The Truth About Cars » xDrive http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 01 Sep 2015 18:20:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.4 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 » xDrive http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com 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.

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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.

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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.

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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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BMW Taketh, BMW Giveth (More Traction) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/bmw-taketh-bmw-giveth-more-traction/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/06/bmw-taketh-bmw-giveth-more-traction/#comments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 19:27:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=838681 Even though BMW foists upon us unfortunate derivative junk like the X4, 3-Series GT and 4-Series Gran Coupe (which, I’ve only recently just made sense of), at least they give us models like the 2-Series. Which just happened to get better for anyone who lives in the snowbelt. Later on this summer, xDrive AWD will […]

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Even though BMW foists upon us unfortunate derivative junk like the X4, 3-Series GT and 4-Series Gran Coupe (which, I’ve only recently just made sense of), at least they give us models like the 2-Series. Which just happened to get better for anyone who lives in the snowbelt.

Later on this summer, xDrive AWD will be available on both the 228i and the M235i, for an extra $1800. As much as the 228i might be the pur sang option, even moreso than the M235i, I would not hesitate to anger forum purists and Build Your Own window shoppers by ordering the xDrive version. Yes, I know that with proper snow tires and a modicum of skill, two wheel drive cars are just fine in the snow – I’ve driven two Miatas with LSDs and no ABS in dreadful winters, and I’ve never had a hairy moment. But there are times when I would have appreciated two extra driven wheels, and if I were in the market for this car, I’d have no qualms with forking over the extra $1,800. In my mind, it’s a WRX coupe with two fewer doors and a nicer interior.

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Piston Slap: Fix My Beeeemer, Sanjeev! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/piston-slap-fix-my-beeeemer-sanjeev/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/piston-slap-fix-my-beeeemer-sanjeev/#comments Wed, 05 Feb 2014 12:41:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=731250 Nitin writes: Sanjeev, I read your blog about the problem in BMW. I have a 2009 BMW 535i X drive with turbo. The car just ran out of warranty and has 45000 miles only. My car started having engine problems last week. First, the BMW said it needs new spark plugs as they were dirty. […]

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Nitin writes:

Sanjeev,

I read your blog about the problem in BMW. I have a 2009 BMW 535i X drive with turbo. The car just ran out of warranty and has 45000 miles only. My car started having engine problems last week. First, the BMW said it needs new spark plugs as they were dirty. That cost me $740 dollars. That did not work. They said it needs new fuel injectors. That was another $2100 dollars.

I picked up my car yesterday evening and drove it on the highway. The problem is still not fixed. The Car is still shaking badly. I will have to get it back to service. I am afraid they don’t have a handle on this problem. I called another mechanic who works on BMWs. He mentioned the probable need for walnut shell blasting. What do you know about it? Do you know of any pending lawsuits regarding this problem? Would appreciate your insight.

Sajeev answers:

And here’s another reason why European cars should be leased, or sold immediately after the warranty expires…I mean, when you’ve seen people being burned by the fire so many times…WAIT YOU GIVE THAT BACK RIGHT NOW YOU LITTLE…

Sanjeev retorts:

Listen, Sajeev–if that really is your name–I am sick of hearing your reverse elitist, MBA-toting hipster bellyaching on cars you wouldn’t buy.  But should buy.  Your co-workers, your friends and even your family are ashamed that you bought (special ordered, no less) a Ford Ranger instead of getting the nearest 3-series with a premium package.

So stop being a disappointment to everyone and answer the question correctly.  Jerk.

Sajeev re-answers:

Perhaps I should start over. Direct injection problems are commonplace for many brands, and multiple fixes are used to cure the carbon buildup/misfire problems.  So maybe you did need spark plugs, as that was the most logical and cheapest place to start.  And from there…well, the spiraling cost is unfortunate because it seems they are “throwing parts at the problem” and hoping for the best.  Which is never pleasant for the customer, as they will never know the truth of the diagnostic tree behind their repair bill(s).

The walnut shell blasting thing is a very logical next step.  Perhaps it shoulda been the first step, considering the (low-ish) mileage on the plugs/injectors. But will it work?  Hopefully so.

Lawsuit? Perhaps…but it’s not worth your time because you can probably get something by reading this, especially the following quote:

“BMW will extend the emissions warranty coverage period to 10 years or 120,000 miles, whichever comes first, on affected vehicles in all 50 States. If the HPFP fails during the extended warranty coverage period, BMW will replace it with a newer-production version. Customers who experience long starting times or notice the Service Engine Soon lamp should contact an Authorized BMW Center to schedule a service appointment. Customers with further questions should contact BMW Customer Relations at 1-800-831-1117 or email customer.relations@bmwna.com.”

Sometimes, even if this isn’t the source of your specific problem, BMW N/A will cut you a break in the name of customer goodwill.  Because you already spent a ton of cash with their dealership and they do feel bad about that.  Why would they feel bad? Because a few bucks back in your pocket might get you back in a newer Bimmer. Customer Retention is the name of the game, and it wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened.

So best of luck to you, from me and Sanjeev.

 

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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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.

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail IMG_1981 IMG_1980 IMG_1979 IMG_1978 By-bye wagon, hello crossover.

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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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Review: 2010 BMW 750Li xDrive http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/review-2010-bmw-750li-xdrive/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/review-2010-bmw-750li-xdrive/#comments Fri, 13 Aug 2010 17:36:50 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362927 With its 2011 redesign the BMW 5-Series is now much more closely related to the 7-Series. It’s smoother, quieter, and–both for better and for worse–has the feel of a larger car. So, why would someone spend roughly $18,000 more for the 7?  (Add another $3,900 for the extended wheelbase Li, and another $3,000 for AWD.) […]

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With its 2011 redesign the BMW 5-Series is now much more closely related to the 7-Series. It’s smoother, quieter, and–both for better and for worse–has the feel of a larger car. So, why would someone spend roughly $18,000 more for the 7?  (Add another $3,900 for the extended wheelbase Li, and another $3,000 for AWD.) To find out, I took a 750Li xDrive for a spin after driving the new 550i.

Unlike the many manufacturers who slavishly copied its most distinctive details, most notably the humped up trunk with its droopy cutline, I was never a fan of the previous generation, E65 7-Series. The latest 7, the F01 (F02 in Li form, if you want to get picky about it), appears much slimmer and cleaner. It’s certainly a handsome car. There are no unusual, potentially off-putting details like the quad fog lights on a Mercedes E-Class or the RX-8-like fender bulges on the S-Class. If the exterior design errs, it is in being too soft, too conservative, and too much like an enlarged 3. Can a design be too timeless? This one could just as easily have been from the 1990s.

More of a problem for many people, if not for me personally: the main thing differentiating the new 7’s exterior styling from that of the new 5 is its length. Compared to the 2011 5-Series, the 750i has four additional inches of wheelbase and nearly seven additional inches of overall length. The 750Li adds another 5.5 inches, all of it in the rear passenger compartment. While Audi has similarly readopted the “same sausage, different lengths” philosophy with the new A8, no one will mistake a Mercedes E-Class for an S-Class.

Comparing interiors, F10 5-Series even more strongly resembles the F01 7-Series. The instrument panels are nearly identical, though the 7 benefits from some additional brightwork around the vents and the lack of a horizontal divider in the center stack. In both cars the nav screen, though enlarged, is much more cleanly integrated into the instrument panel. A wider, shorter center stack angled six degrees towards the driver visually connects the instrument panel with the center console rather than visually separating the two. In the 7, the shifter has returned to the center console, proof that the new car is much more driver-oriented. The car tested had the optional leather-upholstered instrument panel upper. This option costs $1,200 but adds at least four times this amount to the perceived price of the car. If you want a 7, you want this option.

Major gains have also been made in ergonomics and usability. There are more buttons, so the much-improved iDrive doesn’t have to be used for as many things, but these buttons are logically grouped and located. On the 7, the seat controls have been moved from the sides of the center armrest to a more conventional location on the sides of the seats. They’re no longer visible in the new location, yet are much easier to operate. Trial and error is no longer an inevitable part of the adjustment process. One idea worth stealing from the new Audi A8: displaying adjustments on the screen as they are made. One ergonomic slip: the door pull on the 7 is hidden and mounted too high up on the door. I knew it was there when I thought about it, but locating a door pull shouldn’t require any thought.

BMW’s multicontour seats, excellent for both long distance highway treks and the curviest hill country byways, are optional in the new six-cylinder 740i (not tested) but are standard in the 750. Unlike in the new 5-Series, these seats continue to include power-adjustable side bolsters.  Because 7-Series owners are more likely to take corners aggressively? Typical of a large German sedan, the beltline is moderately high, and there’s clearly a lot of car around you, but not to the point that visibility is impeded or driver confidence is impaired. From the driver’s seat, the 7 feels much like the 5, just a touch larger. The tape measure backs up this impression: there’s less than an inch of additional front shoulder room in the larger car.

For an obviously different car, move to the rear seat. Even in the regular wheelbase 750i you’ll find three inches of additional shoulder room (artificially constricted in the 5?) and over two inches of additional legroom. Where the 5 provides adequate room and comfort for adults, the 7 does noticeably better on both counts. With the 750Li, rear legroom grows another 5.5 inches, for a total of 44.3. Unless people think “center forward” when they see you, your feet won’t be occupying the extra inches. The new 5’s trunk is actually a little larger than the 7’s, and a folding rear seat is only optional in the midsize car. So cargo capacity isn’t going to justify the jump.

The 550i and 750Li share BMW’s twin-turbocharged 4.4-liter V8, good for a virtually lag-free 400 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque. Even when tasked with motivating the 750Li xDrive’s quite considerable 4,861 pounds this powerplant provides the sort of effortless acceleration that used to require a V12. Though the V8’s soundtrack is suitability refined, others are either quieter or more inspiring.

While the F10 received a new eight-speed automatic capable of downshifting from top gear to second in a single bound, the F01 continues to employ the old six-speed. It’s not a bad transmission, but it’s not as smooth, as quick to shift, as flexible, or as efficient as ZF’s latest and greatest.

Another F10 innovation not present in the F01, at least not yet: electric power steering. The usual anti-EPS rhetoric aside, steering feel isn’t dissimilar in the two cars—when comparing the 750Li with its standard suspension to a 550i with the Sport Package. Comparing the 750Li to a 535i with the standard suspension, the larger car’s steering feels better weighted and more precise. Aided by optional active stabilizer bars, roll in turns is minimal. Despite its many extra inches and pounds, the 750Li is a car that can be intuitively placed right where you want it. It feels about a half-ton lighter than the scales suggest it ought to.

Although I live in Michigan, I’m wary of the dulling effect all-wheel-drive tends to have on a car’s feel. With BMW’s system this isn’t an issue. The 750Li xDrive feels so much like a rear-wheel-drive car in moderately aggressive driving that I had to recheck the “xDrive” badges on the front doors. Power is shunted to the front wheels only when the rears lose traction, and the rears don’t lose traction readily. Easily controllable throttle-induced oversteer remains a very real possibility.

The new 5 feels so smooth and quiet, I wondered what could be gained by stepping up to the 7. Quite a bit, it turns out. Within the first 50 feet it’s evident that the 7 possesses the sort of silky smoothness and insulated quietness that Lexus brought to the table. Your ears and the seat of your pants will attest that the larger car is a substantial step up from the 5. It sounds and feels like the $100,000 car it is.

And this, in the end, is what justifies the 7 even more than the additional rear seat room: compared to the 5, it simply looks, sounds, and feels more upscale and luxurious. With the F01, BMW has somehow managed to combine the silent smoothness of a Lexus with the handling for which its cars are known. Sure, the driving experience is more insulated than in a 5, but it’s not overly insulated for this class of car. It feels far better on a curvy road than any car pushing 5,000 pounds has a right to. Now is it worth the extra cost? For people seeking the highest level of luxury in a driver-oriented car, yes, it is. Perhaps the 7’s additional luxuriousness and rear seat room isn’t worth $18,000+ to you? Then spend “only” $67,000 or so on a perfomance-optioned 550i and perhaps feel like you’re getting a bargain.

Michael Kraesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of vehicle reliability and pricing data

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