Our 2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i has not one, but three sport modes. There's one for the transmission, accessed by pushing the golf club-shaped shifter to the left. Doing so activates a more aggressive shift program, making the transmission is eager to kick down a cog or two and sustain high revs. That's not too surprising. But then there are these buttons to the left of that shifter, one points rewards to text that reads "Normal," the other points forward, to "Sport." The other two modes hide here.
These buttons are the only visual indication of the $1400 Dynamic Handling Package, an option I was surprised to see offered in an SUV, but flabbergasted to find that ours actually had it. Why? Well, amongst other things, the package adds controllable electronic dampers, a variable steering ratio, and multiple stages of stability/traction intervention, throttle responsiveness, and transmission shift characteristics. How do you control all this stuff? With those two little buttons.
Press the forward button once and you active the first stage, "Sport". Instantly the steering wheel tightens, the dampers increase in firmness, the throttle response sharpens, and the transmission kicks down. Press the button again, for "Sport+", and the traction and stability control goes into dynamic mode. Also, the all-wheel drive system starts playing with the torque split, going to 20 percent front and 80 percent rear in steady state cornering. The X3 will also apply the inside rear brake while adding torque to the outside wheel to help you rotate.
Even better, the first stage "Sport" setting is customizable. Say, if you like a firm steering wheel and ride but don't always care for the aggressive powertrain, you can make it so the first Sport setting only controls the chassis, leaving Sport+ for the most aggressive stuff.
A little excessive? Of course it is, but that's what makes the X3 so much fun.
Activating Sport while approaching a corner is like engaging launch control before an acceleration run. Your heart starts beating faster. You feel the wheel and ride stiffen, you hear the engine build revs as the transmission drops gears. Your senses pick up on this, and your anticipation builds. You smile.
If you're a commuting enthusiast, you have a few turns on your route that you anticipate each day. They may be through intersections, on-ramps, off-ramps. Sometimes traffic ruins the pace. Doesn't matter. What does is that one time in the week when these turns are open and you're clear to blast through.
I have two of these corners on my drive home. And, when I'm approaching them, I double tap that Sport button and smile while the X3 goes through its Transformer-like change from daily driver to sports-SUV. Then I swing through the turn, tires squealing, and people in the other lane staring and asking "Why?"
They don't understand. All that stress accumulated through the week? Gone. And when I'm done, when the road straightens out, I press the back twice and revert to Joe Commuter and disappear back into traffic. Never mind me, Mr. Officer.
| Our Vehicle |
| Months/mi in service || 2/7462 |
| Avg econ/CO2 || 20.4 mpg/0.95 lb/mi |
| Energy cons || 165 kW-hr/100 mi |
| Unresolved problems || Throttle delay |
| Maintenance cost || $0 |
| Normal-wear cost || $0 |