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Key Specs

of the 2008 BMW X3. Base trim shown.

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Handling
  • Interior quality
  • Gas mileage
  • Safety features

The Bad

  • Automatic-transmission operation
  • Navigation system
  • Price with options
  • Some controls oddly placed

Notable Features of the 2008 BMW X3

  • 260-hp six-cylinder
  • Improved gas mileage
  • All-wheel drive

2008 BMW X3 Road Test

Kelsey Mays
Editor's note: This review was written in February 2007 about the 3.0si version of the 2007 BMW X3. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what details are different this year, check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.

BMW's compact SUV, the X3, has sparked a parade of competitors from Acura to Volvo, all seemingly aimed at convincing shoppers too rich for a Honda CR-V that, yes, there is a $40,000 alternative.

The aging X3 stays fresh for 2007 thanks to a zippier engine, a new automatic transmission and modest styling changes. Some shoppers may be put off by the new transmission, which muffs its way through slower speeds, but between the masterful handling and high-quality cabin there's enough to like to justify the price.

New & Improved, Sort Of
An updated 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine goes under the hood. Packed with BMW's latest innovations, the engine churns out 260 horsepower and 225 pounds-feet of torque — a 15 percent increase in horsepower over the 2006 X3's engine (hence the change in name from X3 3.0i to X3 3.0si).

A six-speed automatic transmission replaces last year's five-speed automatic; a six-speed manual is also available. Courtesy of the new drivetrains, gas mileage is up between 1 and 3 mpg over the 2006 X3. All-wheel drive is standard.

The engine is potent, starting off with adequate power and coming on much stronger at higher revs. Unfortunately, it's hamstrung by the prob...

Editor's note: This review was written in February 2007 about the 3.0si version of the 2007 BMW X3. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what details are different this year, check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.

BMW's compact SUV, the X3, has sparked a parade of competitors from Acura to Volvo, all seemingly aimed at convincing shoppers too rich for a Honda CR-V that, yes, there is a $40,000 alternative.

The aging X3 stays fresh for 2007 thanks to a zippier engine, a new automatic transmission and modest styling changes. Some shoppers may be put off by the new transmission, which muffs its way through slower speeds, but between the masterful handling and high-quality cabin there's enough to like to justify the price.

New & Improved, Sort Of
An updated 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine goes under the hood. Packed with BMW's latest innovations, the engine churns out 260 horsepower and 225 pounds-feet of torque — a 15 percent increase in horsepower over the 2006 X3's engine (hence the change in name from X3 3.0i to X3 3.0si).

A six-speed automatic transmission replaces last year's five-speed automatic; a six-speed manual is also available. Courtesy of the new drivetrains, gas mileage is up between 1 and 3 mpg over the 2006 X3. All-wheel drive is standard.

The engine is potent, starting off with adequate power and coming on much stronger at higher revs. Unfortunately, it's hamstrung by the problematic transmission. The automatic in my test car repeatedly bogged down in lower gears, offering premature shifts before the engine could hit its stride. In stop-and-go driving, it made for awkward starts followed by sudden bursts of unsolicited power. The transmission's Sport Mode, which holds gears for longer periods, mitigated this a bit, but its higher-rev shifts sometimes felt unnatural and strained.

BMW says the transmission is a "learning" one that modifies its behavior depending on the type of driver behind the wheel. Still, even after several of us had driven it — at times attempting to train it — the response remained erratic and not to our liking. The transmission's hiccups may not be common to all X3s, but if you test-drive one make sure to pay close attention to acceleration smoothness from a complete stop.

On the highway, the drivetrain's performance is somewhat better. The transmission can downshift two or three gears to deliver powerful, if high-strung, passing power. It takes a good prod on the gas pedal to get there, though, so onramp acceleration may seem anemic at first.

Built for Curves
Like BMW's cars, the X3 offers top-notch road manners. Some may find the steering wheel too difficult to turn, but its heavy rotations render spot-on directional control. The meaty steering wheel has minimal numbness when pointing straight ahead — a place where responsiveness goes slack in many vehicles — and the setup yields more road feel than many cars, let alone SUVs, impart.

The suspension is tuned for handling, so the ride can feel brittle at times. The payoff comes on curvy roads, where body roll is minimal. Cornering over rough surfaces reveals an impressively flat ride, with the 17-inch wheels glued to the road. Many SUVs and even some cars come undone over the same surfaces, skittering sideways as their wheels dance over each bump. The optional Sport Package, which wasn't on my test car, includes bigger wheels and a tighter suspension. Expect even better cornering but a harsher ride.

The X3's brakes are surefooted at their limits, though the pedal is on the grabby side. After a week's driving, I had grown used to it and was able to make smooth stops.

Compact Design
Just as BMW's compact 3 Series ranks below the midsize 5 Series, the five-seat X3 sits in the shadow of the larger X5. The styling clearly says BMW, but it's the multi-paneled look of earlier models and it's beginning to show its age.

At 179.9 inches long, the X3 is slightly shorter than its closest competitor, the Acura RDX. Similarly priced midsize SUVs, like the Lexus RX 350 and Lincoln MKX, are substantially bigger both inside and out. Click here to see how the X3 measures up.

Inside, the X3 masks its compact dimensions well. The driver's seat, which comes with standard eight-way power adjustment, has lots of travel in all directions. Combine that with the telescoping steering wheel and there should be adequate room for drivers of all sizes. Leatherette (vinyl) upholstery is standard. Judging by the sumptuous leather seats in my test car, it's worth the extra cash to get real cowhide. The headrests and side bolsters are well-padded for comfort over extended trips.

Legroom and headroom in the backseat are adequate, though a prominent center hump means passengers can't spread their feet out. The upholstery for the three-seat bench feels much less padded than the stuff up front.

Thanks to the large expanse of side and rear glass, outward visibility is excellent. After a few hours behind the wheel, I had a good feel for where the X3's four corners were. The optional front and rear parking sensors seem like overkill, but they do provide an extra layer of bumper preservation.

The X3's dashboard uses a great many materials. It's a risky gamble, given the chance of ill-fitted seams, but BMW pulls it off; I couldn't find an unsightly gap anywhere. Materials quality is commendable, with soft-touch surfaces extending into the footwells and leather wrapping the armrests.

A few features proved frustrating. The optional navigation system is a bear to use — even without BMW's much-maligned iDrive system. The center console box ratchets open and shut in noisy motions sure to awaken sleeping passengers. The auxiliary jack for MP3 players is mounted on the back of the center console, facing the backseat. That makes for a long reach for drivers.

Safety
Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has tested the 2007 X3. Standard safety features include four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system. The brakes include a Brake Drying system that resists water buildup during wet weather. BMW's Brake Fade Compensation, also standard, aims to maintain the same braking feel during situations like long downhill stretches, which can slowly cook the components.

In back, standard adaptive brake lights are supposed to reduce rear-end impacts by illuminating a larger section of the brake lights during hard braking to warn following drivers. Up front, optional adaptive headlights can swivel several degrees during turns to illuminate oncoming bends. At lower speeds, additional parking lights illuminate nearby corners when the steering wheel is turned hard to the left or right.

Six standard airbags include side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows. Side-impact airbags for the rear seats are optional.

All five seats have substantial head restraints, though the middle one in back doesn't extend; its fixed height is about 2 inches too low for my 5-foot-11-inch frame. Child safety provisions include Latch child-seat anchors in the outboard rear seats, as well as top-tether anchors for all three positions. Parents, take note: The seat-embedded anchors have plastic covers, and they don't pry off — or clip back on — easily.

Features & Long-Term Ownership
Starting at $38,000, the X3 comes standard with vinyl upholstery, power front seats, automatic climate control and a dual-pane panoramic moonroof. Options include leather, heated front and rear seats, a navigation system and a premium stereo. According to Cars.com's Total Cost of Ownership tool, it will cost an estimated $18,610 beyond the purchase price to own an X3 for five years. The RDX's five-year ownership cost totals $18,142.

X3 in the Market
At $38,000, the X3 starts substantially higher than its nearest competitor, the Acura RDX. Save for its problematic transmission behavior, the BMW offers a more buttoned-down driving experience than the Acura. For some, that's worth every penny.

As BMW surely knows, the X3 can't sit on its pedestal forever. Land Rover's entry-level LR2 is on the way, and so are the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60. If the X3 is to remain a desirable car, BMW will have to fix a few things so buyers need not weigh the good against the bad — because there will be plenty of very good alternatives soon.

Send Kelsey an email 



Latest 2008 X3 Stories

Consumer Reviews

Exterior Styling
(4.6)
Performance
(4.7)
Interior Design
(4.3)
Comfort
(4.3)
Reliability
(4.2)
Value For The Money
(4.2)

What Drivers Are Saying

(5.0)

Most reliable car to own

by Oscarious from Washington on April 25, 2018

This car met all of my needs. It is a car worth having with reasonable gas per miles. Dream car for any German car lover. Read full review

(2.0)

It will break , you will pay , sporty

by It was fun on March 31, 2018

The car has a stiff sporty sturdy feel and has a lot of touque at times that takes some getting used to, mine has a 3.0. Sort of a small SUV with plenty of power and performance with average gas ... Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2008 BMW X3 currently has 3 recalls

IIHS Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

Based on 2008 BMW X3 3.0si

IIHS rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.

Head Restraints and Seats

Dynamic Rating
good
Overall Rear
good
Seat Head/Restraint Geometry
good

Moderate overlap front

Chest
good
Head/Neck
good
Left Leg/Foot
good
Overall Front
good
Restraints
good
Right Leg/Foot
good
Structure/safety cage
good

Side

Driver Head Protection
good
Driver Head and Neck
good
Driver Pelvis/Leg
good
Driver Torso
good
Overall Side
good
Rear Passenger Head Protection
good
Rear Passenger Head and Neck
good
Rear Passenger Pelvis/Leg
good
Rear Passenger Torso
good
Structure/safety cage
acceptable
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a nonprofit research and communications organization funded by auto insurers.

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The X3 received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker