2011 BMW X3 XDrive35i: A Rote SUV—But Still a BMW | Rumble Seat by Dan Neil – WSJ.com

6 Dec 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 2011 BMW X3 XDrive35i: A Rote SUV—But Still a BMW | Rumble Seat by Dan Neil – WSJ.com
BMW X3

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I wish I could be dismissive of BMW’s second-generation X3. After all, I have zero love for this kind of automobile, which takes the virtues of an athletic German sedan and pointlessly jacks them up in the air a half-foot, so Missy or Kelly can see the road better. I kind of dread the creeping commodification of the BMW brand, the loss of cachet and exclusivity.

I find it slightly appalling that, in order to court calorically enhanced U.S. customers, BMW has been obliged to make its compact soft-roader longer, wider, taller. Why not just put in an elastic waistband?

But I have to admit, the Farrelly Brothers crack me up. Likewise, BMW’s resources are so deep and clever that even the company’s most rote segment entry—and that’s what the X3 is—feels absolutely inspired.

Here’s the situation: The big three German luxury-car companies are in a pitched battle over profitability. BMW, the world’s biggest luxury car maker, takes less profit per vehicle than either Mercedes-Benz or Audi. Audi enjoys the cost-sharing advantage of being part of the mighty VW Group. Mercedes is a special case, being able to charge a premium for the three-pointed star.

The executive leadership of BMW has decreed that the company needs to sell a lot more cars, more profitably, and so Munich is busy coloring in any white space in global markets with new products. Enter the redesigned X3. Built in Spartanburg, S.C. the new X3 is 4 inches longer and about 1 inch wider than the outgoing model. The bigger X3 thus makes room for BMW’s genuinely small crossover, the X1, also due in American showrooms early next year. Keeping score?

BMW will soon have the X1, X3, and X5, as well as the X6 sport-activity coupe, and the 5-series Gran Turismo, with more to come.

In the roulette of the premium-crossover marketplace, BMW is covering the table.

As far as the part-sharing, all car makers do it, some more obviously than others. The upside is big savings (profit) in design, purchasing, tooling, assembly. Done well, part-sharing creates a physical, touchable cognate to the brand.

If you’ve ever felt the piano-string tension of a Porsche 911 suspension, you know what a Porsche is supposed to feel like.

The downside to parts commonality is a decline of specialness, of distinctiveness, the reek of amortization. That’s the line mass-market luxury car makers must walk.

BMW X3 XDrive35i

Base price: $41,925

Price as tested . $50,000 (est.)

Powertrain :Twin-turbocharged direct-injection 3.0-liter DOHC inline six with variable valve timing; eight-speed automatic transmission; full-time all-wheel drive with multiclutch center differential and electronically limited slip on rear differential.

Wheelbase: 110.6 inches

0-60 mph: 5.5 seconds

EPA fuel economy: 19/26 mpg, city/highway

Cargo capacity: 19.4/56.5 cubic feet, second row up/down

BMW X3

For BMW, so far, so good, and that’s mainly because of the quality of the parts binnage. In the case of the X3 XDrive35i, the engine is a masterpiece: a 3.0-liter, twin-scroll turbo, direct-injection in-line six cylinder (codenamed N55), a petrol-burning chronograph of an engine that—between the swarming turbo boost and the range of variability in the valve timing—doesn’t even need conventional throttles (the engine has a throttle for cold starting).

Spooling out 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque between 1,300 and 5,000 rpm, the N55 can hum quietly in city traffic or, with the right buttons pushed, gears engaged and the gas pedal squeezed beyond the downshift detent, absolutely haul butt. BMW estimates the 0-60 mph time as 5.5 seconds, which is rather sprightly for a leggy crossover weighing 4,222 pounds. This engine could cure acne.

Downstream of the engine is the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. In principle, more gears mean better fuel economy (closer matching of engine speed and load, taller ratios for highway driving). It helps that the eight-gear unit weighs about what the previous six-speeder weighs.

Our test car was rated at 19/26 miles per gallon, city/highway, which is quite decent, considering. However, in my preproduction model, with the gear selector in D, the transmission short-shifted insistently, shuffling up through the seemingly innumerable gears, constantly seeking better fuel economy—and not all that smoothly, either. Is that a frayed edge I see?

I expect some final tweaking of the transmission programming before the vehicle hits U.S. showrooms.

The car seemed a lot happier with the gear-selector in Manual mode—allowing the use of the steering-wheel paddles—and the suspension’s Electronic Damping Control set on Sport+. The ride-and-handling gets pretty leathery in this configuration; it also engages Performance Control mode. You get this ominous message on the information panel of driving stability limited, but it turns out you want that.

The torque-vectoring program will stutter the inside rear brake and automatically squeeze the e-throttle, helping to rotate the car and nulling out the AWD-inherent understeer, and if you’re really gassing it on country lanes, the thing slides around like a proper sport sedan, except as driven from a bar stool. The steering is right there, precise and well-weighted. The pitch and roll of the body is very nicely controlled.

The brakes are fierce. If you’re in the mood, this thing can get downright ornery.

Drive it peaceably, and it does the trick, too. The leather saddlework is pleasing. The instrumentation and switchgear is hefty and handy.

The bigger exterior dimensions translate to appreciable increases in head- and legroom. Sight lines are excellent.

I still don’t love the X3 xDrive35i (BMW’s nomenclature department needs a good beating, by the way). The exterior styling is better than before—with a crisp accent line peeling up the fuselage from the front wheel openings—but that’s faint praise. It still looks snouty and unbalanced in the front, with a clumsy front-axle-to-dash ratio; and even with 18-inch wheels, the dead-cat holes in the wheel wells look like they could really accommodate a dead cat.

Everything that’s good about the car from a driving dynamics point of view would be better with a half-foot less Z-axis. Can I interest you in an awesome 3-series?

I admit it: I’m a hostile witness.

But this is well-struck BMW coin, a fast, techy, serious machine, worthy of the badge. That’s anything but routine.

Corrections Amplifications

The BMW X3 xDrive35i has a twin-scroll turbo engine. An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the car has a twin-turbo engine.

BMW X3
BMW X3
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