Aged but athletic
Introduced as a 2004 model, the X3 is the eldest of the foursome, but it's nonetheless a fresh player, having undergone significant transplants for 2007, notably a 260-horse I-6, a six-speed manumatic, and restyled front and rear fascias. Like its big brother, the X5, the X3 sports xDrive all-wheel drive, a rear-drive-biased system designed to impart BMW's renowned handling traits. Overall, it succeeds, as the X3 generally feels neutral and composed under aggressive cornering, although we did experience more body roll than expected. Our tester came sans a sport package, which adds a tauter suspension and 18-inch alloys, an option that would likely remedy the unwelcome swaying but also roughen an already rough and often harsh ride. The steering, a BMW hallmark, is surprisingly slow on turn-in, but comes alive and communicates clearly once in the bend. The brakes, conversely, aren't slow at all-actually a bit grabby on tip-in-providing strong response and, at 126 feet, the shortest distance from 60 to 0, placing it in a tie with the Land Rover.
At the dragstrip, the X3, with its velvety 3.0-liter and quick-shifting six-speed, devours 0-to-60 in 7.0 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.3 at 90.0 mph, one of only two to record a 90-mph trap speed. Wearing Pirelli Scorpion tires, the Bimmer, naturally, remains vigorous when confronted by sand-simply disable the stability control, drop the six-speed into second, and let xDrive's steplessly variable front/rear torque split slide you around with confidence. Vivacious as it is on- and off-road, the X3 is unexpectedly the most frugal at the pump, dispensing a best-in-test 19.7 mpg.
Nestled behind the wheel, the X3 is still a pleasant place to reside-a $150 heated steering wheel and $700 "Comfort Seats" with lumbar support are cosseting-yet it feels dated in view of its competition, evidenced by a pop-up nav screen that can be controlled only by a single knob. The X3 is competent off-road, rewarding when the tarmac winds, and, assuming a stiff ride is tolerable, also a pleasant day-to-day transporter. At nearly $50,000, however -- X5, anyone? -- the X3 can simply be described as overpriced.