The Truth About Cars » X3 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Wed, 16 Jul 2014 16:33:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » X3 Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 Thu, 03 Jan 2013 13:00:08 +0000

We’re all familiar with the Mercedes-Benz GLK, from its new-for-2010-looks-like-2002 exterior to its “they want how much for this?” interior. But the fourth model year is MCE time. Mid-cycle, has Stuttgart enhanced its compact crossover enough that previous rejecters should reconsider it?

This being an MCE, the “aimed for G-Wagen, hit late-model Forester” metal hasn’t changed. More Volvo than any post-Horbury Volvo, it remains the yang to the Audi Q5’s yin. New light assemblies and fascias address an LED deficit (and then some) while taking the box they append uptown.

Mercedes got the message that many people (or at least many reviewers) found the original GLK interior overly basic, to put it kindly.

The revised interior has more soft surfaces and looks more worthy of a price north of forty. Plain, hard-edged black plastic surfaces are out, displaced by some subtle curves (though the basic forms remain blocky), additional wood trim, and many not-so-subtle chrome bits. The new white-ringed instrument faces are classier. Unless it’s dusk, when the main thing you’ll notice is how hard it is to read silver digits on a white background.

Before you get carried away by visions of opulence, realize that the seat cushions remain flat and firm. Rear legroom also hasn’t changed, and so remains short of the segment average. A six-footer will fit behind a six-footer even if they’re wearing tall hats, but shins will be grazed. If you need more space, a dealer will happily show you something in a larger size.

The GLK brochure proclaims the “SUV embodiment of a sport sedan’s soul.” From the start, the fundamentals have been present: a big V6, nearly balanced weight distribution, and 19-inch wheels shod with low-profile rubber, all as standard equipment. For 2013, the V6 receives direct injection and a power bump from 268 to 302. Lay into it, and the GLK350 will scoot, but the powertrain’s initial response isn’t snappy as engine remains paired with an aging (if updated) seven-speed automatic. The newly offered (and standard) shift paddles don’t help. Add in the need to hit a button on the console to activate them (the P-R-N-D shifter is column-mounted), and they might as well sign up for unemployment.

The 2013 GLK’s retuned suspension feels tighter than I recall from the one one I drove two years ago. Body control is up while lean in hard turns is down. The steering, now electric-assist, contains less slop than the previous hydraulic unit while providing a similarly low level of feedback. Drive the GLK the way such vehicles are typically driven, and it behaves well, with the ride quality and quietness people expect from a premium brand and the evident solidity people expect from a Mercedes. Push the ute, though, and you’ll discover limited grip as the outside front Latitude Tour HP scrubs and a non-defeatable, far-from-transparent stability control system jerks your chain. If you’re looking for fun, you’re much more likely to find it in the competing Audi, BMW, Infiniti, or Volvo.

Fuel economy has also been enhanced. In addition to direct injection and electric-assist steering, the GLK350 has gained an automatic start/stop system. Unlike Munich’s contraption, which produces shudders unbecoming any machinery this side of a Tata Nano, Stuttgart’s operates almost imperceptibly. The EPA ratings of 19 mpg city, 24 highway might seem less than impressive, but they’re considerably better than last year’s 16/21! (Unlike with an Audi Q5 or BMW X3, but like the Infiniti EX37, you can get rear-wheel-drive. The EPA highway figure is then 25.)

Like Toyota’s hybrids, the updated GLK grades your driving. The grades are more precise than in a lowly Prius c—out of 100 rather than on a five-point scale—yet they are considerably less helpful. In a Prius c, the grades are for the current accelerate-cruise-brake cycle. In the Mercedes, they’re for the entire period since the car was started or the system was manually reset. Consequently, the link between what you do and the grade you receive is far less intuitive. You start out with a 50. From there, it’s easy to sink your score into the teens, and surprisingly difficult to nudge it over 80. On one suburban drive I managed a 98 with a feather-light foot and a sharp eye for anything that might require the brakes. The trip computer reported 28 mpg. When paying less attention to my driving, but still driving far from aggressively, the trip computer reported a score in the 40s and about 21 mpg. If your foot is at all heavy you won’t observe north of 20 in the suburbs, with 16-17 a very real possibility. Require better fuel economy? A GLK250 BlueTec powered by a 190-horsepower, 2.1-liter diesel arrives next spring.

Of course, most people don’t buy Mercedes for how they handle or how far they go on a gallon. What likely matters most—beyond the three-pointed star—is the amount of technology packed into the vehicle, and especially that focused on safety. To remind you of the priority the GLK puts on your well-being, the front seat belts are given a very firm tug each time you start the car.

Every redesigned or refreshed Mercedes beginning with the 2010 E-Class has received a drowsiness monitor as standard equipment. The system works entirely by evaluating the frequency and amplitude of steering corrections. So, if you are not aware that you’re falling asleep, a “coffee cup” icon below the speedometer will inform you.

Blind spot and lane departure warnings are available in passive and active forms. In “active,” the system doesn’t only warn you via a large graphic between the tach and speedometer. It also selectively blips the brakes and tugs the wheel to help get the car back where it’s supposed to be. I found the blind spot system helpful, perhaps because the warning light in the mirror alone was sufficient and I never tripped the “active” level. The lane departure system, on the other hand, proved a PITA. Touch the lane marker (quite easy to do with the one on the blind side) and you’d think death was imminent from the strength of the system’s reaction. To be fair to Mercedes, I haven’t yet encountered a lane departure system that wasn’t a nuisance. This one was only the most intrusive of the bunch.

The optional adaptive cruise control impresses, even in traffic. On some of my trips around town I let the GLK do most of the driving. (The car gave its own driving style a grade of 46%.) Even if it’s not on, the Distronic system will sound a warning if you approach the car ahead too quickly. If you don’t react, it will attempt to stop the car itself. In a major ergonomic revolution (for Mercedes, at least), the turn signal and cruise control stalk have swapped positions. I made it through the entire week without setting the vehicle speed in an attempt to signal.

The GLK is also now able to steer itself into a parallel parking space. Unfortunately, life in the burbs provided no opportunity to test this system.

The Lighting Package now includes, in addition to steering-linked xenon headlamps, “adaptive highbeam assist.” Theoretically, this means that the car determines the appropriate and safe amount of forward lighting, and automatically provides it. In practice, it meant I had to switch the lamps out of “auto” to get the high beams. In “auto,” the car almost always rescinds your request for the brights the moment you release the stalk.

On the infotainment front, the GLK can now connect you to news, Google search, Yelp, Facebook and (when parked) the entire Internet for $14 a month on top of the $280/year basic “mbrace” telematics fee. Yes, it all costs money. Load up a GLK350, and the price jumps from $39,995 to the tested car’s $55,015. Even at this price the tested GLK lacked proximity key ($650), premium audio ($810), an Appearance Package (20s, shiny roof rails), and an AMG Styling Package that includes the previous and adds more aggressively styled fascias and wheels ($1,990). For the sake of comparison, let’s add the first two options, yielding an MSRP of $56,475.

This only seems like too much money for a compact SUV until you compare the competition. A loaded BMW X3 xDrive35i lists for $620 more—and running both through TrueDelta’s Car Price Comparison Tool finds that over $3,000 of the stuff on the Benz isn’t available on the BMW. Adjust for this, and the BMW is $3,700 higher. An Audi Q5 3.0T lists for a scant $45 more. But back in the 1990s, the idea of an Audi costing even a dime more than a Mercedes would have been written off as just another one of Piech’s insane ambitions. After adjusting for feature differences the Audi is $500 more. Of course, if you’re willing to go non-German, an Infiniti EX37 or a Volvo XC60 is about $3,000 less. Or, if you don’t need 300+ horsepower, the 240-horsepower X3 xDrive28i is about $1,200 less than the GLK while the 211-horsepower Q5 2.0T (not available with some of the 3.0T’s pricey options) undercuts a similarly decontented Mercedes by about $4,000.

Which leaves us where? Those who liked the GLK’s exterior before will like it more now. Those who didn’t like it before most likely still won’t, unless their issue was insufficiently fancy lights. Performance and handling have both improved, but not by enough to win over driving enthusiasts. The array of available technology could impress some people. Competitors offer many of the same features, but the GLK could have the most in the class, at least for now. Most of all, though, the dramatically upgraded interior could warrant another look. When you think of how people actually use this class of vehicle, an upscale look and feel matters a great deal, and the 2013 GLK is a much more credible luxury vehicle than the 2012 was.

Mercedes-Benz provided a GLK350 with insurance and a tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i Mon, 03 Oct 2011 18:46:33 +0000

Despite what Frank Greve might tell you, some automotive journalists (well, automotive writers anyway. Car writers. Hacks.) don’t have gleaming new cars dropped off curbside, with caviar and champagne in the cupholders and an eight-ball of coke in the glovebox. Instead, a jobbing freelancer such as myself usually has to hoof it on the ol’ public transit network to wherever the fleet cars are kept, staring out the window at people picking their noses in Toyota Corollas and pretending not to notice the pressure on my thigh as the portly, odiferous gentleman on my left overflows his seat.

This time though, BMW being so far out of the way, I grabbed a lift from a friend in a track-prepped, bright orange Lotus Elise. I have never indulged in methamphetamines, but now I no longer need to: never mind road feel, that car was effectively fifteen miles of licking the tarmacadam.

After such a Habanero sorbet, the drive back in the BMW was fairly muted. Ho-hum, another big heavy heffalump with a fancy badge on the nose and an options pricing list that reads like the GDP of Belgium. Right? Next morning at the on-ramp: um, actually no. This thing’s a rocket.

Despite the safe beige colour of my tester, perhaps I should have got a whiff of this tendency for velocitous extramuralisation from its pugnacious stance. The new X3 is flared out, lowered, blocky and creased, making the corporate twin-kidney grille resemble nothing so much as the nostrils of a French bulldog. I like it quite a lot: there’s a smidgen of 1-series M Coupe in here, possibly because they both have such stupidly long names.

Best of all, while this new X3 has swelled by a few inches in all directions to make market room for the upcoming X1 (already available up here in the Great White North), it hasn’t been on the usual Nick Riviera Diet for Dangerously Underweight Individuals. Unlike other BMWs – the 5-series GT hits the chocotastic group so hard it should come with an available MUMU paint code – the X3 pulls the shades on the window to weight-gain, although optioning-out the turbo model will put you up two hundred pounds over the out-going model in base, manual transmission configuration.

More about that heft later, let us first slide into a cockpit furnished in the only the finest of rubberized cows. Apparently from the same polymerized herd that provides Angus beef to McDonald’s, the pleather interior in the X3 is pleasing to the touch and assuredly going to be wipe-down durable if this is your kid-hauler, but for $50K+ is its hard-wearing surface better than leather? Maybe. Yeah, and maybe I’m a Chinese jet fighter pilot.

Then again, the rest of the spartan cockpit of the X3 is really quite good. If I might voice a dissenting opinion on the usually-lambasted iDrive, I actually don’t mind it as a control device. I’m sure more than the usual week-long exposure provided by a review might prove it completely livable, if not quite Apple-grade intuitive. If you can’t stand it, all the radio and HVAC functions have redundancies on the centre stack and steering wheel.

Cargo-wise, and I assume that’s why you’re considering this yoke over a 3-series sedan, there’s plenty of head-and-legroom in the back seats. The trunk is big enough for things and/or stuff. A dog should fit, or maybe even one of those modern strollers that’s like a medieval siege tower with handlebars, although you’d probably have to hack the legs off of Fido to accommodate both.

But enough of this hum-drum Consumer Reports clipboard checking. If you wanted a pure family hauler, you’d have a Dodge Grand Caravan and a ex- Iwo Jima Marine’s thousand-yard-stare. This is a BMW: mach schnell!

Gripping the BMW’s hefty tiller (everyone in Bavaria must have mitts like Paul Bunyan), I face down the most idiotic on-ramp in the Western hemisphere: 5-degrees short of a T-Junction, at the bottom of a blind hill. As per usual, some trembling poltroon has pootled down to the the end of it and stopped dead in a rabbit-freeze panic. They misjudge, meander out and nearly receive a fifteen-ton Peterbuilt enema. I’m about fifty feet back, watching for a suitable gap.


Shrugging off its 4222lb curb weight, the Bimmer leaps forward with a surprisingly enthusiastic exhaust note, the 8-speed auto-box snapping off the gears with engaging rapidity. Forget the UV part, this thing hauls some serious S. Figure a 5-point-something sprint to 60mph and the quarter in the low-14s: enough to quash the boy racers.

To the heart of the matter, that amazing straight-six turbo engine. Where the 335i’s power-plant is twin-turbocharged, the X3 puts out pretty much the same power with just a single snail hanging off the exhaust manifold.

With a mesa-flat torque-peak from 1300rpm and up, its incredibly responsive twin-scroll turbo is more proof that we’re entering a second golden age of forced induction. After a week of boost, I was trying to figure out how to turbocharge the lawn-mower, the dishwasher, the Cuisinart… the cat caught me holding a dustbuster and looking at it speculatively and wisely buggered off tout suite.

Naturally, some credit also has to be given to the octo-tranny. Here though, despite what certain late-70s sitcoms might have you believe, eight is more than enough. While great when you put your boot in it and, above 30mph, slick as the salesperson who talked you into the optional $800 metallic paint charge, it’s a bit fussy around town. The shifts aren’t rough, and the X3 has plenty of low-end poke, but it is a little disconcerting to be already in fourth gear a heartbeat after leaving the line. It’s like riding shotgun with someone short-shifting at 1500 revs: a trifle jerky.

Flicking the shifter into “sport” mitigates the effect, but if you like to downshift to engine-brake, you’ll find yourself having to hit it repeatedly to come down from the higher gears. Coming off the freeway, I was hammering at the control like a whack-a-mole.

These are minor quibbles, and I’ve another: the electrically-assisted steering is… well, “numb” would be an overstatement, but certainly there’s not all the feel there that one could wish. Essentially the X3 is so well-balanced and handles so nicely, that I’d prefer just a tiny bit more BMW 3-Series flavour.

All is forgiven because they fixed the ride. The old X3′s feet of clay were its legs of concrete. Specifically, someone seemed to have constructed the suspension out of granite, bits of old cathedrals and depleted uranium. The new one is immeasurably better: it’s still firm in a German way, but instead of a foaming-mouthed scream of, “Ve haff ways of makink you talk!” every time you hit an expansion joint, it’s simply communicative. “Zo, tell me a little about yourself.”

Verdict then: really, I only have one problem with the X3, but let me leave that ’til last. It’s quick enough to be entertaining, roomy enough to be practical, priced well enough to fit into your driveway at a minor premium above less aspirational metal (and given BMW’s leasing programs, probably at a payment par with optioned-out prole-wagons), rides well enough to be a good tourer and isn’t even that expensive to keep in high-test. In short, it’s a Bayerische Motoren that really Werkes.

The only problem with the X3? The guaranteed sales success Bimmer’s going to see with this chariot means we’re never going to see a 335is wagon. Sad trombone.

BMW provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_1981 IMG_1980 IMG_1979 IMG_1978 By-bye wagon, hello crossover. ]]> 45
Review: 2011 BMW X3 Fri, 22 Jul 2011 20:03:39 +0000

With the 2004 X3, BMW offered a compact SUV a half-decade ahead of other German car manufacturers. So not long after Audi and Mercedes have introduced their first such vehicle BMW has an all-new second-generation X3. The first-generation X3 had its strengths, but its weaknesses tended to outweigh them, especially in the U.S. market. The larger X5 has outsold it on this side of the Atlantic many times over despite a higher price. Has BMW learned enough in the past seven years to address these weaknesses and keep ahead of the new competition?

Though its U.S. launch is delayed, an even more compact X1 is already available in Europe. To make room for it, and to fill the void created when the X5 was enlarged three years ago, the new X3 has gained three inches of length and an inch of width (but, unlike other recently redesigned BMWs, less than 50 pounds of weight). The new X3’s exterior styling strongly resembles the original’s, but more substantial and refined surfaces help it appear more up-to-date, more solid, and more worthy of a lofty Monroney. The creases over the wheel openings seem extraneous, but at least they’re subtle. The body rides lower over the wheels, for a more car-like stance, perhaps because BMW figured out that few (if any) X3 owners were venturing off the road or even wanted to look like they might. (According to the specs, there’s actually a half-inch more ground clearance, so the mechanical bits must be tucked in more tightly.) The X5 continues to appear brawnier, thanks to more muscular fenders. The Audi Q5 is prettier, while the Mercedes-Benz GLK appears more rugged, but the X3 looks the sportiest of the three when fitted with suitable wheels.

The original X3 was roundly slammed for its cut-rate cabin. A mid-cycle refresh upgraded materials, and the 2011 is another step up. The new interior looks and feels more substantial. Unlike the 2004’s, it’s on par with that of the contemporary 3-Series. There are more curves than inside most other current BMWs, even a bit of the driver-orientation for which the marque’s instrument panels used to be known, but there’s still much less style for the sake of style than you’ll find elsewhere. And yet the controls are too unconventional and too complicated to award any prizes for functionality. Even the shifter, the monostatic sort BMW has been putting in everything, feels odd and requires more conscious attention than a shifter ought to.

Inside the larger, lower-riding body there’s over an inch more headroom, 1.5 inches more front shoulder room, and an inch more rear legroom (unless you’re very tall, you’ll fit). These differences don’t sound like much, but the feeling from the driver’s seat is much different. The new X3 seems roomier, but even more than this it seems like a larger, more substantial vehicle. And a bit more car-like as well (if still notably less so than the Audi). Credit a higher beltline and a less upright, more distant windshield flanked by thicker pillars. The driver’s seat is standard BMW fare, so very supportive and comfortable, but not cushy. Unlike in the new 5-Series, the optional sport seats include power-adjustable side bolsters, so there’s no need to compromise lateral support for many of us in order to provide enough space for XXL drivers.

The specs suggest cargo volume is down, from 71.0 cubic feet to 63.3. But BMW’s literature claims it’s actually up by 15 percent. Apparently the method used to measure cargo volume changed. Cases like this are why I never have much faith in cargo volume specifications—there are too many variables and no fixed standards, even within a given manufacturer. My eyes say the new X3 is competitive in this area.

The BMW X3 was initially offered with a 2.5-liter as well as a 3.0-liter inline six, but the former was dropped years ago. For 2011, the retuned six loses 20 horsepower, for a total of 240, but is also available in 300 horsepower turbocharged form. The unboosted six provides decent performance, but doesn’t feel as strong or sound as sonorous as the 265-horsepower V6 in the Audi Q5. The turbo easily blows by both of them, with an audible whoosh. As in other BMWs, this engine feels much stronger than its official 300-horsepower rating. In this segment, only the 325-horsepower turbocharged inline six that will be available in the 2012 Volvo XC60 R-Spec can hope to keep up. My suspicion: the Volvo won’t be quite as quick, partly because of gearing, but its six will sound better. The BMW six doesn’t sound bad, but the Volvo’s voice is lovely.

A manual transmission is no longer available in the X3. The automatic is an eight-speed unit that can get a bit busy, especially with the base engine. Unless your foot is deep in the throttle little time is spent in the first two gears. Thanks to the extra ratios, electric-assist steering, and a clutched alternator, fuel economy is up, from 17/24 to 19/25 for the xDrive28i and 19/26 for the xDrive35i (yes, the stronger engine actually does equally well in the city and a bit better on the highway).

With its reduced ride height and almost exactly 50:50 weight distribution, the new X3 feels more balanced and more composed through curves than the nose-heavy, less tightly damped Audi Q5, next best in the segment for chassis dynamics (unless Volvo has worked wonders with the 2012 XC60 R-Spec). To be (un)fair, BMW provided a Q5 without the optional “DriveSelect” adjustable steering and adaptive shocks. Typical of the marque, the BMW can be placed very precisely and rarely surprises. Driving it quickly soon becomes far more intuitive than the iDrive control system can ever hope to be.

Both tested X3s were fitted with the $1,400 Dynamic Handling Package, while includes “variable sport steering,” “performance control,” adaptive shocks, and a button to vary these bits, the throttle, and the transmission among three settings. “Performance control” modulates the brakes to provide a hint of oversteer through turns. It cannot be turned off, both 2011 X3s I drove had it, so I cannot attest how much difference it makes. “Variable sport steering” isn’t the same as active steering. Instead of being able to vary the ratio continuously and at any time, the ratio simply quickens as the wheel approaches the lock. This system is simpler and more predictable, but cannot dramatically vary the ratio on center the way active steering can. The selectable modes affect the firmness of the steering, but more at highway speeds than below 40. No matter what the setting, the X3’s steering feels more artificial and provides less nuanced feedback than the outstanding conventional system in the Audi Q5.

Ride quality was the second glaring weakness of the original X3, and probably the main reason people initially interested in the small SUV didn’t end up buying one. The 2011 rides much more smoothly, at least when fitted with the adaptive shocks (and quite likely without them as well). The different modes make little difference here; in “Sport+” impacts are a little sharper, but the ride remains comfortable. In “Normal” the ride can feel a touch underdamped on some roads; “Sport” strikes a nice compromise. The downside of the improved ride: combine the more compliant suspension with the artificial steering and the less intimate driving position, and the new X3 feels larger, less agile, and less direct than the original. There’s less wind and road noise than in the Audi, but this says more about the Q5 than the X3.

The 2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i starts at $37,625, $2,100 less than the 2010. According to TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, the new SUV also includes over $800 in additional standard features, for a total price reduction of nearly $3,000. The xDrive35i starts at $41,925, and its standard xenon headlights and wood trim account for $1,400 of the difference at BMW prices, leaving $2,900 for the turbocharger. The upshot: once features (not including the engine) are adjusted for, the new xDrive35i costs about the same as last year’s much less powerful, fatally flawed vehicle.

These being BMWs, adding options quickly leaves these base prices in the dust. A half dozen packages and metallic paint bumped the tested 28i and 35i to $50,775 and $54,075, respectively. And, lacking the premium audio system, the head-up display, and the M Sport Package, these weren’t even fully loaded.

Comparably equip an Audi Q5 3.2, and it’s over $3,000 more than the xDrive28i and about even with the xDrive35i. The Infinity EX35 is the segment’s budget buy, checking in about $6,000 below a comparably-equipped X3 xDrive35i. Adjusting for remaining feature differences cuts the difference to about $4,400. The Infiniti is much more cramped inside and feels a bit dated at this point, so this premium seems warranted. As premium compact SUVs go, the new X3 is attractively priced.

The 2011 BMW X3 addresses the two glaring weaknesses of the original—interior materials and ride quality—while looking and feeling more refined and substantial. A new, much less fatal flaw: despite (or perhaps because of) extensive electronic wizardry, the X3’s steering lacks the natural, wonderfully nuanced feel of the Q5’s. For this one reason I enjoyed driving the Audi more. But by any objective measure, and nearly any subjective measure as well, the second time is the charm.

The vehicles for this review were made available at an event for BMW owners.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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