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By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

Strong heritage speaks louder than price. Such must be the mantra for BMW drivers, and the luxurious compact SUV or SAV (Sport Activity Vehicle) X3 represents another competent and regal choice for the beautiful people, all backed by a solid name or logo.

I drove a 4-door, 5-passenger metallic blue 2009 BMW X3 with the 6-speed automatic 260-horsepower 3.0-liter dual overhead cam V6 featuring the xDrive all-wheel drive system. Additional standard features included Hill Decent Control (HDC), 4-wheel anti-lock brakes with Dynamic Brake Control; roof rails; panoramic moonroof; rain-sensing windshield wipers; Head Protection System (HPS); and BMW's Advance Safety System.

Base price was $39,400 but blossoms to $48,425 with all the optional equipment: the $550 paint color; a $1,400 Sport Activity Package (alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, darker glass); a $2,800 Premium Package (universal garage door opener, auto-dimming mirrors, lumbar support); $150 cargo net; a $700 Park Distance Control; $800 Xenon headlights; and an $1,800 navigation system.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: You won't hear me knocking luxury. However, you might hear me knocking price – you'll have to sink another $10k on top of the $39,400 base price to get the best features. Also, the navigation system was not a standout nor easy to navigate. I'm wondering why BMW didn't hit us up with a new exterior design for 2009, because it's lines are starting to look a bit archaic in comparison to other modern CUV or smaller SUV shapes.

Reliability & Safety Factor: BMW has the market nailed in safety, which is a major and sensible draw. Not one to put out an inferior product in any sense, the company's reliability is sandwiched between the better Subaru and Nissan products. The X3 is rated by Consumer Reports as a reliable and recommended choice. Xenon headlights illuminate the road like nothing else; turning to cast a perfect bright light on otherwise shadowed corners or potential road dangers. Trust me -- the X3 is loaded with enough foul weather safety features in the form acronyms to keep you very safe (and otherwise overwhelmed by their definition).

Cost Issues: BMW's are not for the faint of heart (or wallet) for a total tag of $48,425, sans pricey visits to the car spa. Also, note you'll be filling up with premium fuel only. Vehicles I've driven of similar size, class and competence are the Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTEC 3.0-liter turbo diesel for a starting price of $49,475 (a price that grows like the X3 with every additional feature, but more into the low $60ks); and on the lower end, an Acura RDX 2.3-liter turbo for $37,755.

Activity & Performance Ability: The X3 delivers what you’d expect out of a BMW: instantaneous horsepower, precise steering, and overly confident grip and cornering. It easy forgets it's supposed to act and behave like a CUV, not an overtly eager sports sedan. Deathly quite cabin and zero road noise as well.

The Green Concern: Fossil fuel consumption numbers you’d expect from an engine of this size – 17-mpg city/24-mpg highway for an average of 20-mpg. This is a bit disappointing on the BMW front, as the vehicles are known for excellent gas consumption. And for the vehicle and passenger size, this isn't anywhere near what cheaper competitors are achieving (although kudos must be give to the cargo space). However, if you're staring directly at the engine stats, the gas numbers make perfect sense.

It takes a BMW-lover to understand what the X3 holds that other competitors don't – and it takes a buyer on a budget to realize this size and shape of a smaller SUV can be had for cheaper elsewhere.

Katrina's Car Tips For Women Drivers
2010 and 2009 Model Reviews
2008 Model Reviews

2009 Katrina Ramser