Motoring: Practicality meets fun in BMW X3 SAV
Stopped and waiting for a break in Toronto traffic impressed on me that certain brands do affect the psyche of other drivers.
My BMW, at that particular moment, could have been sending positive vibes to fellow motorists, eliciting humanitarian thoughts such as, : “Look at the successful young man in that nice crossover. I’ll make his day by slowing down and letting him in.”
Conversely, this darker version is even more likely to have flashed across their collective synapses: “That yuppie jackass can wait until doomsday before he’s getting in front of me…”
I’m not saying there’s a complete lack of civility on the road, but it’s a good bet that, had I been driving a 10-year-old Kia, the sympathy ‘wave-through’ would have occurred much sooner than with my 2013 X3 xDrive28i compact SUV—or Sport Activity Vehicle in BMW-speak.
So, instead of relying on the milk of GTA driver kindness, which had evidently soured, I tapped into one of BMW’s traditional strengths, which is found under the hood and contributes to the brand’s reputation for providing the “ultimate driving experience.”
Admittedly, this ride of choice among Leaside soccer parents is not on par with autobahn burners like the M5, but its 2.0-litre inline four with twin-scroll turbocharger delivers a snappy 241 hp and 258 lb/ft of torque (from as low as 1,250 rpm) to launch the X3 from rest to 100 km/h in seven seconds.
Which is what shot me into the conga line of traffic before yet another driver closed the gap.
Performance is not the only reason for owning a BMW, but it’s a big one, and it no longer relies on gutsy inline sixes and V8s.
Like Audi and now Mercedes-Benz, BMW offers a turbocharged four-cylinder unit that can legitimately do the work of a six.
Not the twin-turbo 3.0-litre unit still found in the 28i’s big brother, the xDrive 35i (which cranks out 300 hp and 300 lb/ft of torque).
But compared with the inline six it replaces, the new four banger does generate the same number of horses and significantly more pounds-feet, much earlier.
It also does so more fuel efficiently. The previous engine was rated at 10.9/7.8 litres/100 km; the new one at 9.7/7.0 city/hwy.
Let’s be clear. If you’re like many BMW drivers, who like to push it a little (and reap the reward), you’ll never see these numbers. But the X3 does offer an Eco Pro setting that will help curb such naughtiness, as it blunts the throttle response, shifts earlier and tweaks climate control settings for less drain on the system. This setting even turns down your seat heater.
And when you consider the insane price of premium fuel, Eco Pro does make sense, although it pretty much saps all the fun of driving a BMW.
Sport mode and Sport+ were my guilty pleasures, and although I paid dearly for them at the pump, the quicker throttle, more direct steering and higher shift points made me forget I was driving what is essentially a wagon on stilts.
Indeed, the X3 is a tall vehicle, but in Sport or Sport+ (which tones down the traction control to allow a little wheelspin), it will carve corners nearly as well as a sedan. Mind you, the X3 is based on the 3-Series platform, and like driving the legendary sedan, you do feel connected to the road.
All X3 models get an eight-speed transmission. That’s a lot of gears, particularly when the engine is delivering ample torque, but the unit is extremely smooth, and with nearly imperceptible but quick upshifts. Downshifts, however, are slower and more in line with typical automatics.
In many ways, the turbo four outperforms the naturally aspirated six, but it doesn’t sound as nice. In particular when it’s cold and the engine clatters like a diesel. That does, however, quiet down a few kilometres down the road.
My other small gripe is the auto start-stop function, which shuts down the engine while you’re stopped with foot on the brake.
It’s good for saving fuel, but doesn’t operate as smoothly as those found in hybrids. Lift your foot off the pedal, and the engine shudders back to life, kind of like a golf cart. I found this feature offputting during stop-and-go driving and kept it off much of the time.
Even though the base X3 lists at $42,450, which isn’t particularly steep for a premium compact SUV, its interior, as you’d expect from BMW, is nicely crafted.
There are abundant soft-touch surfaces, for example in the door panels and dash, along with brushed aluminum accents, and all of it nicely stitched and fitted together with the tightest of seams.
Controls are easy to use—in particular the HVAC which employs simple knobs and buttons—but the iDrive is less old school. It is, however, now more intuitive. iDrive’s main knob and buttons for media, radio, phone and navigation (the latter is part of the $2,200 Technology Package) make it easy to access these functions through a series of menus.
The X3 also includes the usual stuff you’d expect in this segment: dual-zone climate control, heated front seats with driver memory, tilt/telescopic steering with controls, and a decent audio system with Bluetooth. Sure, the standard upholstery is ‘leatherette’, but for another $1,900 you can remedy this with Nevada leather.
Other upgrades in my tester included the Premium Package ($3,600), which provided panoramic sunroof, park distance control, bi-xenon headlights and auto dimming mirrors.
All X3s offer abundant leg and head room in the back seats, and ample cargo room behind them despite the vehicle’s outwardly stubby appearance, inward-sloping rear hatch and relatively low rated capacity of 550 litres. Drop the second row and you max out at 1,600 litres, although it does appear larger.
I had no problem loading it with enough stuff to set up and fill our 10-foot by 10-foot Home Show booth one weekend, with plenty of room to spare. In practice, I’d say that it’s not far off its more capacious competitors.
Setting all that practical stuff aside, the BMW roundel delivers something else that’s hard to put a price on. And that’s brand cachet.
Indeed, BMW says ‘success,’ which as I mentioned earlier can either impress other drivers or make you about as popular as Piers Morgan at an NRA convention.
Either way, a little envy can be quite the tonic… when you’re on the receiving end.
2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i SAV
Body Style: Premium compact sport activity vehicle
Drive Method: front-engine, all-wheel-drive
Engine: 2.0-litre inline four with twin-scroll turbocharger (241 hp, 258 lb/ft of torque)
Cargo: 550 litres behind second row seats, 1,600 litres maximum
Fuel Economy: 9.7/7.0/8.5 litres/100 km (city/hwy/comb)
Price: base $42,450; as tested with Premium Package $3,600, Technology Package $2,200, Apps Package $300 and stand-alone options: $50,000