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."

One even emulated Dr. Seuss: "I'm not happy when I drive this BMW. I don't like the A/C circulation; I don't like the lack of cupholders; I don't like the way the rearview mirrors position themselves; I don't like the way the car bounces all over the road." Fortunate for the X3 that BMW doesn't offer a green-eggs-and-ham option.

Yet the rhyme produced a crack. "Okay, okay, I'll admit the stiff springs and shocks provide a borderline unacceptable ride on any road that isn't perfectly smooth. Yet [here we go again], the sport suspension earns its keep on fast, long sweepers. It leaves timid drivers and their less capable cars in the dust." Why we didn't call a doctor then and there, it's hard to say.

Undoubtedly, our long-termer would've been much better received with the standard suspension. And this is particularly a shame because, by the time our X3 was being built, Munich had already gotten the message and was softening-up the regular model. Otherwise, our X3 proved reliable, its only quirks being an instance when the radio briefly went fritzy (fixed by switching the ignition off and on), and the forward parking sensors operated only when the shifter was slotted into reverse (fixed at no cost). The only remaining gripes were the black interior (a question of taste), the driver seat's stitching that could be felt against the back, and the rocker panel's habit of cleaning itself with your pant leg. Our average fuel consumption over 15,059 miles was 17.7 mpg, and with a present retail value of approximately $34,700, our X3's cost per mile calculates out to $0.85 per mile (including depreciation and assuming $3 per gallon gas). Rather steep.

Maybe it was the lack of anywhere to stash his iPod, but finally DQ dropped his spear: Bristling: "I ended up storing my iPod between the adjustable seat bottom of the passenger seat." And then--drum-roll--"Sometimes the punishing ride puts me in a bad mood. It makes me think it won't be long until my tongue gets caught between my teeth over a rough bit of road and the harsh suspension causes me to bite my own tongue off."

DQ's last entry in the book? Defiantly: "I still love the aggressive tone from the straight-six. These motors are still one the best reasons to buy a six-cylinder-powered BMW."

Nobody can disagree with that one.

From the logbook
"The big moonroof can be enjoyed by the front and rear occupants. Aluminum interior trim has a great look; too bad there isn't more of it in the X3's sea of black interior. An ultimate driving machine should have some power, but the 2.5-liter in this two-ton vehicle just isn't up to the task."
-John Matthius "Why put up with the poor ride and less room when you could have just as much versatility with an AWD 3 or 5 Series wagon? Here's what happens when you make a BMW out of an SUV."
-Angus MacKenzie

"The X3 is fairly compact compared with the larger X5, but it doesn't feel too tight. Why does this relatively small six-cylinder engine require expensive premium fuel?"
-John Kiewicz

"The X3 is now officially my daughter's favorite vehicle...one look at the DVD system, and she showed up for our drive with 'The Lion King' in hand. 'Daddy, drive around please, it's not over yet.' Need to chuck a bunch of those over-priced options (my daughter won't be pleased) and get the price down to the low/mid-$30s."
-Arthur St. Antoine

Our Car
Base price $30,995
Premium package $3700
Navigation system $1800
Sport package $1500
Black leather $1450
Automatic transmission $1275
Xenon headlights $800
Cold weather package $750
Parking assist $700
Premium sound system $675
Metallic paint $475
Privacy glass $350
Power mirrors $250
Luggage net $150
Sat radio prep $75
MSRP, as tested $44,945
Avg fuel economy 17.7
Problem areas Parking-assist, audio- system hiccup
Normal-wear cost $0 (oil and filter, washer fluid, air filter)
Current value, wholesale/retail $26,000/$34,700
Recalls source: intellichoice.com None
2005 BMW X3 2.5i
Powertrain/Chassis
Drivetrain layout Front engine, AWD
Engine typeI-6, alum block/heads
Valvetrain DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement 152.2 cu in/2494 cc
Compression ratio 10.5:1
Power (SAE net) 184 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 175 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Weight to power 22.3 lb/hp
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Axle/final drive ratios 3.91:1/2.93:1
Suspension, front; rear Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering ratio 8.19:1
Brakes, f;r12.8-in vented disc; 12.6-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 18 x 8.0, cast alum
Tires 235/50R18 97H M+S Pirelli Scorpion STR
Dimensions
Wheelbase 110.1 in
Track, f/r 60.0/60.7 in
Length x width x height 179.7 x 73.0 x 66.0
Ground clearance 8.0 in
Appr/depart angle 24.0/21.9 deg
Turning circle 38.4 ft
Curb weight 4105 lb Weight dist, f/r 50/50%
Towing capacity 3500 lb
Seating capacity 5
Headroom, f/r 39.3/39.4 in
Legroom, f/r 40.2/35.8 in
Shoulder room, f/r 55.8/55.4 in
Cargo volume behind, f/r 71.0/30.0 cu ft
Test Data
Acceleration to mph 0-30 3.2 sec
0-40 4.9
0-50 7.0
0-60 9.8
0-70 13.3
0-80 17.8
0-90 22.6
Passing, 45-65 mph 5.6
Quarter mile 17.2 sec @ 80.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 130 ft
600-ft slalom 61.8 mph avg
Lateral acceleration 0.84 g avg
MT figure eight 28.1 sec @ 0.58 g avg
Consumer Info
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
AirbagsDual front, front side, f/r head curtain
Basic warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Roadside assistance 4 yrs/50,000 miles
Fuel capacity 17.7 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 17/23 mpg
MT fuel economy 17.7 mpg
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded
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