Everyone has a favorite.
In the car world, I break down many of mine -- yes, there is more than one -- by segment. Among trucks, midsize sedans, sporty coupes, there are vehicles that I just like more than others. Some are not always the best value and some might surprise you.
In the compact SUV group, I like the BMW X3 3.0si with xDrive most of all.
At least I thought I did, based on past experiences with this snazzy SUV. With its plush interior and its prim-and-proper road manners, what's not to like? But a lot of compact SUVs have hit the market since I last drove the X3 and I wasn't sure it would still top my list.
So, naturally, when BMW asked me to test drive the 2008 X3, I grabbed the keys and headed out to "run some errands."
Yep, it hasn't changed: I love this little all-wheel drive piece of German engineering.
It's a 3 Series sedan with more cargo space and a higher riding position.
The long nose, the distinctive grille and the lit ring around the headlights give away its pedigree. The dual kidney grille and a big 'ol air intake under the bumper add to its powerful look. Yes, this compact SUV was made for me.
Zipping along I-75, I could barely hear the harsh world outside. Construction plagues the interstate near my home but the BMW just gobbled up all of those uneven concrete pieces and melded them into a minor bump in the road. It's a quiet ride perched behind the driver's seat of this vehicle.
Nothing is overstated and that's one of the reasons I like X3 so much. The leather seats feel like sport seats -- well bolstered and comfortable. The wood trim looks like it came off some impeccably maintained Victorian piece of furniture. The simple white-on-black gauges are pure BMW.
The second row offers plenty of space for adults, but I wouldn't try to cram three in the back for a long trip. Really, this compact luxury SUV is the perfect runabout for a family that has lots of little trips to soccer practice, instrument lessons and Friday date nights. It's a multi-purpose kind of vehicle with true utility.
Fold the backseats and there's more than 70 cubic feet of space. That's enough space to pack things to fill a dorm room -- which any smart college student would tell his parents.
But keep this fun runner at home. It can bring home the bacon so the maid can fry it up in a pan.
There are some excellent details that I enjoy as well, such as the door handles that have a modern art kind of look about them. Simple and elegant, the handles reach around the arm rest connecting to the door above and below it. Those are the touches a driver with impeccable tastes can appreciate -- I like them too.
The X3, however, never shows off in the cab. It saves that for the road.
The 3-liter I-6, made of a composite of aluminum and magnesium, in the X3 cranks 260 horsepower and jumps off the line with a surge. This is a product of the 225-pound-feet torque and the all-wheel drive system that gets every tire moving quickly.
The steering is precise and has just enough of that twitchy feel in sharp turns to keep you mind on the road, the all-wheel drive system also handles wet roads very well, keeping the back in a tight line through a turn. The optional adaptive headlights will help with the big corners as they will remain level and follow you through the turn. Really, it is just fun to drive and it handles more like a car than a truck.
First of all, the BMW nameplate carries a certain celebrity that other vehicles just don't have. Secondly, it's an expensive vehicle. Starting at $39,000, my test vehicle topped $47,000 once it was upgraded and added features such as heated front and rear seats, Xenon headlamps, navigation system, a premium audio system and HD radio.
They are all features I enjoyed and used while cruising about, though the price tag scared me a little. There are lots of other compact SUVs to choose from for a lot less -- but none have the same abilities as the X3.
I don't see this as a serious off roading machine, more because I would hate to scratch the paint.
No, the X3 belongs on the highways and byways, blasting through curves and gobbling up straight-aways. The toughest off-roading should be the gravel driveway to the summer home or a snow-covered road on the ski trip.
That's where the X3 will bring you the most joy.
2008 BMW X3
Seating capacity: 5
Engine: 3-liter I-6
Transmission: six-speed automatic or manual
Horsepower: 260 @ 6,600 rpm
Torque: 225-pound-feet @ 2,750 rpm
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Fuel tank: 17.7 gallons
EPA gas mileage:
Manual: 16 mpg city / 23 mpg highway
Automatic: 17 mpg city / 24 mpg highway
Curb weight: 4,012
Interior dimensions (inches):
Shoulder room: 56/55
Luggage capacity: 30 cubic feet
Maximum cargo capacity: 71 cubic feet
48 months / 50,000 miles unlimited
Four-year BMW Roadside Assistance
4 year / 50,000 miles Full Maintenance Program
Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. Read his reviews every Wednesday and Saturday at detnews.com/drive. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.