The sparring began almost immediately. Was our long-term BMW X3 yet another pearl in a long necklace of sublime ultimate driving machines or just a rough-riding Austrian-built anomaly that's missed the mark? Unusually, the debate would be carried out within the pages of the X3's logbook (where editors can lob verbal grenades without ever making eye contact.) And Don Quixote-like, the little SUV's defense would be championed by a sole X3 admirer among us. Ultimately, he was dead wrong--but we'll let the logbook tell this story for itself.

In retrospect, the seeds for many of our plot's ensuing troubles were sown even before the X3 arrived. Giddy at its long list of nifty available features, we filled our basket a bit too full, adding $13,950 in goodies to an already dizzying $30,995 base price. Ka-ching! $44,945, total. And even at that, it would've cost another six grand to move up from our 184-horse, 2.5-liter six to the 225-horse, 3.0-liter. Among our selected options were leather seats, $1450 (more later), and the $3700 Premium Package (including cruise control, a giant glass moonroof, power seats, snazzy interior trim, rain-sensing wipers, climate control, foglights, and trip computer), the automatic transmission at $1275 (no bargain), the nav system at $1800, and the $1500 Sport Package (our X3's ultimate downfall). All this was ladled atop a genre of vehicle BMW can arguably take credit for inventing (Acura's recent RDX, for instance, follows directly in the BMW's premium-entry SUV tire tracks.)

Within days of the X3's arrival, our Don Quixote (DQ, we'll discreetly call him) was scribbling away: "The X3 is becoming just as cool to be seen in as an X5. In fact, in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, it might even be cooler, just like an iPod Shuffle is becoming hipper than the standard one." (This raised our collective eyebrows.) "The X3 might be smaller than the X5, but its edgy sheetmetal leaves no doubt that this is the newer, more desirable SUV. It took a while, but now X3s are all over town."

Our friend was just about on the precipice of delirium. So we gently tried to edge him back to reality: "I awaited Motor Trend's long-term X3 with great anticipation," we wrote. "Unfortunately, the one sent to us strikes me as overpriced, overweight, underpowered, cramped in the back seat, and jouncy on all but perfect roads." Fact check: Yes, ours weighed a rotund 4105 pounds. But the comment had no effect: "The 2.5-liter is actually more adequate than I thought it would be, and some of this must be attributed to the well-geared tranny."

Retort: "I'm afraid it's underpowered and is never in the gear I want, so I find myself too often in manual shift mode." Again, nothing: "The X3 is nimble and precise, providing an enthralling driving experience (even with the smaller engine) that can't be found in any other crossover for any price."