The BMW X3 enters its third year of production flush with success. In its first year, the X3 sold almost as well as the larger X5, doubling BMW’s impact on the SUV market, and there’s little sign of the trend toward smaller, more fuel-efficient SUVs cooling off any time soon.
While the X5 has injected the sport-utility segment with much needed on-road athleticism, it’s the X3 that really delivers the goods in terms of handling prowess. Perfect weight distribution (50 percent over the front wheels and 50 percent over the rear) and a center of gravity that’s low for an SUV combine with a sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension to produce tenacious cornering abilities (again, for an SUV).
For 2006, the entry-level X3 2.5i with its 2.5-liter V6 engine, which works well in the 3 Series sedan but seems weak in this heavier SUV, gets dropped from the lineup. The only available version is now the 3.0i that’s powered by the same 225-horsepower 3.0-liter V6 found in the base X5. Around 600 fewer pounds of curb weight make it seem livelier here. It comes mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a slick-shifting five-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability. Fuel economy is fair for a compact SUV: 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
The 2006 BMW X3 3.0i ($36,800) is stuffed with standard equipment. Cockpit amenities include automatic climate control with micro-filter and air recirculation; Sensatec upholstery; eight-way power adjustable front seats with two-way manual headrests with driver seat and mirror memory; four-spoke leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel with fingertip cruise control; front center console armrest; storage nets on front seatbacks, in front passenger footwell and cargo compartment; two aluminum fastening rails and slip-proof reversible flooring in cargo compartment; split 60/40 fold-down rear seats; vehicle and key memory; remote entry, including two-step unlocking and remote tailgate release; Panorama glass moonroof with fully automatic, two-piece glass panels, power slide and lift control, wind deflector and power interior sunshade; tilt/telescopic steering wheel column; rain-sensing windshield wipers with automatic headlight control; automatic-dimming rearview mirror; power front windows with one-touch up/down and power rear windows with one-touch down; front-rear map-reading, footwell and visor-mirror lights; locking glovebox with rechargeable take-out flashlight; dual cupholders in front and rear; AM/FM/CD audio with eight speakers, wired for portable music players; Service Interval Indicator with miles-to-service readout; flat tire warning system; a four-function on-board computer; pre-wiring for cellular phone, garage-door opener, 6CD changer and auxiliary input.
As with the X5, an intelligent all-wheel-drive system, called xDrive, automatically varies power distribution between front and rear wheels to ensure both sport-sedan-like handling on dry pavement and SUV-like road-holding in foul weather.
Dynamic Stability Control improves handling by preempting wheel spin and, consequently, losing control of the vehicle. Sophisticated electronic brake proportioning adjusts front and rear braking for optimal stopping power, and Hill Descent Control stabilizes speed on sharp downgrades.
The X3’s interior is more functional than fancy, which is what we’ve come to expect from BMW. Front, front-side and side-curtain airbags are standard, with rear-side airbags optional. Options include an integrated iPod adapter, heated leather seats, a heated steering wheel and front and rear parking proximity warnings. Unlike many SUVs and minivans and a growing number of passenger cars, the X3 does not offer an optional rear DVD entertainment system.