2008 BMW X3 3.0 si Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2008 BMW X3

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 BMW X3 3.0 si

It may look like a small crossover SUV in design, but BMW's X3 is unlike any such vehicle in its chassis dynamics and performance. BMWs are justly famed for their abilities in both categories, and the 2008 X3 sullies that fame not at all.

Think of the 2008 X3, offered in one-model 3.0 si form, as more of a tall 3-Series wagon than a crossover SUV. BMW calls it, and its larger X5 sibling, "Sport Activity Vehicles", not sport utility vehicles. While it has all of the accoutrements of a compact luxury crossover, the X3, like every other BMW, is actually made for driving, not merely hauling kids and dogs and groceries around, although it will do all of those tasks quite well. And not only is the X3 designed and built for enthusiastic motoring, it is designed and built to do that in a reasonably economical manner.

Credit that to its namesake 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, the same aluminum/magnesium powerplant used in the 3-Series sedans, coupes, and convertibles, and in the larger X5. By judicious use of many high-tech systems, the engine not only produces 260 horsepower, it's rated by the EPA at 17 mpg city, 24 highway. And those are actually accurate ratings, as that is what I got in a week of driving, with little regard to maximizing fuel economy. A choice of six-speed transmissions also helps, with the standard stick being one of the few available manual transmissions in the class, and the automatic a no extra cost option. BMW's xDrive full-time all-wheel drive system is also standard fare, and is meant for optimum traction on dry pavement as much as it is for traction on loose surfaces such as dirt or gravel roads.

Indeed, with the optional 235/45 front, 255/40 rear WR19 Pirelli PZero Rosso tires that were part of the 19-inch wheel upgrade to the Sport Package with which my test car was equipped, anything more serious that a well-maintained, and dry, gravel driveway would be a bad idea. As equipped, don't even think "Rubicon Trail". Do think "favorite piece of tarmac", however, as the X3 can get over that quickly, securely, and, even with a typically BMW stiff sport suspension, in good comfort. The X3 is taller inside than the 3-Series wagon, which benefits interior space and the ability to hold oversized cargo, yet it is still small enough outside for easy maneuverability in traffic and parking lots. The standard panorama sunroof provides a fine view of any scenery above, especially for rear-seat passengers.

APPEARANCE: That's a familiar face... the X3's styling was a development of that of the original X5, and in turn influenced the newer second-generation X5. Even without the trademark blue and white roundels, twin-kidney grille, and quad round headlights, it's instantly recognizable as a BMW by its shape and sculpted body panels. In proportions, the X3 is taller in both body and passenger cabin height than the 3-Series wagon, with greater ground clearance - eight inches with the regular suspension and tires.

COMFORT: Remove the roundel from the steering wheel hub, blindfold me, and drop me into the X3's interior, and I could still immediately tell it's a BMW. It's much like a 3-Series from the generation before the current models, with a single instrument pod in the top of the dash in front of the driver, not the newer "double brow" design. The navigation system, if fitted (and it was, in my test car) has a screen that folds out of the top of the dash above the center stack, which holds the CD changer, audio system controls, climate-control system, and control buttons for the front seat heaters (if fitted) and traction and stability aid systems. The closest thing to an iDrive control is the knob to the right of the CD slot, which controls functions for the computer, phone, audio, and navigation displays on the pop-up screen in a simple manner. As part of the Sport Package, my test car had excellent front sports seats, both power-adjustable for most parameters, with manual cushion length adjustment. Adding to the driver's comfort and so safety is a standard manually-adjustable tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, in Sport trim with the ever-popular "M" logo and a thick leather rim. The rear seat has more head and leg room than in any comparably-sized sedan I can think of, and passengers get a great view out of the standard panorama moonroof. With the Cold Weather Package, even the outboard rear seats are heated, and a ski passthrough and sack are added to the 60/40 split rear seat seatback for greater cargo/passenger versatility. An auxiliary audio input jack is found at the rear of the console, probably a testament to the quick change in audio playback technology since the X3 made its debut a few short years ago. Since the battery is located under the rear load floor, the space-saver spare tire is mounted externally under the rear.

SAFETY: The X3 had received a "Top Safety Pick" award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Credit a full range of passive and active safety features, many of which are controlled by the "Intelligent Safety and Information System" (ISIS), a decentralized system with aircraft-style multiple redundancy in seven microprocessors and 14 sensors. Brake drying, stand-by, and fade compensation improve stopping ability, while a start-off assistant and hill-descent control ease driving chores up and downhill, respectively.

RIDE AND HANDLING: A rigid unibody structure and well-designed and tuned suspension are key elements for good handling and ride comfort, and the X3 score high. The double-pivot front suspension is similar in design to what is found in other BMWs, but details are unique to the X3. The rear multi-link system comes from earlier 3-Series coupes, but is sturdier to better deal with rough conditions. Lightweight aluminum components and structural reinforcements further improve response. The sport suspension, as fitted to my test car, adds stiffer springs and matching shocks, and, optionally, 19-inch allow wheels with high-performance tires. For BMW driving on pavement, it works very well. For all-weather use, or use off pavement, stick with the standard setup. That said, body roll is minimal, and once the driver gets used to the X3's high stance it can be driven nearly as enthusiastically as a 3-Series car, high praise indeed. Strong four-wheel antilock discs ensure good stopping power.

PERFORMANCE: It is Bavarian Motor Works, and BMW's engineers have made fine engines since the World War I era. The X3's new engine, also found in the X5 3.0 and 3-Series sedans and coupes and 5-Series sedans, is lightweight, thanks to magnesium and aluminum construction, and boasts both power and efficiency thanks to the Valvetronic continuously-variable valve-lift system and Double VANOS continuously-variable cam phasing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts. If its horsepower peak - a healthy 260 - is up at 6600 rpm, the 225 lb-ft torque peak is at a low and everyday-useful 2750 rpm. This means that it works well with the six-speed automatic (as in my test car) in D, even on a BMW kind of road, or that any one of two or three gears can do in manual mode for more enthusiastic driving. It likes to rev but doesn't need to, which helps fuel economy. With a 0-60 time of just over seven seconds with the automatic, the X3 is plenty quick, and fuel economy is good for its class, with 17 mpg around town, 24 on the highway, and 21 overall noted during my week - same as the EPA estimates. The xDrive all-wheel drive system delivers power to the rear wheels all of the time, and to the front wheels most of the time. The front-to-rear torque split is controlled by a multi-disc clutch, which is in turn controlled by a computer-controlled servo motor directed by the systems the work the Dynamic Traction Control (DTC) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) systems. DSC controls the side-to-side torque split. Torque control is not just used for low-speed, bad condition traction, but also for optimum traction and handling on dry pavement.

CONCLUSIONS: With a fine balance of comfort, handling, performance, and fuel economy, the BMW X3 is the 3-Series of crossovers.

SPECIFICATIONS

2008 BMW X3 3.0 si

Base Price			$ 39,425 w/ $825 destination charge
Price As Tested 		$ 50,950
Engine Type			dual overhead cam inline 6-cylinder,
				 magnesium/aluminum composite
				 construction, variable intake and
				 exhaust valve lift and cam phasing
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 183 cu. in.
Horsepower			260 @ 6600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			225 @ 2750 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual mode
Wheelbase / Length		110.0 in. / 179.9 in.
Curb Weight			4067 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.6
Fuel Capacity			17.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires				f: P235/45 R19 95W, r: P255/40 R19 96W 
				Pirelli PZero Rosso
Brakes, front/rear		4-wheel vented disc,
				 ABS, DSC, HDC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double-pivot strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground clearance		8.0 inches (not with sport suspension)
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine,
				  full-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 24 / 21
0 to 60 mph				7.1  sec
Towing capacity 			3500 lbs.

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Cold Weather Package - includes:
  ski bag, heated front and outboard rear seats,
  retractable headlight washers 		$ 1,000
Premium Package - includes:
  universal garage door opener, digital compass mirror,
  auto-dimming mirrors, lumbar support, 
  BMW Assist					$ 2,800
Sport Package - includes:
  sport suspension, sport seats, M steering wheel, 
  aerodynamic package, shadowline trim		$ 2,300
19-inch wheels with performance tires		$    950
Cargo net					$    150
Park Distance Control				$    700
Xenon headlights				$    800
Navigation system				$ 1,800
HD radio					$    350
Premium audio system				$    675

Complete specifications on the 2008 BMW X3 3.0si Sports Activity Vehicle and other vehicles are available at the New Car Buyers Guide!

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