By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 7.8
BMW's introduction of the X3 SUV in 2004 effectively launched a segment, the first of what would later seem an invasion of luxury crossovers from Acura, Audi, Infiniti and Mercedes. And while the concept – combining a traditional BMW dynamic with upright utility – seemed ideal, BMW's execution didn't go quite far enough; the first X3 was a tad ragged around the edges. Any shortcomings of BMW's first Sport Activity Vehicle (forgetting BMW's first M1) have been fully resolved with its second generation, introduced in 2011. The X3 SUV received new technologies, which go a long way in enhancing agility, efficiency and comfort. At its intro BMW's smallish crossover launched "Sport Activity Vehicle" as a moniker; in its current iteration it becomes a mantra.
If you enjoy the connectivity supplied by BMW's platform team, but need, in your daily commute or weekend driving, a measure of utility, the 2012 BMW X3 SUV appropriately fills the bill. Its upright architecture and (relatively) generous greenhouse can stow or tow, while a choice of two responsive sixes and a dynamic platform inject some "sport" into any "activity."
With its all-wheel drive (AWD) built on RWD architecture, this isn't the best cargo carrier on a compact footprint. And when compared to alternatives – notably, Subaru's Forester and Acura's RDX – BMW prospects pay a premium for a German car assembled in South Carolina. Finally, the lack of an optional manual transmission might be an issue for the True B(MW)elievers.
With an all-new X3 in 2011, the changes for the 2012 BMW X3 are little more than tweaks to an already well-received SUV redesign.
Driving Impressions The X3 SUV's raison d'etre is simple: Combine the best attributes of a BMW chassis and powertrain with a more practical and accommodating passenger compartment. At that the X3 succeeds...wonderfully, with a truly planted dynamic and a cut-and-thrust capability fully in tune with today's urban driving. And when you're ready to get out of town, the 2012 BMW X3 satisfies with instant acceleration, adequate ground clearance and reasonable efficiency. We think BMW did an outstanding job in providing road feel in its Servotronic power steering, and the all-independent suspension strikes a careful balance between composure and comfort. And while we wish BMW had elected to provide a manual transmission in the base X3, its substitute – an 8-speed automatic – provides responsive performance, along with Sport and Manual modes. Finally, a claimed 0-60 time of less than seven seconds (xDrive28i) is nicely balanced by an EPA Highway rating of 25 mpg.
xDrive Intelligent All-Wheel Drive
Now in its third generation, BMW's xDrive utilizes technology to facilitate both performance and traction. Normally torque is split 40/60 front/rear, but that can vary based on actual road conditions. BMW claims a dynamic ability "unparalleled" by other all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems, and committed BMW enthusiasts (probably) would agree.
Production at the BMW Spartanburg Plant
As a recent Chrysler advertisement claims, "What we make, makes us." And production of BMW's 2012 SUV offerings (X3, X5 and X6) for worldwide markets in Spartanburg should be a point of pride well beyond the South Carolina border. Add to that production the ability to pick up your ordered BMW at the plant, and the chance to visit a neat, albeit small, museum display within the plant campus, and you have compelling reasons (all other factors being equal) to make the X3 your next SUV.
With a base price of almost $38,000 for the X3 xDrive28i, can you say "leatherette?" Regrettably, you must; that is the standard upholstery in the base, albeit expensive, X3 SUV. We won't fault leatherette for its durability and easy-to-clean surface, but would hope the carmaker might at least offer a durable cloth as an alternative (both aesthetically and functionally) to vinyl. Beyond that shortcoming, we like what BMW calls "a generous and versatile spatial concept...with a modern, premium ambience and intelligent functionality." Highlights include supportive front seats, a 60/40-split rear seat (40/20/40-split is available) and tasteful Silver Matte trim. Automatic climate control is a win, while we're not sure why BMW insists on mandating its iDrive control system or reinventing the (automatic) transmission lever.
Having lingered a full seven years without significant revision, BMW's design team might have gone to great lengths to differentiate the second-generation X3 from the first. And while the X3 SUV was showing its age, BMW did a credible job in providing an updated, fully contemporary shape while retaining the X3's unmistakable profile. We like the more organic flow of the new sheet metal, the athletic stance afforded by a wide track and short overhangs, and what appears to be a generous greenhouse. Regrettably, outward vision is marginalized by a D-pillar – that structure between the rearmost window and the hatch – which is too large. Not a worry if you've left traffic fully behind you, but a rather dominant concern when traffic's all around you.
Perhaps most notable in the 2012 BMW X3 SUV's standard package is all-wheel drive (AWD), as numerous competitors, even Jeep, often provide 2WD variants for the U.S. Sunbelt (or for those in the Northeast who simply head to Florida between October and April). Beyond xDrive, the inclusion of Hill Descent Control suggests an off-road capability few owners will utilize, while Dynamic Stability Control can come in handy on the daily commute. Inside, the aforementioned iDrive, Bluetooth wireless technology and an audio system boasting 12 speakers and 205 watts should put the "Beethoven" back in BMW.
As the BMW marketing team might suggest, "go for it," as the X3 option list is as long as France's Maginot Line. The biggest bump, of course, is opting for the xDrive35i over the more rational xDrive28i. The "35" gets you a turbocharged in-line six, providing an oh-so-symmetrical 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. Of course, navigation, premium audio, leather and a panoramic moonroof are typical optional fare. More noteworthy is your chance to build your BMW from a select choice of options, monitor its build via video clips and photographs, and then take personal delivery at BMW's Performance Center in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
BMW's 2012 X3 lineup offers two variants of the same 3.0-liter in-line 6 cylinder. In the xDrive28i a normally aspirated 6 cylinder delivers 240 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque. Check the 35i box and you'll enjoy a turbocharged 6 cylinder providing 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. Both powertrains are paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. We think 240 horsepower is more than adequate for the X3 SUV's "sport activity" mission, but those driving at high elevations will benefit from turbocharging, as it "levels" the playing field in the thin air of high-altitude environments.
3.0-liter in-line 6
240 horsepower @ 6,600 rpm
221 lb-ft of torque @ 2,750-4000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/25
3.0-liter in-line 6 Twin-Turbocharged
300 horsepower @ 5,800 rpm
300 lb-ft of torque @ 1,300-5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/26
By Bill W. on Monday, March 02, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 7,500overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I have owned this car for just over 1 month. I purchased the 35i Engine and M Sport Package, with the very interesting Carbon Black paint color and love it. This car is very fast with smooth acceleration and handling. The Technology Package is excellent and find the Heads up Display to be worth the extra $$. The extras on this car are a big expense so if you can find a corporate vehicle that's sold by the dealer with low miles as Elite Pre-Owned then that's certainly the way to go!!"
By Sol on Wednesday, January 28, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 2,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "How the car handles itself at high speeds"
Cons: "Noisy at high speed"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I have been driving this car for the last 3 months and I still get excited about it. I had an acura 2002 before that and this was a big step up for me. But what i am getting from this car far exceeds my expectations and I do not think I will ever drive any other brand going forward. This car's performance lives up to the Bimmer's hype."
11 people out of 20 found this review helpful
By Gary L on Sunday, January 04, 2015
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 26,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Performance, Build Quality, Features, Gas Mileage"
Cons: "Options Are Pricey... Choose Only What You Need"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"This car is a huge step up from the GM, Ford, Cadillac and Subaru's that are the majority of SUV sales. The level of quality, performance and driving pleasure is outstanding. This is my first BMW so there was a learning curve with the I Drive, Navigation and other unique BMW features. Love the 12 speaker stereo, heated front seats with 3 settings, dual climate control, key-less start and full Navigation. This baby handles like a true sports car with acceleration & brakes putting it in a class of it's own. Great gas mileage and rock solid reliability earn it 5 stars. While pricey it comes with a solid 4 year warranty which includes all maintenance and free inspection. Beat that Lexus."
18 people out of 29 found this review helpful
By Bring on the snow on Tuesday, December 09, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 12,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Feels like a swiss vault when it shuts"
Cons: "Need better noise dampener at high speed"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Rock solid vehicle. It has amazing power and acceleration thanks to the silky smooth eight speed transmission. The car feels solid and stable around curvy rounds even going 90 mph, something I would never have done in my other vehicle and though I do not recommend this for others. However, I was very impressed how this vehicle navigated those sweepy curves. I also drove this vehicle on an interstate during a snow storm with the standard all season tires that came with it. It handled like a well trained athlete. I was the only car driving through the snow in the left lane. I am not sure that the vehicle was better than others but it certainly game me confidence that the vehicle could deal with the snow. I also love the look of the vehicle's exterior and interior. The aesthetics is understated elegance, not over the top. It does not call attention to itself other than through the blue and white Rondell. The discreet aesthetic is another reason why I like the BMW. If I could got rid of the Rondell or the indentifiers that announce that it is a BMW, I would love it even more because I drive this car not for its status but because of how solidly it drives and perform. The 48mos/50K miles warranty also comes in handy because repairing this Ultimate Driving Machine can be costly. I love this vehicle more than I enjoyed my 2007 328i."
26 people out of 36 found this review helpful
By Jovelle on Tuesday, December 09, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 10,650overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Fun to drive, good looking car"
Cons: "GPS need upgrade, cup holders"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"This was assembled in Germany/Austria and was shipped to me as a gift from my husband. I love the Flamenco color, so far I've only seen 2 of these in N. California. I Love the moon roof, you can open it halfway or all the way. This is a really good car for me but maintenance is quite expensive.The GPS,I did an upgrade but not quite impressed for a BMW car. Car has parking assist, steering wheel can be tilted,has fog lights,intermittent wipers and more. Car paint is still in very good condition, car has been garaged most of the time. I just drive it to and from work."
4 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By Harvest on Tuesday, December 02, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 10,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Driving as Life is too short. Control knob"
Cons: "Rough riding."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 3
"Fun driving. Quality exterior and interior. Zips easily around town and drives great on the freeway. Has leased it for over a year with no problems. Master Control knob next to the gear shift is the ultimate in convenience and safety. Many other vehicle's controls are on the dash, having to push the glass screen, making it more difficult to control the radio, navigation etc. Comparing the exterior design of other luxury and mid-level SUV models, the X3 is far superior. The only downside is the ride which is not as smooth and not as quiet as other models which I would prefer. Secondly, having discussed BMW's with mechanics and other previous BMW owners, the major issue and concern is the future reliability and repair expense as the vehicle passes it's free 4 year BMW maintenance period. Just about all recommend not owning a BMW because it will be in the shop frequently at very high expense. As a result, I plan on buying either a Toyota Highlander or Lexus RX for reliability and smoothness and quietness of ride. The prices with all the options are within the same price range. Or being spoiled by it's drivability and control knob, I will lease a new X3 or X5 for the rest of my driving life...but never buying one."
5 people out of 7 found this review helpful