talking about the BMW 3 series. All the buff books have nothing but good things to say about it. Even DWA! contributors and founding members have held the titles of many a 3 series. True, it has become less sport focused and more "luxury" as of late, but it still has the charisma of its older brothers. What makes a person walk into a dealership, past this sedan of great acclaim, and pay more for its fatter, less athletic cousin?
I'll let my wife describe why she wanted one;
"I love my e60 535 but growing up my mom had SUV's. I'd rather look through the other suvs than be eye level with their doors. I also like getting the idea of having something sporty to take up to the snow two hours away and the back is better for a dog. I don't have a dog but if I did it would be awesome."
So the checklist is as following:
-good in snow
So let's punch some checklists!
First things first;
IS IT TALL?
No, and let me explain. The idea of tall is to be able to see over things and people. This vehicle does not achieve that goal. The first three vehicles on American's best selling list are tall half-ton pickup trucks. In this compact SUV, you won't be able to see over any of them. Add in the even larger semi trucks and it becomes Impossible to see ahead without some form of X-ray vision. The X3 still isn't tall enough to clear your line of sight of the roof of the 4th best selling car in America. That car is a grounded to the ground Toyota Camry. In addition, you have the glut of SUV's and crossovers that have been selling well for years. Good luck seeing over these as they are roughly the same height as the X3. This leaves you with very few options if you want to see above cars. Daily driving a semi tractor, a lifted pickup, anything with a periscope, or lane splitting a motorcycle is really the only way to see around heavy traffic. In actuality, this is a moot point because I don't see many suburban housewives getting their Class A truck license any time soon.
VERDICT: a piggy back ride from Danny Divito would get you taller.
IS IT SPORTY?
The thing about using Danny Divito as transportation is that he doesn't come across as very sporty. Is the X3 any better? Yes, and that's because underneath it's a modern 3 series with a lift kit and Xdrive (what BMW calls their all wheel drive system). It would be as capable as a 3 series if it were not for the large amount of weight sitting on a lifted suspension. It's definitely not as huckable in the corners as the new 3 and infinitely more disappointing than the 2008 535i that my wife daily drives. The roll in the corners is way too much if it was coming from a sport sedan, but for a small SUV, it's really not as bad as it could be.
Also, on the sporty side, we cannot say anything bad about the motor. This X holds the "28" designation, which means it is the lowest rung on the X3 ladder that comes with Xdrive. However, don't let that fool you. The little turbocharged 2 liter mill really punches above its weight and impresses with its response and overall oomph. You can get the venerated 3 liter straight 6 in it but at a $6k premium, I'm not sure it's worth it. This little motor was seriously quite impressive.
Verdict: Not bad, Not bad at all
Now what does all of this mean for its usability in the snow? Well, being a new car, it starts right up when it's cold outside and employs a sophisticated system to heat up the engine and cabin in rapid fashion. It's called the cooling system and it's equipped with a special bit known as a thermostat. How it all works is witchcraft and the dark arts, but it's really good when it's really cold.
Then there is another issue with cold weather. Because it's an expensive luxury vehicle, it's seats are shod in the finest dead cow. As anyone who has ever used a carcass of a deceased bovine to cushion their bottom in the winter,they can be alarmingly cold. BMW has employed something brilliant to combat this. Not knowing the technical term, I shall refer to them as "Tush Toasters". (Editor's note: "please realize, all this cold weather temperature stuff comes standard in most vehicles these days")
After sitting in the long line of chain checks in the Sierra Nevadas and being waved through without tire chains, we got to business of driving it on the snow. We have discovered it won't make a good substitute for a snowmobile. If the white powdery stuff gets deeper than 6 inches, the stock running gear becomes just about useless. However, if the roads are cold, icy, and are covered in less than 6 inches of fresh snow, it will hold its own against the local snow-bro's 2001 Subaru Outback. (That is speaking from experience) You may even pass him if you are brave enough. (was I? I'll let you guess) The Xdrive system is engineered to make sure even the most timid of grandmothers can feel at ease driving over the river and through the snow covered woods. I can also say it's engineered to keep you from being a hooligan. No powerslides, no snowy four-wheel rooster tails, no fun. It's safe, warm, and regimented just like your German nana.
Verdict: Nana approves, inner kid does not.
So should you spend your $46,000 on the X3? Maybe. Its not a bad car by any means and many will be attracted to it. Will I be? Well it's not as good to drive as the sometimes cheaper 3 series, it doesn't solve my seeing over things issue, and I can get the Xdrive system in the 3 series wagon. I think my answer is made for me. But don't take my word for it, see for yourself and go get a free loaner like I did!
Now if only BMW would let me drive the 4 series gran coupé with Xdrive...
Jamil Mizirawi is an overly ambitious if not slightly delusional Californian who fancies himself to be a good mechanic, a great husband, and really crap writer. Follow his adventures on DWA!