2004 BMW X3

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2004 BMW X3

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Generally nifty smaller brother to BMW X5 sport-utility vehicle.
Pros:
  • Fast with larger available engine
  • Good handling
  • Fairly convenient size
Cons:
  • Very firm ride
  • Mushy shifter and long-throw clutch
  • Costly option packages

The new car-like BMW X3 is a good companion to the larger, costlier BMW X5 sport ute, which has been popular since introduced for 2000.

The X3 visually resembles the X5 and uses components various BMW car models. It's about 600 pounds lighter and four inches shorter than the X5, but has nearly the same passenger room and a little more cargo space.

Schwarzenegger Connection
While the X5 is assembled in South Carolina, the X3 is made in actor/Governor Arnold Schwarznegger's home town of Graz, Austria, in the Magna Steyr plant. It would have taken too long for BMW to build a new plant and train a workforce for the X3.

One strong point of the all-wheel-drive X3 is its price. The base X3 2.5i with a 2.5-liter 184-horsepower inline 6-cylinder engine costs $30,300, whereas the lowest-priced X5 is about an additional $10,000.

The higher-line X3 3.0i with an inline 3.0-liter 225-horsepower 6-cylinder is $36,300, while the top-line X5 costs $51,500.

The X3 is very fast with the 3.0-liter engine, which powers the base X5, and is moderately fast with the smaller one.

Watch Those Options
However, desirable option can cause the price of the X3 to soar. For instance, the large power glass sunroof is in the Premium option package, which costs $3,800 for the 2.5i and $3,300 for the 3.0i.

That package also contains dual power front seats and cruise control for the 2.5i and attractive dark wood trim for both versions. It also contains leather upholstery for the 3.0i, which has some of the package's items as standard equipment.

Firm Ride
A $1,500 Sport Package contains a sport suspension that sharpens handling, but provides a ride too stiff for anything but smooth roads. In fact, some may find the X3's ride too firm even without the Sport Package.

Steering is quick, although it has a numb, isolated feel. That's surprising, considering that BMW prides itself on the steering of its vehicles.

Handling is quite good for a rather tall sport ute and is helped by an anti-skid/traction control system. Still, there's some body sway during quick maneuvers, especially with the base all-independent suspension.

The brake pedal has a nice feel and stopping distances are short with the standard anti-lock brakes.

Mushy Shifter
A 5-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature costs $1,275. It hurts acceleration, but not by much. The standard 6-speed manual gearbox has a mushy shifter with long throws and BMW's typical light, long-throw clutch.

However, the engine in the 3.0i generates so much torque that it lets a driver comfortably start off in second gear and then immediately shift to fourth or even fifth gear for in-town driving.

Fuel economy is an estimated 18 mpg in the city and 24-25 on highways for the 2.5i. The figures for the 3.0i are 16-17 in the city and 23-25 on highways.

The solid X3 is smaller and sportier than many luxury sport utes and more suited to daily driving than the brawnier X5.

The X3 has BMW's new xDrive all-wheel-drive system, which uses the traction control system to help feed the right amount of power to the wheels. There's no low-range gearing for rough off-road driving. The hill-descent control feature thus seems superfluous because that's an off-road driving item that limits steep downhill speeds.

Safety Items
Among safety items are front-seat side airbags and side-curtain airbags. Rear torso side airbags cost $385.

Large outside door handles help allow quick entry, and it just calls for a little extra effort to get in and out, although adults with shorter legs may dislike the rather wide door sills.

Roomy
There's good room for four tall adults, but the center of the back seat is uncomfortably stiff for a fifth occupant. Front seats are very supportive, and occupants sit relatively high.

Gauges can be quickly read and positioning and size of controls make them easy to use. A handy touch is a pop-out cupholder on the far right side of the dashboard for the front passenger. The driver has a cupholder in the center console, which has a deep, covered storage bin.

Decent Cargo Area
A one-piece tailgate allows entry to the fairly roomy cargo area, which can be made larger by flipping forward the rear seatbacks.

Some X3 competitors with similar base prices are larger, but this BMW compensates with its performance and upscale status, which helps ensure good resale value.

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BB06 - 7/30/2014 6:40:48 AM