2007 BMW X3 Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2007 BMW X3

New Car Test Drive
© 2007 NewCarTestDrive.com

The BMW X3 enters its fourth year of production flush with success, but there's more competition than ever among the smaller, more fuel-efficient SUVs. BMW's response is a stronger engine, revised styling, and more safety features, standard equipment and options.

The 2007 BMW X3 is available only with the new engine, a 3.0-liter six-cylinder. It also offers more torque and better acceleration than last year's engine of the same size yet at no cost to fuel economy. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a new six-speed automatic is a no-cost option and replaces last year's five-speed automatic.

The X3's drivetrain is equipped with BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system, Dynamic Stability Control and Hill Descent Control, revised for 2007 to give it even better grip and control in less than favorable conditions.

The X3 is quick and fast, and almost as fun to drive as any of BMW's passenger cars. The xDrive puts it at the head of the class when weather or road goes north. It's roomy, both for passengers and cargo. And just as important, it's replete with safety features, both active and passive.

Model Lineup

BMW X3 3.0si ($38,000)

Walk Around

The BMW X3 gets a new look for 2007, and though there's a close family resemblance to the new, larger X5, a closer look reveals significant differences.

The 2007 BMW X3 3.0si makeover is more than just a new badge. Most noticeable is the new front bumper that frames a new, slightly larger twin-kidney grille, its chrome vertical slats complemented by a chrome strip along the base of the side windows. The new headlight assembly no longer includes the DOT amber reflector, which has been moved to the fender to give the light cluster a cleaner look, and the foglights have been moved into the bumper. The optional xenon headlights now include the corona light rings, and should the Cold Weather package be ordered, the headlight washers now retract into the bumper.

From the front, the stance looks much the same as the X5's, with fenders tautly blistered over wide and widely spaced tires, giving the X3 a BMW-like, road-grabbing face. The headlamp lenses and kidney grilles are shaped differently, as is the bumper and lower grille openings, and the bumper is black as opposed to the X5 bumper's body-color treatment.

The 2007 X5 also has distanced itself further from its smaller sibling in most dimensions. Compared to the X3, the new X5's wheelbase is now more than five inches longer, its overall length is almost a foot greater, and it sits almost four inches higher. The X5's track, the distance between the tires, is also wider by a larger margin than before. It looks sportier, more hunkered down than the X3.

The X3 looks like the X5 in side view, though the cut line from the front wheel wells to the front doors was eliminated for a cleaner look. A mild character crease bridges the space between the fender blisters, and a relatively low beltline adds openness to the side windows. The trademark dogleg in the rear quarter window has been stretched a bit, however.

From the rear, the new X3 displays a new light cluster with horizonal LED taillights and a new bumper. The main difference between the X3 and X5 back here is the single, double-tipped exhaust exiting on the left side whereas the X5 sports dual oval exhausts exiting at the corners. For 2007, the X3's pipes are chromed. The angle of the rear glass is more upright in the X3 than in the X5, and the X5's hatch-integrated spoiler adds a further touch of sportiness to the big SUV.

Standard running gear is newly styled 17-inch wheels with all-season tires, while 18- and 19-inch wheels are available.

Interior

People familiar with BMW interiors will immediately feel at home in the X3 and will appreciate the changes made for 2007 for a more refined ambience. Controls are where they should be and feel the way they should, with the proper directional movement, resistance and detents. Instruments are easy to read at a glance and communicate the proper and necessary information.

For 2007, the revised interior uses new materials that are meant to upgrade the look and feel, and for the most part the effort paid off. In a few areas, however, the X3's level of materials and finish quality isn't quite in the same league as its more expensive big brother.

There's much to like, including the new three-spoke steering wheel, the more finely grained dashboard material, the new materials for both the instrument panel and door panels, the new look around the gauge cluster with the instrument hood integrated into the dash, and the door panels and armrests wrapped in either leather or leatherette.

The display for the navigation system is one of the most thoughtfully positioned of the lot, rotating up out of the top center of the dash, gray instead of black, so it's visible to driver and navigator but nestled unobtrusively halfway down in the recess where it stows when not in use.

Passengers will climb in over aluminum doorsill trim with the BMW logo and will find refined interior trim and materials. Dark ash wood trim is now standard; gray poplar or light natural poplar, which we especially like, are no-cost options.

The front seats are supportive and comfortably bolstered. The standard seats are more comfortable than the Sport seats and quite adequately restrain occupants' posteriors when the road begins to wind. Seatbelts feel right, properly tensioned. Ranges of seat adjustment are extensive, to the point a six-footer can enjoy major amounts of headroom and actually put the steering wheel and forward footwell well out of reach; at these extremes, however, rear-seat legroom is seriously diminished.

In terms of roominess, the X3's interior compares favorably with its most likely direct competition, the Lexus RX 330 and Infiniti FX35, giving up an inch or so here and gaining the same there. On the downside, the X3's rear seat is quite firm and virtually flat, like a church pew, where the X5 and the others offer more form fit and comfort. The X3's rear center head restraint is fixed, offering no vertical adjustment.

Cargo area, at 71 cubic feet, is impressive, exceeding the X5's by 10 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, and slotting in between the RX 330's 84.7 cubic feet and the FX35's 64.5. Caesar the 170-pound mastiff was happy here, with the second row of seats flipped down.

Storage areas are numerous and flexible, many fitted with netting that stretches to accommodate odd shapes and medium-sized water bottles. The mesh nets in the lower front doors, though, have been replaced by dual storage bins for better small-item storage. Rear-door map pockets forfeit several square inches to the Europeans' unabated addiction to ash trays.

So much for the tape measure. Where the X3 disappoints is in the intangible and tactile, how the interior looks and feels. Textures and materials have been improved, including a higher quality of optional leather, but there's still no mistaking the X3 for one of BMW's luxury sedans. There are two front cup holders, but the one mounted on the center console is sized more for soda pop cans than coffee cups or water bottles and looks like an afterthought, something cobbled together and glued in place forward of the armrest/storage bin. The passenger cup holder pops out of the end of the dash by the door, where it gets bumped by knees when the passenger is climbing in or out of the car. Door closings are followed by a hint of a hollow echo, instead of the solid thunk we expect of BMWs.

Driving Impressions

BMW calls its SUVs Sport Activity Vehicles and, indeed, driving the BMW X3 is not like driving other SUVs. While the Lexus RX 330 tends toward the luxury end of the scale, the X3 leans more to turning two-lanes and the occasional twisty dirt track into a fun drive. Our first impression after driving an X3 3.0si around the Bavarian back roads south of Munich was one of smoothness and precision engineering.

The X3 readily swallows mile after mile of high-speed highway. It feels confident in the wet, and really shines on dusty, gravel-strewn back roads and slushy boulevards. With the X3, a driver can accomplish feats that normally require the talents and reflexes of an accomplished rally driver, a benefit of the xDrive all-wheel-drive system working with BMW's multifaceted Dynamic Stability Control. Unerringly, just about the time the driver senses the X3 begin to slide and intuitively readies a saving countersteer, the xDrive calmly tucks the rear end back in line. It's a superb system.

Dynamic Stability Control is even better for 2007, working more quickly and efficiently with the upgraded brake system. The four-wheel discs now include Brake Drying, which helps them stay dry in the wet, Brake Standby, which poises them for quicker action in emergency situations, Start-off Assistant, which automatically holds the X3 on hills to aid smooth ascents, and Brake Fade Compensation, which adjusts the clamping force in response to the slightest hint of brake fade. In other words, these are the brakes of a vehicle that can be pushed to further limits than the average SUV.

For those who are comfortable driving at the limit, Dynamic Stability Control now includes, for the first time in a BMW SUV, Dynamic Traction Control. A button lets the driver choose a higher threshold of wheel-slip before DSC engages, and though this technique is good for starting off on loose snow, it can also be used to turn the X3 into even more of a driving machine.

The new six-speed automatic proved to be as smooth and precise in normal, everyday driving as last year's five-speed automatic. Just put it in Drive and go. When pushing it in the slippery stuff, the automatic frees the driver to focus on braking, accelerating and steering. This can be a lot of fun. When so inclined, the driver can use the Steptronic feature to hold the transmission in a specific gear, manually shifting up or down as the incline or traction dictates or invites.

The six-speed manual transmission, on the other hand, is everything people who know and like BMWs have come to expect and appreciate. Shifts are smooth and precise, clutch engagement predictable and gears properly spaced to keep the engine in the sweet spot of its power band, although it is geared a bit high for relaxed long distance cruising. We prefer the automatic.

Acceleration is still silky and linear, it just happens more quickly now, thanks to the new 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine's 260 horsepower, 35 more than the outgoing six. The power delivery is also smoother because of Valvetronic, BMW's sophisticated control system that helps optimize engine response while also reducing fuel consumption. The 3.0si records 0-60 mph times of 6.9 seconds for the manual and 7.1 seconds for the automatic. While not blistering performance figures, they are significant improvements over the 2006 X3 and, considering the vehicle's weight, are no cause for shame.

The optional Servotronic steering is flat-out wonderful. It's speed-sensitive, adding more assist at low speeds, and invisibly altering the steering ratio, so the car turns more with less steering input. Parallel-parking is a breeze, as are quick, mid-block U-turns. As speed increases, assistance diminishes and the ratio slows, making for good on-center feel and sure lane changes. Perhaps the best thing about the Servotronic steering is its transparency; unless a driver moves directly from the X3 to another vehicle without the f

The 2007 BMW X3 3.0si is hard to beat for people who want BMW's heritage, looks, powertrain and packaging, but desire the flexibility a sport-utility vehicle offers, or vice versa. The xDrive, Dynamic Stability Control and Hill Descent Control combine to offer excellent handling, grip, traction, stability on gravel roads, muddy two-tracks and snow-covered backroads. Overall fit is to the marque's standards, but the interior finish is disappointing. Leaving the options boxes unchecked yields an affordable and capable SUV that requires no apology, and judicious checking lets even a cost-conscious shopper have the desired luxuries.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed the original report from Northern California, with Greg Brown reporting on the 3.0si from the Austrian foothills south of Munich.

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