Painted Rock Farm, outside of Atlanta, GA – BMW is introducing the new X3 to the world’s motoring press at an off road facility known as Painted Rock Farm over the next few days. The new X3 is considered an all-road, all-weather vehicle and what better way to determine whether or not it’s still a BMW then to subject to twisty streets, gravel roads,
and rutted tracks. And the verdict is . . .

First impressions formed from the passenger seat on the drive from the Fulton County Airport to Painted Rock Farm is one of quiet comfort. The optional sports seat with power adjustments should be familiar to any BMW owner. The interior is significantly more upscale that the previous X3’s and could tempt shoppers of competitors’ vehicles into looking at the new X3.

The new X3 is immediately recognizable as a BMW from the inside. There is the common theme of gauge placement, fonts on gauges, and location of controls. This commonality of design aesthetic and ergonomics from one vehicle to another (from the top to bottom of BMW’s lineup) helps focus the brand’s image.

P90067922The new X3 comes with iDrive standard (the navigation system is optional). A heads-up display is optional and the test vehicles were equipped with it. However, Steve Chupnick, my partner for the drive and new father of twins (here’s to Mrs Chupnick and Michael and Mira!), was unable to see it wearing polarized sun glasses.

The back seat is comfortable with additional leg room versus the previous X3. And the rear cargo area is quite spacious at 26 plus cubic feet. In addition there is a useful rail system to help secure cargo. With the rear seats folded down the cargo capacity is over 55 cubic feet. There is a lot of useful space in the interior and enhanced cubby holes in the door panels for larger objects. BMW has listened to their customers. The space available is utilized well.

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Behind the wheel the first thing that is noticeable is the tight/stiff chassis. This is a very stiff platform and has allowed the suspension engineers to focus on controlling wheel travel and not body flex. It is much more difficult to make a large box stiff and BMW has shown its engineering and production prowess in pulling this off. The new X3 feels great (and rides very well), even on rutted gravel roads.

“The new X3 shows off sophisticated suspension engineering.”

The new X3 shows off sophisticated suspension engineering. It utilizes a proven five link rear rear suspension and front suspension component mounting techniques that provides excellent feedback without noticeable harshness In addition the multi-link rear suspension improves interior space in the rear cargo area.

The electric power steering provides decent feedback (much better than prior implementations from other manufacturers). And, thanks to the tuning of the suspension geometry, when the right side wheels were purposely steered into a deep rut that ran parallel to the road, there was no kickback in the steering wheel.

The test cars were all X3 xDive35i models. As expected, acceleration is very good with the 3 liter gas turbo engine (the familiar N55B30). That engine coupled to the standard eight speed automatic returns a 5.5 second 0-60 mph time according to BMW. There is no optional transmission available, only the eight speed auto. The US will get the xDrive35i initially with an xDrive28i to follow. The world market gets an xDrive20d (and we saw pallets of those great little diesels sitting on the factory floor – please bring the diesel model to the US market BMW!).

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From a practical perspective, owners that intend to do a lot of driving at altitude will want to opt for the xDrive35i variant. Otherwise, the xDrive28i and should return better fuel economy and still deliver a 0-60 mph time of 6.7 seconds according to BMW. If you have to own a really fast sport utility, BMW would be happy to sell you an X5 M or X6 M.

“The electric power steering provides decent feedback…”

BMW purposely supplied cars with the Start/Stop feature installed for the US press to sample. The new X3 is the first implementation of Start/Stop functionality on an inline six cylinder and an automatic transmission. It stops the engine when sitting for several seconds at a traffic light, for example. If you lift off the brake, or turn the steering wheel, the engine restarts. It was a bit disconcerting at first, not so much when the engine stopped, but when it restarted. Prius owners are used to this, but since the Prius utilizes the electric motor to start off from a stop and then re-fires the gas engine as needed, BMW’s Start/Stop feels a bit different. If there is any anxiety about the Start/Stop functionality it can be disabled (there is a button to the left side of the Start/Stop button to accomplish that). While Start/Stop does take some getting used to, it could be a significant fuel saver, especially if you travel urban surface streets routinely.

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“More luxurious, better ride and handling, great engines and a wonderfully smooth eight speed automatic transmission.”

So what is the verdict? It’s a good one and a significantly better vehicle than the previous X3. More luxurious, better ride and handling, great engines and a wonderfully smooth eight speed automatic transmission. BMW has delivered a driver’s SAV with the space, driving feel, and luxury that will delight its driver and coddle its passengers regardless of road quality or weather.

The X3 xDrive35i will be the first model in US showrooms with a base price, including handling and destination, of $41, 925. That comes with a long list of standard features. The X3 xDrive28i arrives in showrooms sometime after teh xDrive35i and has a base price of $37,625. Look for more info and a longer review on BMWBLOG in the near future.