Let me start this BMW review by talking about the 2014 GMC Terrain that I'm reviewing this week. Like the BMW X3, the GMC Terrain is a crossover—half compact sport sedan, half SUV. The GMC is slightly larger than the BMW and in every way inferior, but here's the reason I mention it. The loaded GMC stickers for $41,000. While BMW's have stronger features than "value," I find it ironic that a BMW X3 starts at just about $38,000.
Of course, there are better priced crossovers out there. You can nicely equip a new Toyota Rav4, Subaru Outback or Mazda CX-5 for about $32k. Each of those Japanese crossovers offers acceptable handling, worry-free reliability and perhaps the best all-out value in their class. But, keep in mind that you can get into the excitement of an eye-catching BMW X3 for just a few thousand more. The BMW is a considerable step up in performance, luxury and tangible refinement.
The X3 is one of three competitive German luxury crossovers—the Audi Q5, Mercedes and yours truly, the BMW X3. Each offers SUV-like posture, sports car like handling, four-door comfort and good mileage, as well as an extra layer of luxury, refinement, performance and brand cache. Depending on how you option your luxury crossover—and more importantly on unique dealer incentives—you might be surprised at the reasonable gap between a Toyota or Honda crossover and this BMW.
The X3 had few competitors when BMW introduced it into the mini-crossover market. But, as buyers have flocked to this new niche, automakers have pumped out more and more crossovers models. Despite a crowded marketplace, the X3 still stands apart as a best-in-class choice. For those who can afford it, the X3 is a great garage addition.
The X3 looks much like it's grown up sibling the X5, offering signature BMW exterior curves and a wishbone grill. The X3 sits on V-spoke alloy wheels and sports Halogen lights. For 2013, the base X3 xDrive28i receives a turbocharged four-cylinder, replacing the naturally aspirated inline 6. Leave it to renowned German engineers to stun critics and customers alike with a full throated four-cylinder capable of fulfilling the performance demanded from a luxury crossover. The base X3 combines 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque with an eight-speed transmission, launching the mini crossover from 0-60 in 6.6 seconds. The xDrive 35i upgrades to a turbocharged 3.0 liter six-cylinder pumping out 300 horsepower and capable to 0-60 in a stunning 5.6 seconds.
Inside, trademark BMW gauges pair with high-class iDrive technology to craft a comfortable and refined cockpit view. The wood and chrome trim, simple shifter, and sporty leather seats make for a luxurious but sporty and comfortable interior.
Check off enough options, and the X3's sticker price can rise quickly. But that's the case with each of its serious competitors, too. In our book, the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 are easily the best luxury crossovers in this class. You should drive them both and pick the one that suits you best.
© 2013 John Dickerson and John Kehlenbeck, Horsepower Auto Reviews