Reviews

2012 BMW X3 Driving Impressions


This latest BMW X3 has made great strides in chassis sophistication over the previous-generation versions (pre-2011). In an X3 xDrive35i we tried in Atlanta, Georgia, the sensation was of a stable but well cushioned chassis that covers rough ground with little transmission of sound or vibration.

On a short off-road course provided by BMW, our colleagues showed a distinct tendency to approach ridges and cut-offs at too high a rate of speed. (Of course, we didn't make this mistake.) The quiet and unruffled way this car swallowed the imperfections in a rough gravel road was extremely illustrative of how seriously BMW took criticism of the first-generation X3 (2004-2011).

The same is true of the X3's behavior on a paved road. It's extremely smooth, with much of the sound of the car's undercarriage effectively attenuated. Luckily, this commendable compliance does not translate into a sloppy ride. Indeed, ride-motion control is exemplary, so progress is smooth and flat, just the way it should be.

Big 12.9-inch disc rotors inside 19-inch wheels shod with 245/55R18 tires slow the xDrive35i's 4222-pound mass with real authority, backed up by ABS. The base-level xDrive28i has the same brakes, but uses 17-inch wheels and 225/60R17 tires.

BMW has adopted an electric steering assist system, and its engineers have not done a bad job of overcoming the feedback challenges attendant to this burgeoning new technique. In the X3, wheel weighting verges toward hefty, perhaps a tad too much so, accompanied by quite a bit of self-centering torque, but this should not be confused with real steering feel.

Nonetheless, clear and readable off-center response combines with very accurate path control to imbue the steering with a sense of virtual feedback feel that the mechanism itself does not impart in great measure. Better get used to it, because EPS (electric power steering) will soon be ubiquitous on passenger cars. The rest of the X3 chassis allows sporty driving with plenty of attitude control, and, with the optional electronic damper control, surprising adaptability.

The turbocharged engine in the xDrive35i is responsive and powerful, driving the biggish vehicle from rest to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds (6.7 seconds in the normally aspirated xDrive28i), and on to a governed 130 mph with a series of brief romps up the tachometer dial. The 8-speed automatic provides for close ratio staging and quick responses to a dig at the accelerator pedal.

At the same time, the broad torque band allows relaxed cruising at low engine speeds that will calm passengers and save on fuel. The combination of a relatively compact overall size, excellent power, newly imparted poise, plus improved space and comfort, ought to attract all those X3 fans back to this new one along with a horde of fresh converts.

Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 19/25 mpg City/Highway for the X3 xDrive 28i, 19/26 mpg City/Highway for the X3 xDrive35i. Premium fuel is required.

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