The Truth About Cars » X3 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 30 Jul 2015 17:00:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars » X3 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Ecoboost Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-lincoln-mkc-2-3-ecoboost-review-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/05/2015-lincoln-mkc-2-3-ecoboost-review-video/#comments Mon, 18 May 2015 12:00:24 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1065114 Lincoln has been working to get their luxury mojo back for a while, but up to this point it has tried to sell models a half-step larger to luxury shoppers. That meant a major value proposition, but engineers often skimped on luxury to keep prices low. The MKC is an entirely different animal however. This […]

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2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Front Quarter-001

Lincoln has been working to get their luxury mojo back for a while, but up to this point it has tried to sell models a half-step larger to luxury shoppers. That meant a major value proposition, but engineers often skimped on luxury to keep prices low. The MKC is an entirely different animal however. This Lincoln is essentially the same size as the Lexus NX and Mercedes GLK. Although the MKC is finally the same size as its competition, it marches to a different drummer, and after a week I finally realized something. It’s refreshing to have something different.

Exterior

Let’s talk competition first. The MKC is Lincoln’s answer to the X3, Q5, NX, XC60, and GLK. This seems to confuse some folks who assume the MKC and the Lexus NX were designed to compete against the X1 and Evoque. Looking at the specs, the MKC sits right between the GLK and Q5 in overall dimensions.

By now you’ve probably heard the MKC is the “Lincoln Escape”, but what does that really mean? The MKC shares safety systems and body structure designs with the Escape. However, it shares no sheetmetal with the Ford. Lincoln didn’t just re-skin the Escape, either. They widened the body and the track while they were at it, resulting in a lower, wider stance that’s more appropriate in the luxury segment than the perky upright character of the Escape. This is essentially the same formula that Lexus used to make the Lexus NX, which is a cousin to the RAV4. Like the NX and RAV4, parts of the Escape lurk inside the MKC, but you have to look fairly hard to find them.

The MKC receives Lincoln’s latest grille design, which is more restrained than the MKT’s odd-looking schnoz. Although pictures of the MKC seem polarizing, passers-by thought the MKC was attractive in person. If you think something about the rear looks a hair unfinished, you’re not alone. It’s the lack of a protruding bumper of any sort. Aside from the unfinished aesthetic, lacking any real bumper means mishaps with taller vehicles are likely to damage the rear hatch in addition to the bumper cover, increasing repair costs.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior

Interior

The MKC wears the best interior Lincoln has ever created. Period. More than that, the model with real leather is arguably a nicer place to spend your time than the current Q5, GLK, QX50, RDX, or XC60. Opt for the Black Label package and things are taken to the next level. Lincoln shoppers have more ability to customize their crossover than most of the competition with four different upholstery colors that coordinate with three different dashboard and door colors and two wood veneer options (you can’t mix and match). Opting for the Black Label edition gives you an additional four “themes” to choose from. If you want this kind of selection, the MKC and Evoque are really your only options, and the Range Rover doesn’t allow as much customization on base models.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Wood Trim-003

Front seat comfort depends greatly on your body shape. I’m 6-feet tall and found the seat bottom cushions oddly short and lack thigh support. A 5-foot 4-inch tall person told me the seats fit like a glove. Despite being smaller than all but the Mercedes GLK, the rear seats proved comfortable and easily as accommodating as the XC60.

The cargo area is the biggest compromise in the MKC. It’s notably smaller than most of the competition with just 25 cubes of room behind the rear seats. You’ll find about 20 percent more room in the Volvo.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior Center Console

Infotainment

MyLincoln Touch is oddly named for sure, and it’s received more than its share of bad press. Does it crash now and then? Sure. But I actually think MLT is a reason to put the MKC on your list, not take it off. Volvo’s Sensus Connect uses a smaller screen and, despite the new connected features, still lacks decent control of iOS/USB media devices. Audi’s MMI and Mercedes COMAND are attractive systems, but lack the voice command library you get in the Lincoln. iDrive is still my preferred infotainment option, but Lincoln may give it come competition with SYNC3, due out next year.

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Drivetrain

Under the hood, the order sheet starts out with a 2.0L direct-injection turbo engine good for 240 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Instead of a 6-cylinder engine filling out the top of the range like the Europeans, Lincoln opted to borrow the 2.3L turbo from the new Mustang instead. Five years ago, that would have been derided as insane, but Lexus has gone 4-cylinder only in the new NX and Volvo has committed to the demise of their five and six cylinder turbos as well. Sadly, the 2.3L engine loses some grunt in the translation, dropping from 310 horsepower and 320 lb-ft in the Mustang to 285 ponies and 305 lb-ft of twist. 2.0L shoppers can choose between front- or all-wheel drive while the 2.3L model gets all-wheel drive as standard.

Both engines are mated to the 6F35 6-speed automatic transaxle. The 6F35 transaxle is likely the reason for the power reduction from the tune used in the Mustang. Although Ford does not specifically list torque capabilities like General Motors, the Ford 6F35 is substantially similar to the GM 6T50 transaxle, topping out at 260 lb-ft. (GM and Ford designed their 6-speed transaxles together.) Since the engine cradle design in the MKC is largely unchanged from the Escape, the higher torque capacity 6F50 and 6F55 transaxles likely didn’t fit. In order to accommodate the 2.3L engine, Ford replaced the 6F35’s standard torque converter with a higher torque unit but no transmission internals were changed. This allowed the entire package to have approximately the same dimensions as the 2.0L drivetrain. I suspect this also explains why the maximum tow rating drops 1,000lbs when equipped with the 2.3L engine.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior LCD Instrument Cluster.CR2

Drive

In an interesting twist, most MKCs on dealer lots will have a suspension with active dampers. This is a significant difference between the Lincoln and the competition which generally doesn’t have active dampers available at any price. This means we must have a quick suspension lesson since active dampers are a huge part of the MKC’s personality.

Springs and dampers work together to make a car ride and handle a certain way. Springs support the vehicle’s ride height and compress and rebound to conform to the road surface. Dampers control the movement of the spring in both directions. Spring and damping rates are carefully matched by vehicle engineers and in most cars they are fixed. In vehicles with dynamic dampers, the spring rate stays constant and the damping rate becomes a variable. In order for this to work, you have to start with a “soft” spring and when you want a firmer ride you attempt to compensate with “firmer” damping. While systems like this greatly improve the ride and allow the driver to customize the suspension within a particular range, they can feel quite different.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior -001

The first hint Lincoln had a different mission in mind for the MKC is obvious when you start driving. If the suspension is in comfort mode, you get the softest ride in this segment by a mile. The MKC is so soft in this mode that I initially assumed the baby Lincoln was 1,000lbs heavier. With the suspension in normal mode, the MKC feels more buttoned down, but there is still plenty of tip and dive and body roll. “Sport” firms things up but the feeling isn’t the same as you’d find in a traditionally sprung vehicle. The reason is that although the dampers can restrict motion, the springs are still pillowy soft.

Initially I was disconcerted by the soft suspension and assumed the athletic abilities would be harmed as a result. I was wrong. With a 0-60 sprint of 6.15 seconds, the MKC 2.3L beats most of the entries, matches the 325 hp XC60 R-Design and only lags the X3 xDrive35i and RDX in the non-performance category. It also stopped from 60 MPH in an impressive 112 feet in our tests and a respectable .83Gs in Edmund’s skidpad test. (TTAC doesn’t have access to a skidpad.) That’s all possible because the MKC is light for a luxury crossover, ranging from 3,791 in FWD 2.0L trim to to 3,989 lbs in the AWD 2.3L model.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Interior.CR2-001

Pricing

As you’d expect from Lincoln, pricing starts low at $33,100, undercutting BMW by over $5,000, and we get about $500 of additional equipment in the base MKC. Adding AWD to the base model tacks on $2,495. That sounds steep but Lincoln bundles the dynamic suspension and a few other goodies with it. Our 2.3L AWD tester started at $40,145 and had $7,775 of options added to make an essentially fully loaded MKC.

The Black Label model is an interesting option. Black Label is about luxury and customization, not performance. This means you can get the 2.0L engine with front wheel drive in Black Label trim starting at $46,205. For the extra dosh, a “shopping assistant” will help you choose from four unique interior themes, five unique wood veneers and some extra paint options. The interior is further upgraded with faux-suede headliners and more standard features. In addition to the goodies, you get improved service with scheduled maintenance and wear item coverage (shocks, belts, etc), a loaner car when yours is in for service, lifetime car washes at a Lincoln dealer and annual detailing services.

2015 Lincoln MKC 2.3 Exterior Rear.CR2-001

I have to admit when I first took the MKC out on the road, I didn’t like it. The well-appointed interior is attractive, but the ultra-plush driving dynamics took some getting used to. Then an odd thing happened. A friend of mine who is in her early 30s said “I’m tired of the harsh ride in my X3 but I still want a crossover.” I had her drive the MKC and it was love at first tip and dive. I suddenly realized: from the Lexus NX to the Mercedes GLK, every one of the competition is trying to be the soft-roader that can lap the Nurburgring in under 9 minutes. Except the MKC.

The Lincoln can hang with the middle of the pack in terms of handling, but the handling feel is an entirely different matter. The soft suspension makes turn-in feel lazy, steering feel non-existent and the cabin hushed. The combination means the MKC is eminently capable with high limits, but the design of the vehicle makes it hard to determine where those limits are located. If that sounds like the kind of product Lexus used to be known for (before they too started chasing BMW), you’re right. Once I stopped chasing the X3, I realized how refreshing it was to have a competitive product without the “me-too.” Bravo Lincoln.

Lincoln provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.26 Seconds

0-60: 6.15 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.8 Seconds @ 92.5 MPH

Average economy: 20.3 MPG over 699 miles

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2015 BMW X4 xDrive28i Review (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2015/04/review-2015-bmw-x4-xdrive28i-video/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 12:00:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=1044242 Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and […]

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Lately, BMW has been accused of answering questions nobody was asking. Looking at things a different way, however, BMW has taken personalization of your daily driver to a level we haven’t seen before by making an incredible number of variations based on the same basic vehicle. Once upon a time, BMW made one roadster and three sedans. If you asked nicely, they would cut the top off the 3-Series, add a hatchback, or stretch it into a wagon. If you look at the family tree today you’d see that the 2-series coupé and convertible, X1, X3, X4, 3-Series sedan, long wheelbase sedan, and wagon, 3-Series GT and 4-Series coupé, convertible and gran coupé are all cousins. (Note: I didn’t say sisters, but they are all ultimately related.) That’s a product explosion of 400 percent since 1993 and we’re talking solely about the compact end of their lineup. You could look at this two ways. This is insanity, or this is some diabolical plan. Since sales have increased more than 300% since 1993, I’m going with diabolical plan.

Exterior

The “same sausage in multiple lengths” concept has been a staple design philosophy of the luxury industry for decades, but BMW’s “something for everyone” mantra takes that to the next level. You see, the X4 and the 3-Series Gran Tourismo are two entirely different sausages that (although related) manage to look the same yet share very little. Stranger still, the same shape elicits two different responses from people. Some see the GT and think “that liftback looks practical and roomier than a trunk” and then they look at the X4 and say “that’s less practical than an X3, why would I want it?”

To create the X4, the X3’s rear was raked and the bumpers were tweaked but it still retains the same hood, headlamps and ride height. You’d think that would make it a crossover, but BMW prefers “Sports Activity Coupe.” Whatever. The GT is a 3-Series that has been stretched and a liftback grafted on. The GT is lower to the ground and actually longer than the X4, but the differences don’t stop there. The GT is built in Germany, the X4 is made in South Carolina. Like many Americans, the X4 is 2-inches wider, has a more aggressive look up front and weighs 200 lbs more. (Before you ask, I was born in Ohio and that describes me as well.)

The trouble with making so many models is that it makes comparisons difficult. (Or is that part of BMW’s diabolical plan?) Aside from the GT, the X4 lacks any natural competition, especially in our xDrive28i trim. The V60 Cross Country, Macan, allroad and Evoque all come to mind, but only the Macan uses a similar silhouette. The Volvo and Audi are lifted station wagons, the Evoque is much smaller and front wheel drive.

IMG_9786

Interior

The X4 shares the majority of its interior with the X3. Likely because the X3 and X4 are a little more recent than the current 3-Series, I found the interior to be more harmonious in terms of plastics quality. Instead of the iDrive screen perched atop the dash like in the 3-Series, it’s nestled into it. Perhaps because the X4 is made in America, the cup holders are larger, more functional and lack the funky lid 3-Series owners always lose track of.

Because the X3’s roofline was drastically altered to create the X4, BMW opted to drop the seat bottoms in order to preserve headroom. The difference isn’t too noticeable up front, but in the rear the X4’s seat bottom cushions ride much closer to the floor than in any of the competition. Despite lowering the seating height, headroom is still very limited in the back and best reserved for kids or shorter adults. This is a stark contrast to the 3-GT which has an inch more headroom in the rear, seat cushions that are higher off the floor, seat backs that recline and a whopping 7 inches more combined legroom.

At 17.7 cubic feet, the X4’s cargo area is about 33% smaller than the X3 [The Porsche Macan loses almost 40 percent of its cargo volume in comparison to its platform mate, the Audi Q5. -Ed.]. On the flip side, this is a hair larger than a 328i sedan and the cargo hatch is a more convenient shape. Once again, however, the 3-GT comes out more practical with a larger cargo hold and the same practical liftback for accessing it. Interestingly enough, the V60 CC and the Porsche Macan have cargo areas nearly identical in size.

IMG_9794

Infotainment

iDrive has long been one of my favorite infotainment systems and that continues with the latest version. Our tester included the full bevy of infotainment options including smartphone app integration ($500), navigation ($2,150) and the iPhone snap-in adapter ($250). If that sounds expensive, you’re right. However, it is less expensive than the options list on the Macan. Like Audi and Mercedes, BMW has inserted a cell modem into top end iDrive systems allowing online service access.

iDrive’s interface has received continual tweaks over the years to improve usability and I find the interface easy to navigate and intuitive. A little less intuitive is the finger-writing input method which allows you to “write” on the top of the controller knob to enter addresses. While that sounds like a good idea, I discovered it took 25% longer to enter a destination vs rotating the dial. All the latest in connected infotainment can be had in the X4 (for a price) including integrated Pandora, Stitcher, Audible, pass-thru voice commands for iOS and Android, and Wikipedia integration which will read Wiki articles to you via a built-in text-to-speech engine.

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Drivetrain

X4 xDrive28i models get a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder (N20) good for 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque at just 1,450 RPM while xDrive35i models get the 300 horsepower, 300 lb-ft 3.0L turbo (N55). Both engines are mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic and standard AWD. Sound familiar? That’s the same lineup in the 3-GT. Oddly enough you can get the X3 in RWD, but the X4 with its (in theory) sportier image is AWD only.

If you’re shopping for the X4 outside of the USA, you get more choice with an available 181 horse 2.0L gasoline turbo, a selection of diesel engines ranging from 187-309 ponies and a manual transmission on some engines.

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Drive

I’m no track junkie like Jack Baruth, but I do appreciate a well-balanced vehicle. That said, I am frequently distracted by straight line performance and “moar powah.” X4 shoppers will need to choose between these two. The 2.0L may be down on power vs the 3.0L , but it is also 33% shorter and 165 lbs lighter. In addition, the 2.0L sits behind the front axle instead of above it. The effect of the weight reduction and nose-lightening is obvious when you start pushing the X4 on your favorite mountain road. The lighter 2.0L model doesn’t feel as eager, but it does feel more composed and more willing to change direction. The 3.0L has more low-end grunt and a more refined sound, but because of the added weight, AWD and chassis tuning, it tends toward understeer more readily.

The key to understanding the X4 on the road is simple: it weighs only 20 lbs less than the X3 and despite the sheetmetal changes, the center of gravity isn’t all that much lower. As a result it drives almost exactly like an X3. Since the X3 is one of the most dynamic options in its class, that’s no dig. 0-60 happened in a quick 6.14 seconds in our tester(the 3.0L is a full second faster) and the lateral grip is impressive for a crossover. On the downside, the 3-Series sedan and GT will do everything a hair faster with better grip and better feel. BMW will swap out the 245 width tires our tester had for a staggered 245 / 275 tire package. I suspect that may give the X4 more of a performance edge on the less sporting trims of X3 or 3-GT, but fuel economy and your pocketbook will suffer. Thanks to the wide tires, the X4 took just 119 feet to stop from 60 MPH.

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The standard AWD system dulls what little feel you might otherwise get from the electric power steering system, but in return it allows drama-free launches on most road surfaces and plenty of fun on soft roads. Speaking of soft roads, the X4 reminded me a great deal of Volvo’s V60 Cross Country: both vehicles prioritize style over practicality and both are soft-road vehicles designed for folks that live down a short gravel road and commute on winding mountain highways. The suspension in all forms of the X4 is stiffer than I expected and the M-Sport is stiffer than I could live with long-term on the crappy roads in Northern California. If you’re contemplating the M-Sport, be sure to option up the adaptive suspension system. The $1,000 option doesn’t dull the X4’s responses, but when in the softer modes it may just save your kidneys.

Competition for the X4 is hard to define as I have said. On the surface of things, the styling premium over the X3 will set you back $6,200, but the X4 has around $4,200 more in standard equipment, like AWD and HID lamps, which drops the real difference to about $2,000. That may not sound like too much of a premium for the added style you get in the X4, but the 328i Gran Turismo, despite standard AWD and the panoramic sunroof, is about $2,500 less than the X4.

IMG_9826

Now we must cover the Porsche Macan. In the same way that the X4 is a less practical X3, the Macan is a less practical Audi Q5. If you look at the Macan closely, you’ll see almost the same profile as the X4. Dimensionally they are quite similar inside and out. However, the Macan’s conversion from the plebeian Q5 was much more involved. Porsche also starts their lineup with a 340 horsepower twin-turbo V6, 7-speed DCT, and made major changes to the structure of the Q5 platform. On top of that, they fit wider tires all around. Obviously our 2.0L X4 doesn’t compete with the Porsche, but the X4 with the turbo six is an interesting alternative. The X4 xDrive35i manages to be a hair faster to 60 in my limited tests (1/10th) thanks likely to the ZF 8-speed automatic. The BMW’s transmission is smoother, I think the exterior is more elegant and depending on how you configure your Porsche, the cost difference can exceed $10,000 in the X4’s favor. The Macan handles better and had a nicer and more customizable interior, but the options are so expensive that it’s easy to get a Macan S over $75,000 without really trying.

Although I like the X4’s interior more than the 3-GT, the  GT makes more sense to me. You get more room inside, it’s more nimble out on the road and the fuel economy in the real world is a hair better. The X3 is more practical and gives up little when it comes to performance and handling and the 3-Series sport wagon is probably the best blend of cargo practicality and performance handling. This brings me back to BMW’s diabolical plan: comparisons. No matter how I tried to define or categorize the X4, the competitive set was littered with BMWs. Aside from the xDrive35i being the value alternative to the Macan S, all that can be said of the X4 in the end is that it is a less practical X3 and a taller GT with a nicer dash.

Sound off in the comment section below: what would you cross shop with the X4?

 

BMW provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review

Specifications as tested

0-30: 2.4 Seconds

0-60: 6.14 Seconds

1/4 Mile: 14.83 Seconds @ 92.8 MPG

Average Economy: 23.8 MPG

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Review: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/review-2013-mercedes-benz-glk350/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/review-2013-mercedes-benz-glk350/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2013 13:00:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=472023 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 […]

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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 TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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Review: 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2011-bmw-x3-xdrive35i/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/review-2011-bmw-x3-xdrive35i/#comments Mon, 03 Oct 2011 18:46:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=413361 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’ […]

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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.

Go.

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.

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Review: 2011 BMW X3 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-bmw-x3/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/07/review-2011-bmw-x3/#comments Fri, 22 Jul 2011 20:03:39 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=403928 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 […]

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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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