For something that seems like such a dumb idea, straight-six engines are eminently loveable – the sound, the look, the power… the sound again. But they’re longer than a V8 with two less cylinders. Hardly anybody makes a straight-six engine anymore. But bless-those-Germans are we glad BMW is still at it! No one does a straight-six better than the boys from Munich.
Despite the fact that purists may deride this latest straight-six because it’s turbocharged, it’s still a peach with 300 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Used in all kinds of different BMW models (more than a dozen by my count), it’s a known quantity. But the real question is how the rest of this pricy midsize SUV stacks up to the competition. Can this lovely straight-six engine make us forgive any other shortcomings?
The Trans-Canada Highway between Ottawa and Toronto is not the 401. It’s runs north of there, along Highway 7: twisty, utterly beautiful scenery, interesting towns and none of those dull name-brand rest stops. The leaves were bright and already covering the ground. The road was damp, and there was no shortage of obstacles: construction, slow trucks, school buses – you name it.
The X3 has seemingly endless grip. The steering is direct, as you’d expect from a BMW, and the SUV turns in immediately and cleanly with plenty of weight in the wheel. Only in very tight, fast turns did the xDrive all-wheel drive system make itself known. It really helps to rotate the car and keep you on-line.
At nearly two tonnes (1,915 kg) though, this is not a light vehicle and you do always feel its weight – especially when braking or changing direction quickly. The X3 is very nimble for what it is, but always feels like it's over-powering the laws of physics, pounding the road into submission.
Ah, but then there’s that engine, putting an instant grin on your face whenever you put your foot down (0-100 km/h comes up in a ridiculously quick 5.8 seconds).
This new-generation X3 is nearly as big as the old X5 was and the new X1 has joined the lineup to fill the space the X3 used to inhabit. Got it? You’d never get a third row in the X3, but the rear seats are adequate for adults. The (optional) front sport seats are electrically adjustable in about a billion ways so anybody should be able to find a good driving position.
The interior on my fully-loaded model was beautiful. The bottom of the centre console can be covered in your choice of brushed aluminium or wood which really classes up the joint. The info screen is huge and bright. It’s so wide you can set it up to display the navigation on the left and radio info on the right. The iDrive controller is also pretty intuitive at this point. No complaints there.
Dynamic Damper Control is a clever option that helps put the straight-six to good use. When you really want to push on, you can flick the car into Sport+ to firm up suspension, quicken throttle response and let the eight-speed automatic gearbox hold gears longer. Unlike some of the similar systems out there, there is a noticeable change in the car’s character. Otherwise, you can notch things down to Sport, Comfort, or – and this is a new one – EcoPro. This mode optimizes the car for fuel economy, seriously dampening the fun you can have with that straight-six. It does tell you how much extra range you’re gaining by being well-behaved and bored, though. Fuel economy is officially rated at 11.1 L/100 km city and 7.7 highway.
A note about trunk space: it’s large, even if the liftover height is a little high. But why not get the upcoming 3 Series wagon instead? I’m sure it’ll be available with the same straight-six engine, xDrive AWD and it’ll have the same – if not more – trunk space. Plus, I’d wager it’ll handle much more sweetly because of its lower centre of gravity and lower roll centre. I think the wagon looks better too. If it was my money, a 335i Touring is what I'd have. [Edit: Hold 'yer horses. We can't get the 335i Touring in Canada. Only the 328i xDrive Touring for an unknown reason. I'd guess it's because we Canadians don't buy enough wagons to make the business case. Anyway we'll let you know if that's worth getting when we get out hands on it.]
So, lets tally up the bill on my tester shall we? I hope you’re sitting down:
- Base price: $47,400
- Premium pack: $4,000 (automatic trunk, panorama roof, etc.)
- Tech Pack: $2,200 (navigation, extended Bluetooth)
- Exec Pack: $2,300 (Rear view camera, lumbar support, HiFi stereo, etc.)
- M Sport Pack: $2,900 (19-inch wheels, M bodykit, aluminium trim)
- BMW Apps: $300 (most expensive app ever?)
- Nevada Leather: $1,900
TOTAL: $61,000 + $2,095 destination. And that’s before any tax. The Mercedes-Benz GLK starts nearly $3,000 cheaper and a loaded one comes in at $57K. I don’t really see how BMW can justify the higher price. It’s frustrating. BMW seems to be inching up prices across the range.
Anyway, yes, the X3 xDrive35i would still be my pick in this segment. It’s the only one that offers ridiculous speed and this level of handling. And yet, it always felt comfortable and luxurious on my road trip. If you could live without the sharp handling, you’d be very happy with the GLK. But, if you want a midsize premium SUV that can be all things to all people, this is the one you’ll be wanting – just be wary of that options list.