BMW X3 Performance
The majority of test drivers are very pleased with the 2008 BMW X3's performance, which offers plenty of power and pleasantly sporty handling.
Edmunds reflects typical reactions on performance, saying, "The steering is simply the best, the engine is joyous to use, the suspension is nimble and the brakes are effective."
The 2008 BMW X3 comes with a 3.0-liter, 260-horsepower, inline six made of a composite of aluminum and magnesium, and offers a choice of two transmissions: a six-speed manual (unique in this class) or a six-speed Steptronic automatic, which is available at no charge. Automobile Magazine says the 3.0-liter engine, with either transmission, "had punch aplenty" and Cars.com labels the engine "potent."
Acceleration and Power
For the most part, critics feel the engine in the BMW X3 offers plenty of power, delivering the smooth engine performance that BMW has built a reputation on over the years. Car and Driver claims, "It has crisp initial throttle response and acceleration that builds and builds the deeper you plant your foot." Consumer Guide adds that the engine "makes a classy growl while accelerating" but is "muted when cruising." Edmunds' test drivers find that the X3's "power plant delivers spirited power," and that the transmission's gear changes seem "positively caffeinated in their eagerness."
The 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine delivers 260 hp at 6600 rpm, and 225 pound-feet of torque, which "translates to a more relaxed and powerful low end, combined with brighter, more energetic high-rpm characteristics," according to Edmunds. Despite having less horsepower than most of its rivals, Automotive.com claims the X3's acceleration "is still silky and linear," and it can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 6.9 seconds with the manual transmission. Cars.com notes, however, "It takes a good prod on the gas pedal to get there, though, so onramp acceleration may seem anemic at first."
Both the standard manual transmission and optional automatic were well-liked by most test drivers. In evaluating the standard manual transmission, AutoWeek calls it "one of the best stick shifts on the market", while Automotive.com observes that the new 6-speed automatic transmission "proved to be as smooth and precise in normal, everyday driving as last year's five-speed automatic." This new Steptronic automatic transmission features driver-controlled regular, sport, and manual shifting modes.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the 2008 X3 is expected to net 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway with the manual transmission, and 17/24 city/highway with the automatic. It takes premium gasoline.
Handling and Braking
On balance, most test drivers find the X3 to be an extremely competent vehicle on the road, handling and braking in a manner that is consistent with BMW's other products - sporty and firm-riding. Cars.com says the X3 "offers top-notch road manners" although several reviewers, like Kelley Blue Book, comment on its "slightly stiff-legged" ride. Consumer Guide reports that the ride is "sporty and firm even with base suspension, but bumps are absorbed without undue harshness or unwanted body motions."
The X3 has engine-speed-sensitive variable-assist steering, which is widely liked by almost every critic. Automotive.com calls the Servotronic steering "flat-out wonderful" and BusinessWeek refers to it as "taut," while Edmunds calls it "precise, with a pleasant heft to the steering effort at low speed that is typical of modern BMW sedans." The claims the steering "provided instant, accurate feedback, as though you could feel the tires carving at every moment." In noting a rare complaint, Car and Driver notes "felt a touch slow just off-center," but the same reviewer goes on to say the "steering feel was meaty and communicative."
The front and rear independent suspension is tuned for handling, so the tester from Cars.com mentions that while "the ride can feel brittle at times, the payoff comes on curvy roads." The Chicago Tribune agrees: "Its suspension is tuned to tackle long stretches at speed or twists and turns with pinpoint precision and agility." However, some critics found the suspension to be a little too firm. BusinessWeek calls it "sporty, probably too hard for most suburbanites" although Edmunds notes that the revised (from prior models) suspension settings do better with irregularities in the pavement, "making the X3 both smoother and more forgiving than the stiff-legged ride of yore."
Cornering is a strong point, with Cars.com commenting that the X3 offers "an impressively flat ride, with the 17-inch wheels glued to the road" and Edmunds claiming, "point it into a corner and it turns in crisply, free of the slack, delayed body motion you might expect from its tall, wagon-style shape."
The X3's four-wheel disc brakes receive quite a bit of attention from reviewers, with Automotive.com saying "these are the brakes of a vehicle that can be pushed to further limits than the average SUV." Brake Drying helps them stay dry in wet conditions; Brake Standby provides quicker action in emergencies, Start-off Assistant automatically holds the ute on hills to aid in climbing; and Brake Fade Compensation adjusts the clamping force in response to the slightest hint of brake fade. Cars.com calls the brakes "surefooted at their limits," though the reviewer mentioned that the pedal is "on the grabby side," which was contradicted to a degree by the tester from Consumer Guide, who says the X3 has "good brake pedal feel."
The 2008 BMW X3 features a standard xDrive all-wheel drive (AWD) system, which electronically varies front-to-rear torque and traction control to optimize grip. Kelley Blue Book calls it "one of the best all-weather all-wheel-drive systems on the market." However, the X3 AWD is not considered by most testers as a serious off-road system, rather an excellent system for on-road foul weather and for modest off-road excursions. Edmunds says it "dispatches all but the roughest terrain with surprising agility" and that abundant traction and ground clearance "allow the X3 to clamber up the trail with confidence." However, the Chicago Tribune notes that the "AWD system is meant for on- or off-road use but, without a low setting, we'd probably skip any Baja adventure." A Hill Descent Control system maintains the vehicle at a programmed speed. Despite the praises, the proclaims it is "not an off-road monster."
An available Sport Package includes firmer suspension and 18 x 8.0 wheels, 235/50R-18 H-rated all-season tires, with 19-inch tires available separately. About.com calls the sport suspension "firm and communicative" but warns that firm suspension is "less welcome on the freeway -- too much road feel makes cracks and bumps into sharp jolts in the cabin."