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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
February 15, 2005
Vehicle Overview BMW brought serious sportiness into the sport utility vehicle field when it rolled out the midsize X5. Early in 2004, BMW launched a smaller version of the sports activity vehicle, called the X3. Powertrains are similar to those in 3 Series sedans.
The 2005 X3 gets upgraded interior materials and finishes, including new aluminum doorsill trim. Audio systems are now MP3-compatible. Externally, the "cut line" from the front wheel wells to the doors have been eliminated. An automatic transmission is a no-cost option for the 3.0i, which gets new chrome-plated vertical grille slats and a standard dual-panel Panorama moonroof.
BMW's xDrive "intelligent" all-wheel drive permits fully variable distribution of torque from front to rear. Up to 100 percent of engine torque can go to either axle, as needed. Dynamic Stability Control helps stabilize the vehicle in difficult situations. Hill Descent Control helps even if the ground is loose or slippery.
Exterior The X3's styling is similar to that of the X5, but on a slightly smaller scale; the X3 weighs 600 pounds less. Design cues include a new interpretation of the Hofmeister kink � a bend behind the rear side windows that distinguishes BMWs � and a distinct version of the automaker's twin kidney grille. BMW says the X3's short overhangs, short wheelbase, flared wheel arches and sloping roofline accent its dynamic character.
Options include adaptive xenon headlights, Park Distance Control and a Sport Package that features 18-inch tires.
Interior BMW promotes the "youthful, sporty ambience" of the five-passenger cockpit, which features familiar analog gauges. A navigation system is optional. Leatherette upholstery is standard, and leather is optional.
Under the Hood The 2.5-liter inline-six-cylinder in the X3 2.5i produces 184 horsepower. A 3.0-liter inline-six generates 225 hp in the X3 3.0i. Both engines mate with either a six-speed-manual gearbox or a five-speed Steptronic automatic transmission.
Safety Side-impact airbags are standard for front occupants and optional for rear passengers. Curtain-type bags, which BMW calls its Head Protection System, protect occupants in the front and rear. Dynamic Stability Control includes traction control with engine and brake intervention.
Driving Impressions Smoothness is the X3's top attribute. Beyond its all-wheel-drive talents, the X3 is simply enjoyable to drive, performing with grace and ease in nearly every way. Even if its offroad capabilities are modest, the X3 outperforms typical SUVs.
Automatic-transmission operation could hardly be better. It downshifts so masterfully on long upgrades that you don't feel gear changes at all. The manual gearshift works with comparable expertise. Even though the clutch isn't always easy to modulate, obtaining smooth takeoffs isn't difficult. Manual-shift acceleration with the larger engine is eager but not record-setting, and it turns tepid when trying to pass if you're in the wrong gear. Ordinarily quiet, the engine sounds strained at higher rpm.
Even on a gravel washboard road, the X3 rides reasonably well. On smoother terrain, the ride becomes nearly blissful. Steering effort inspires confidence. BMW's xDrive performs admirably, though there's occasionally a slight tendency to slide sideways when pushing hard on loose surfaces. The seats are amply cushioned and supportive in the roomy interior.