It wasn’t hard to get the kids to enjoy the BMW X3: They became fixated on, and fought over, the heated second-row seats. Or, as they called them, the “butt warmers.”
As for my wife and I, we loved the interior and the X3’s look, but thought it was just a little small for our family of five. Still, for the X3, maybe we could ship off one of the kids…
Having driven plenty of BMW sedans over the years, all the usual markers were in place. The beautiful interior, the nice attention to detail in the upholstery, the snazzy looks. There are plenty of creature comforts as well, although BMW doesn’t have the best icons to tell you each button’s function. Whoever decided the power door lock button should be located under the hazard lights button, and not on the driver and front passenger doors, ought to be smacked. That little mystery took me more than 90 minutes to figure out; at one point, I wound up using the key fob to unlock the doors — from inside the car!
There were some other little annoyances:
The navigation system isn’t a touch-screen, and having the interface control so far removed from the screen was not intuitive either. In addition, to make choices in the interface — which is a different setup than the much maligned iDrive — you turn the knob to the left (counter-clockwise) to move down the options. I’m pretty sure most U.S. drivers would expect to turn the knob clockwise to move down the list. Oh well.
Really, the worst thing about the X3 was the transmission in slow-speed situations. Since I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic going home, I felt the problem a lot. The transmission really stuttered when shifting through first and into second. It would rev up, then sputter just a bit before kicking forward when it moved into second. I don’t know if it was just this vehicle (always a possibility) or something more endemic to X3s. By the time I’d spent an hour in the X3, the habit was driving me nuts. Even my daughter could sense it whenever we started from a hard stop.
Still, the ride was very smooth and the huge sunroof was impressive, letting in a ton of light on a gray January morning. When I needed to pass at highway speeds, the X3 responded quickly and nimbly.
The Wife: She found the ride extremely comfortable and didn’t notice the transmission lag as much as I did. She liked how the controls were laid out, but wondered, “What makes this car worth 50 grand?” To her mind, yes, she’d buy it if we were in the market for a high-end small SUV with the BMW nameplate. But she said she would happily give up the nice interior, sharp looks and nav system in exchange for a new RAV4 or CR-V…and the extra dough.
The Kids: OK, I could list them one-by-one, but really, as far as this car is concerned, what would be the point? The talk was all “butt warmers,” all the time. The kids admired the X3 for its comfort and looks, but what they really loved were the heated seats. “Dad,” Teen Son observed, “my butt is sweating.” The 10-Year-Old Son weighed in with, “If we ever get this car, we have to get them to put a butt warmer in the middle.” In fact, that lack of a third (middle) heated seat led to a bitter battle between the Tweener Daughter and the 10-Year-Old. They might not be over it yet.
Would we buy this car? There’s a lot to be said for it, and other than the transmission and the limited space in the backseat, I’d vote yes. It likely already does well with suburban parents of small families, especially considering it has a ton of space in the cargo area for groceries and whatnot. For those who want the BMW nameplate and are willing to pay for the fancy extras, this could be their car.