When we first reviewed the BMW X3 back in December 2003, we found it deficient in several respects, notably in its dull, monochromatic black cabin, which we described as "unrelentingly Spartan."
Twenty months later, our view has softened considerably -- thanks in no small part to a sexy new $1,450 interior trim package.
We tested a well-equipped 2005 BMW X3 3.0i with nearly $5,000 worth of extra hardware. The bottom line: $41,745.
SHE: I had a very interesting dinner conversation with some friends recently. A couple of us, including me, admitted we were out of our "cow phase" in home decorating. You know, the country look that was characterized by wreaths on every wall, lamps made out of old canning jars and lots of cows on wallpaper borders, dish towels and other stuff. I have since moved on to what I hope is a more sophisticated style. My living room is painted terracotta, the color of a clay garden pot, and the old knick-knacks are hidden away in the closet. Maybe that's why I was so attracted to the interior on the X3.
HE: Oh, yeah, I get the connection. Now I suppose I have to guess how many cows died to make those snazzy terracotta leather seats in the X3, right?
SHE: No, no, no. My point is that BMW has reformed, too. The X3 that we tested had the most beautiful interior I've ever seen on a production vehicle -- something that looked like it belonged on the cover of Metropolitan Home or House Beautiful. The color combinations were stunning. Who would have thought you could pair up a $475 Flamenco Red Metallic exterior with orange-toned terracotta leather seats? But it worked. The light birch accents on the curved door handles looked sculptural -- almost like modern art. The effect was airy and cheerful, and underscored just how important materials and color are in conveying a sense of luxury. If a vehicle can make you smile every time you get in it, it's well worth the $41,000 price tag. It's also a total about-face for a German company I've always associated with really macho, almost scary interiors.
HE: Well, there's nothing feminine about that terrific twin-cam inline six-cylinder under the hood. It makes 225 horsepower and drives all four wheels through a ZF six-speed manual gearbox. My only real complaint with the powertrain was an unusually stiff clutch. I think some owners, both women and men, may also be put off by the X3's exceptionally wide turning circle, which transforms tight parking spaces into something of an adventure. Otherwise, there's a lot to admire about the vehicle's all-weather stability and tractability. The all-wheel-drive system is supplemented with dynamic stability control, which is a great combination for Michigan winters as well as those sloppy-wet days in summer and fall.
SHE: Like all BMWs, the X3 has great standard safety features. In addition to stability control, our test vehicle came with rain-sensing wipers, side air bags and side curtains, antilock brakes and adaptive brake lamps, which get brighter as you step harder on the brake pedal.
HE: I hope you don't mind if I add my two cents about the cabin, which I thought was pretty practical. And thank goodness, no confusing iDrive controller! The front seats in the X3 were quite ample and comfortable, and I noticed there was plenty of headroom, even with the panorama moonroof, which lets light into both the front and rear passenger compartments.
SHE: You should mention some of the lovely little details, like the cargo net on the front passenger side, which makes a lot more sense than some of those useless "purse hooks" that male engineers love to brag about. I was a little disappointed, however, to see that BMW doesn't offer such female-friendly features as power adjustable pedals or a power liftgate that might make the X3 more accessible to people of shorter stature. I also noticed that the flat-tire monitor lights up when the pressure is low, but doesn't specify which tire has the problem -- that seems like a glaring omission.
HE: We encountered a few other annoying traits, including the lack of vents for rear passengers. The thick rear pillars also tend to impede your visibility from the driver's seat. But we're glad we took a second look at the X3. The good stuff definitely outweighs the bad in BMW's entry-level offroader -- and new features like the terracotta-and-birch cockpit should lure some shoppers who might not otherwise consider owning a Bimmer.
He drove, she drove Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, an Ann Arbor automotive information services company.
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2005 BMW X3 3.0i
Type: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger utility vehicle.
Price: Base, $36,995 (inc. $695 destination charge); as tested, $41,745.
Engine: 3.0-liter I-6; 225-hp; 214 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.
Where built: Austria
Key competitors: Acura MDX, Buick Rainier, Buick Rendezvous, Cadillac SRX, GMC Envoy, Hummer H3, Infiniti FX35, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR3, Lexus RX 330, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes-Benz ML350, Mercury Mountaineer, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Pathfinder, Porsche Cayenne, Saab 9-7X, Toyota 4Runner, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC90
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,767 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Anita's rating: 5
Likes: Sensational terracotta and black leather, with sculpted light wood trim. Outstanding safety features. Panorama moonroof covers front and rear seats. Handy cargo net on right-side passenger door makes more sense than purse hook. Comfortable ride.
Dislikes: No separate climate controls. No power pedals or power liftgate. Tire monitor doesn't specify which tire is low.
Paul's rating: 4
Likes: Very comfortable front seats. Lots of headroom, even with moonroof. Powerful inline six. Top-notch assembly quality and materials. One-touch up/down windows
Dislikes: No rear vents. Thick rear pillars impede visibility. Stiff clutch. Wide turning circle makes it difficult to park.
1. Unacceptable, 2. Subpar, 3. Acceptable, 4. Above Average, 5. World Class