By on October 3, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BMW provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.

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45 Comments on “Review: 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i...”

  • avatar

    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.

    I’m not sure, but I suspect the X1 is going to do that, as well as seriously harm sales of the X3.

    Oh, and matte rubber is not easy to clean.

  • avatar

    It’s worse than this, Brendan. I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t even get a 328i wagon with the next-gen 3. The X5 / 5GT eliminated the 5 wagon on this side of the Atlantic.

    With the ML, Mercedes started a German trend of value pricing the crossovers. BMW had to price the X5 aggressively in response, and the X3 had to be priced relatively low to keep it south of the X5. End result: even fewer wagon sales.

    To see how the X3 and its competition compare in price to the remaining wagons:

    • 0 avatar

      I read (I think in Ward’s) that due to the poor sales of the 5GT (or maybe it was the X6 – or both?), BMW USA is bringing back the 5 series wagon for the next generation. Hopefully they’re getting spooked about trying to replace wagons with GT/crossover/baloney substitutes and won’t screw it up.

    • 0 avatar

      Neither BMW nor Mercedes have any real incentive to encourage wagon sales; I’m sure both companies make more off US-built SUVs than imported wagons.

      Then again, Mercedes will be happy to sell you an E-Class wagon (rear-facing seat and all) for a mere $7,000 premium over the sedan.

  • avatar

    Fairly interesting review of a vehicle I won’t ride in with plenty of…colorful metaphors to boot. I think I like…

    Octo-tranny…sounds kind of interesting in a Spencer’s kind of way.

  • avatar

    One correction: The 335i’s engine is now the same twinscroll engine (N55). 335is uses a version of of the twin-turbocharged N54 engine.

  • avatar

    This thing is a heavy heffalump with a turbo engine.

    My 328i Wagon weighs 700lbs(!!) less, handles and rides rather better, and has only a smidge less cargo room. And gets far better real world gas mileage with a whole lot less to go wrong with it. And also a proper manual transmission. Actual leather was included for ~$10K less money. Of course, BMW is still saying we won’t get them anymore when the F-cars debute. You can even get it with AWD if you are terminally incompetent.

    BTW – ALL of the BMWs with the 3.0L turbo now have the single dual-scroll turbo (N55 engine) with the exception of the 335is which keeps the old dual turbo setup (N54).

    Otherwise, I will agree that the new X3 is a massive improvement over the old one.

  • avatar

    Although entertaining, I found this review hard to read. It lunges all over the place with allusions and quotations and extraneous shoutouts in such density that they distract from the actual review, rather than spice it up.

  • avatar

    I’d like to apologize to the TTAC readership for the lance Armstrong crack. I had included it originally, then decided it was mean-spirited and did nothing to advance the review so expunged it. Somehow the original review has snuck in. Hopefully I can get this dealt with by the time you read this.

    • 0 avatar

      Ha I didn’t mind at all, but I like all the jokes in Family Guy.

      I hated on your overdone Evo review, so just let me say this one and the Mazda 3 were great. You ride that fine line between illustrative and superfluous with the metaphors.

      Except that I don’t know what a poltroon is, well now I do. I can only do a couple dictionary checks per review, otherwise I get frustrated and click away.

    • 0 avatar

      Sneaked is the past tense of sneak. Snuck is something you made up……

      • 0 avatar

        If he made it up, he must have somehow snuck in some definitions into the Oxford English and Merriam Webster dictionaries.

        Informal, past participle or past tense of “sneak.”

  • avatar

    “Ooh, somebody in spandex is going to peg a water-bottle at my head for that crack.”

    Don’t worry, most folks driving these things probably lack both accuracy and distance in their throw. I think you’re safe.

  • avatar

    there’s a smidgen of 1-series M Coupe in here

    X3 needs to chew its food better.

  • avatar

    For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the clever writing in the review…

  • avatar
    dvp cars

    ……..between “heffalump” and your kneesies frottage incident with the malodorous travelling companion, Jack Baruth should feel flattered by your unconsciously picking up on his musings. Wild review, though,…..your comically exaggerated use of metaphors put me in mind of a new age, psychedelic, Tom McCahill…….and there’s nothing shabby about that. It should be noted, however, that the late, great “Mechanix Illustrated” columnist, wouldn’t be caught dead on public transit, your own experience being one reason why.
    P.S…I always knew “heffalump” would enter the TTAC jargon sooner or later.

    • 0 avatar

      Any time people assume JB and I are on a similar wavelength, it is me who is flattered. And alarmed.

      If you missed it, we both recently submitted articles in the same week that independently made reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The TTAC zeitgeist is a weird, froody place.

  • avatar

    The “fifteen-ton Peterbuilt enema” line made me laugh in a way this site hasn’t managed since Farago left.

    Not that sales charts and arcane stories about the Chinese car market aren’t interesting, of course.

  • avatar

    I saw one of these in our parking garage. I was surprised by how small it looks in person. Sure, it has an SUV / CUV stance, but it was snuggly parked in a compact spot. It’s funny that the hatchback form factor is hard to swallow, but this hatchback on stilts is more palatable.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you sure its this you saw, or the X1? I’ve seen a few X1s running about lately and they certainly have a smaller look about them then I’m used to in a modern car.

      I’m actually fairly impressed by the X1. Sure, I’d prefer the five-door 1-Series, but in relative terms it’s not too bad.

      I personally don’t see the point of the X3; anyone with the money who doesn’t want something tossable will probably make the stretch to the X5, and those who can’t or don’t would go X1. I can’t see much space between the two.

      • 0 avatar

        Funny. I always felt the one without much purpose was the X5. Once BMW added the, at least theoretical, option of 7 seats for it, it made some theoretical sense; but real world interior space increases never justified the increase in bulk over the X3 in my book.

  • avatar

    I thought that BMW already announced that those of us on the U.S. side of the pond would definitely not be getting the new 3 series wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      Ditto. I’m almost positive I heard the 3 series wagon will no longer be offered in the states.

      • 0 avatar

        That is certainly the current word. And the main reason I ordered mine this year. There will be a short run of 2012 e91s, but no F31s for the States at this point.

        And really, between the fact that they hardly sell any wagons AND they make far more money on the (US built) X-cars I really can’t blame them. Though I also think they would sell a lot more if they would A. market them even a little, and B. offer all three engine choices. In particular, I bet they could sell a BUNCH of diesel wagons. And 335i wagons too for that matter. What I really want is a manny-tranny 320D or 330D though.

        But perhaps what we REALLY need is homogenized approval systems between the US and Europe so it does not cost a fortune to bring over variants of the same car. Is there really any useful reason why the sedan, coupe, and hatch versions have to go through the entire rigamorole seperately? That is the real issue.

  • avatar

    My boss has this exact car in this exact color. He traded his last gen X3 for it. However, the interior still leaves a lot to be desired. Materials are definitely above average, but the dull layout doesn’t help.

    He always tells me how great BMW’s are, but my Infiniti still makes him think twice about his decision.

    • 0 avatar

      I am not at all sure why would ANYONE be excited at all about this one. The design is horrible, makes it look smaller despite it being “almost the same size as the old gen X5”. In fact, most of the outer design cues are simply STOLEN, shamelessly, from Saturn VUE, which tells you something. I am trying to keep liking BMW, but it is becoming simply counterproductive.

  • avatar

    Nice car: Profoundly stupid name.

  • avatar

    Good write-up, liked the style.

    BTW, “The new X3 is flared out, lowered, blocky and creased, making the corporate twin-kidney grille resemble…” something portly and ugly… TFIFY.

  • avatar

    Don’t listen to the haters, that was a good review in the true spirit of TTAC. Don’t change a thing.

  • avatar

    Yes, I too express sentiments about your writing.

    Sad trombone indeed. Funny about the seating surfaces. Yes, the X3 is has kind of a middle-child thing? But not too much, apparently.

    I think the 5GT is really great. It came out before the current 5!

  • avatar

    I thought this review was excellent. It contained elements of the whipped group, the congealed group, and the chocotastic!

  • avatar

    I had to take a second glance to realize that this wasn’t a picture of an FX35.

  • avatar

    I take offense at this:

    “Specifically, someone seemed to have constructed the suspension out of granite, bits of old cathedrals and depleted uranium.”

    As old cathedral rock is too crumbly and soft to compare to the previous X3’s dismal suspension.

    The insistence of automakers on shoving more and more gears down our throats is maddening. Now, instead of suffering shift-shock when accelerating full-bore, we have to put up with the queasy seasickness induced by incessant gear-hunting when not completely on or off the throttle pedal.

  • avatar

    How was the throttle tip in? There were three major faults with the first gen X3 (four, if you count the horrendous pre-iDrive NAV system). The first was the unnatural throttle that seemed to go straight from 5% to about 30%, skipping everything in between with a numb spot instead.

    The second was that automatic transmission, it banged between gears like a 16 year old trying to learn to drive a stick in a Series I E-type.

    The third was the suspension. BMW apparently ran out of springs, so they just welded some iron girders in there. It seems like the latter two have been fixed (or at least the presumably ZF sourced 8-speed is no more confused here than in the other cars it appears in), but I assume the throttle tip in is still crap.

    • 0 avatar

      Throttle tip-in on the 35i is still annoying, but not nearly as much of an issue as the non turboed x3 because the power comes on like a tsunami after a slight delay.

  • avatar

    Just got back from Germany. Two items. First, Germans don’t drive SUV’s to any extent. $10 gallon fuel makes this tough. I’ve always thought the X3 was proof you had the money, found the right dealer, and in the words of Maxwell Smart “missed it by this much”.

    Second, exchange rates. We rented a 320d at Avis. The car had a 46,500 Eur window sticker. At the current rates, it was a 70K 3 series !!! that was not a loaded M car. Clearly, BMW can sell us x3 nonsense lots cheaper (for them) than the proper wagon we should be able to buy.

    In two weeks and Berlin to Bodensee, we saw few x5, almost zero x3, and lotsa x1 (sexy, that one).

    German BMW is a diesel 1 series with five doors. The 3 is big, 5 and 7 so rare as to stand out. I’ve seen more high end german cars at my kids’ soccer games here in Westchester.

    X3….I’m sure it makes them money, but every one I’ve driven, I come away with …. WHY ? I’ve 260k in a 330i so I certainly love the marque. I guess this is what they think we dumb americans should drive.

    I want a wagon. I also want the nice 320d motor I drove for a week in Germany. 49 mpg (no lie) and 140 mph (not here though;).

    • 0 avatar

      As has been stated here before…often…you can’t do a straight dollar to euro conversion for sales price based on current exchange rates. In reality, it comes much closer to a a $1=1E rate.

      And as for the “we all want diesel wagons with manual transmission” folks…well, we are in the absolute minority when it comes to sales potential here in America. What sells for BMW (and for all other manufacturers, for the most part) are non-diesel automatic sedans…sad, but true.

  • avatar

    After reading this review I have come to the conclusion that there was definitely an eight-ball of coke in the glovebox.

  • avatar

    I like the looks too, and compared to the Smart is down right sexy! In fact, everything about this car seems (can’t say for sure) better than the Smart 4 doors, 4 passenger, more cargo room (rear seats down), better styling.

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