A Closed-Door Look at the 2011 BMW X3

BMW showed off its 2011 lineup to the paying public last week at the BMW Championship at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club in suburban Chicago. But if you were a BMW owner, you got a few added perks.

After you parked your BMW — any vintage — in a special lot near the entrance, your car got a complimentary wash while you took in tee-offs and putts. You also gained access to an owners' pavilion atop the 12th tee, where not only did you get great views of a number of other holes, you were also one of the first people in the world to get a look at the redesigned 2011 BMW X3.

It was a nice treat for those who showed their BMW key to gain access. A few local automotive journalists were also invited and got a thorough walk-around of the vehicle, sat in it, moved seats, opened the hood and kicked tires. I was one of those journalists, but like every other person at Cog Hill, I wasn’t allowed to bring a cell phone or camera. What a clever way for BMW to give owners exposure to an important model that goes on sale in a few months while limiting any unwanted images leaking out ahead of the official public unveiling (with oodles of photographers) at the Paris Motor Show in two weeks.
BMW doesn’t mind me talking about the new X3, though. Here’s what I came away with after inspecting the preproduction model.

This is one big SUV. I actually spied a 2011 X3 on the highway a few weeks ago and snapped the above shot. BMW says the new X3 is now as large as the original X5, which, in its latest generation, has a third row of seats and size to match. BMW also confirmed that the smaller X1 SUV, which is closer in size to the outgoing X3, will come to the U.S. sometime next year.

The 2011 X3 is now more like a midsize SUV with plenty of rear-seat room. I sat behind the driver’s seat, where I had it adjusted as if I were driving. At 5-foot-10, I had ample knee and legroom in back. I would say I had as much room as the model BMW placed in the photo above. Also, the seatback inserts match the color of the leather; they’re not black as pictured.

Overall, the interior is quite a few steps up from the current generation. It’s modern and sleek, perhaps the most modern of BMW’s new models like the 5 Series sedan and Gran Turismo. The wood trim is quite nice, but perhaps the most telling touches of this car’s luxury pretensions are the well-padded, leather-wrapped doors.

Since this was a preproduction model, some of the lower paneling on the doors was a different texture of plastic than what the final version will be, but these door pockets now jut out much more than the previous model, with cutouts for drinks — an American touch if ever there was one. Like the new 5 Series, cupholders up front have been moved to just in front of the shifter in the center console. It’s a much more traditional placement than those that popped out of the dashboard previously.

The cargo area gets a bit wider like the rest of the X3, but it also adds a two-sided center section of the cargo floor. One side is carpeted, the other covered in a hard plastic with ridges for gripping. It’s nearly identical to the system Acura uses in its RDX compact SUV.
There will be more standard content in the new X3, including Bluetooth, iPod connectivity and other features that the rest of the automotive world has caught up on, but many luxury makes still charge option pricing for them. iDrive will also be standard, with navigation as an added option.
We expect pricing of the entry-level X3 xDrive28i to be similar to the current xDrive30i. The 2011 will also get a more powerful xDrive35i version with the same turbocharged six-cylinder from the 335 sedan. Both will come with an eight-speed automatic transmission. You can see more pictures in our earlier blog post here.

As I thunked the BMW-solid doors, hit the power tailgate button and took in the Monaco Blue paint job and tan leather interior, I could tell this was unmistakably a major move up from the current generation. But the X3 needs to be. Since it debuted in 2003, every luxury automaker has joined the space, with Audi’s Q5, Mercedes-Benz’s GLK and Volvo’s XC60 stealing market share.

Even without driving the new X3, it’s apparent that BMW is taking this new competition seriously. And if the few dozen current BMW owners I saw excitedly checking out the X3 after the journalists were done with it are any indication, the company’s base will likely line up for it.
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