You're sitting a stoplight in your new 263-horse Mazdaspeed3. The street ahead is clear. When the light flashes green, you're going to excuse yourself from the rest of the herd rather rapidly -- including that brand-new 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i right next to you. Dispatching it shouldn't be a problem, right?

Well, you had better hope whoever is behind the wheel of that crossover doesn't have similar aspirations. Because while you artfully Fred Astaire the Mazda's pedals, balancing wheelspin and boost to maximize acceleration, they'll merely slide the transmission into sport mode and step on the gas. Then the X3 will reach 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, matching your Speed3.

Let's say this impromptu (and totally hypothetical) drag race goes a quarter mile. It'll take the X3 all of 14.2 seconds and 96.7 mph to get there, which -- wouldn't you know it? -- is 0.1 second and 3.2 mph behind the Mazda, assuming you're driving it very well.

How does a roughly 4200-pound crossover like the X3 do that? You can thank BMW's stalwart N55 straight-six, the eight-speed automatic it's attached to, and the turbocharger hanging off the side. The spread of those eight gears (sixth is one-to-one, seventh and eight are overdrive) makes brilliant use of the 300 horsepower and pound-feet of torque during not wholly improbable stoplight drag races, giving the engine five closely spread ratios to flex its powerband.

When you relax your right foot, the transmission quickly reaches for the overdrive gears, aiming for the 19 city and 26 freeway mpg the X3 is rated at, which -- wouldn't you know it (part two)? -- happens to be 1 mpg better than the Mazdaspeed3 on both ends. But let's stop picking on the Mazda, because the X3 has flaws of its own. Under normal driving, its transmission can feel clunky while leaving from a stop, especially when shifting into and out of second gear.

The fascinating bit is that we've tested an even faster X3. It was a European-spec model (with the Euro market stop-start system) carrying a more aggressive transmission -- a product of the Sport Activity Package -- and, crucially, Pirelli P Zero tires. The U.S. spec car here wore Pirelli Cinturato P7s christened with a mud and snow rating. Better for all-weather scenarios, not so much for our test track...

As such, this X3 took an extra 17 feet to stop from 60 mph at 129 feet, still on par with the Acura ZDX and Subaru Outback. Its figure-eight result suffered as well, falling from a head-scratchingly good 26.5-second lap to a more based-in-reality 27.3. Even that time, mind you, is in the same realm as the standard Mazda3 and, again, the ZDX. And at 0.84 average lateral g, the X3 holds the road with the same tenacity as the Infiniti M56x.

Undoubtedly aiding this performance is our tester's Dynamic Handling package, a $1400 option that biases the all-wheel drive system rearwards, makes the steering ratio variable, and adds dynamic damper control. The latter is controlled by two buttons next to the shifter that allow the driver to select between three different levels of damper firmness and traction and stability intervention: Normal, Sport, and Sport+. We tested in the most aggressive setting.

On the drive home, with all the settings switched back to normal, the X3 reverts to a pleasant cross-town runabout, one with a surprising amount of legroom for all passengers. It blends in with the rest of the city traffic. There, hidden in the herd, its driver can choose when and how they'll embarrass unsuspecting victims at stoplights. Hypothetically, of course.


2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i
BASE PRICE $41,925
PRICE AS TESTED $52,175
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door crossover
ENGINE 3.0L/300-hp/300-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 24-valve I-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4196 lb (51/49%)
WHEELBASE 110.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 183.0 x 74.1 x 65.4 in
0-60 MPH 5.6 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.2 sec @ 96.7 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 129 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.84 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.3 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 19/26 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.90 lb/mile
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