2006 BMW X3 3.0i
|The Good: |
– Sporty handling
– Smooth power delivery
– Loads of luggage space
|The Bad: |
– Expensive in top trim
– Rear legroom
– Off-road ability
The BMW 3-Series is the king of the current luxury compact sedan crowd. Its handling is so perfect that every other car manufacturer in the world uses it as a benchmark for everything they create. But what if a 4WD can take on the 3 in its own game? And what better way to do it than to just build the 4WD on the same darn platform as the 3? So is the perfect 4WD finally a reality? We set off to find out, with a brand new Bimmer X3 3.0i in hand.
The X3 was recently facelifted after a barrage of critical insults were aimed at the 2004 X3 for its black plastic-laden bumpers and cheap interior materials, attempting a wannabe-tough demeanour. The new one certainly fixes those deficiencies, with much more attractive colour-coded bumpers and upgraded interior quality. The interior itself is just as we had suspected–4WD levels of headroom combined with compact-car levels of legroom. It is, after all, based on a compact car, only with a taller body, but that is not necessarily a bad thing, given how we are not fans of the big 4WD culture. The cabin is airy for the most part, thanks to the large surrounding windows, and the beige interior in our test vehicle is a pleasant place to be in. Materials are not as nice as that in the 3-Series, but comfort levels are not compromised. The firm leather seats are decently bolstered at the front for the lucky front passengers, while the back has the requisite comfy bench with a pull-down armrest and the occassional six-footer whining about legroom. Luggage space in the back is very generous, enough to stuff a wide-screen projection TV in there, even with the battery and spare wheel taking up space under the flooring.
Gadgetry includes power mirrors, electric front seats, power windows, keyless entry, digital a/c controls and a pop-up computer screen with a primitive interface worse than iDrive for fine-tuning navigation and stereo, using a small knob on the dashboard to do everything. The stereo itself is pretty good, with a CD changer in the front centre armrest, redundant basic controls on the steering wheel, and tub-thumping audio delight. Our test car lacked a sunroof, but apparently there is some sort of optional panoramic top available.
The X3 comes with a choice of tasty 192 hp 2.5-litre and 231 hp 3-litre inline-six engines, and a less attractive 143 hp 2-litre inline-four. Considering the X3 weighs over 2 tons, it would be smart to go with the sixers, like the 3.0i motor in our test vehicle. The 3.0 is a remnant of the previous generation 330i, but while the relatively lightweight new 330i gets a more powerful new engine, the older motor is not bad at all. On the contrary, it revs with silky smoothness typical of BMW sixers, and powers this 4WD with authority on the streets. With the help of 300 Nm of torque at 3500 rpm, low-end acceleration is fairly brisk for a 4WD, powering to 100 kph in less than 9 seconds in combination with the smooth-shifting five-speed automatic. The auto has a sport mode and can even be shifted manually, but it is better to leave it in Drive and chug along in traffic, as the auto can even downshift by itself while slowing down to a stop at a red light. The X3 can even be had with a proper six-speed manual for those who want to drive a tall wagon like a sports car.
Fuel economy is surprisingly below average. While we were unrealistically expecting consumption closer to the 330i, we came up with figures only marginally better than the larger 3.5-litre Honda MR-V we tested a week earlier. The X3 is a two-ton 4WD after all.
The X3 handles like a tall wagon — a tall BMW wagon, that is. Its xDrive-assisted handling is good enough to chase those little “sporty” hatchbacks that are trundling around nowadays. The xDrive system kicks in when the 4WD X3 comes close to losing it around curves, pulling the vehicle in line with steering inputs. Carving corners like we’ve never done before with a 4WD, we couldn’t determine whether the X3 really did have amazing grip or whether xDrive was invisibly doing its thing. There was even less body roll than cars like the Toyota Camry, let alone other 4WDs. Combine this with sure stopping power from the four-wheel disc brakes, and what we have here is the ultimate compact road-going 4WD.
The kink in the X3’s armour is its off-roading ability, or rather, the lack of it. Sure, it comes equipped with all-wheel-drive, a hill-descent control system and a little more ground clearance than the average car, but it is no good on anything more than a moderately lumpy gravel track. We had trouble navigating some light dunes as the wheels spun under us with the street tyres grappling for grip. Although the xDrive system uses computer wizardry to tackle most traction situations, the lack of proper low-range gearing might mean the end of the road if you get stuck in the desert, so it is better to not even go there. However, it’s not like any 4WD of this size has mastered the art of off-roading with such size limitations anyway, except maybe for the lowly Suzuki Grand Vitara, but it is in a whole different class in terms of pricing and equipment. And of course, we doubt any X3 owners will even think about hitting anything more than beach sand, just like X5 owners before them. The little Hill Descent Control button on the dash almost seems like a waste.
At first, we were ready to compare the X3 to runabouts like the Toyota RAV-4 and the Honda CR-V, even though the six-cylinder Bimmer costs twice as much as any of those. But we quickly changed our minds after a quick drive. Unlike those affordable Japanese lumps, the X3 is more of a jacked-up sports car with the utility of a small 4WD. Our tester is expensive, but while slower and cheaper X3 models are available, the 3.0i keeps the BMW flag flying high with its combination of utility and performance. Just don’t take it off-road.
|Price Range: |
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