American Motors Corporation, the pride of Kenosha, Wisconsin, beat everyone to it in 1980.
Yes, the 2007 BMW X3 and 2008 Land Rover LR2 were anticipated decades ago by the deliciously unhip AMC Eagle, a four-wheel-drive station wagon with such ample ground clearance that it resembled an old man wearing trousers hiked up to his armpits. The Eagle unwittingly created a market segment that has since overrun the automotive landscape.
Today, everyone loves wagons. Yes, wagons. Too many of us are in denial about the truth that our SUV addiction is actually a craving for the virtues of the all-wheel-drive wagon. The litany of awkward vehicle classifications created for the SUV by vehicle manufacturers is simply an effort to make wagons more palatable for an unsuspecting audience.
They're taller now and have more off-road machismo, but now more than ever, today's luxury-compact SUVs come closest in spirit to the AMC Eagle.
Putting on a Game Face
We've brought together two modern approaches to combining the comfortable wagon with the multifunctional truck: a 2007 BMW X3 3.0si and 2008 Land Rover LR2 SE. We've already had a look at the features of each, so this is a comparison of performance, not appearance.
Each manufacturer approaches the Eagle's visionary concept from a unique perspective. BMW realizes that the vast majority of buyers are looking for all-weather capability in a street-driven vehicle. Meanwhile, Land Rover's LR2 might lack the low-range transfer case of its bigger brothers, yet it aims to be all things to all people in all terrains.
The 2007 BMW X3 arrives with a bodywork update that is subtle enough to pass unnoticed on the style radar of almost everyone. More noticeable is its new 3.0-liter inline-6, a heart transplant with direct fuel injection. The new six produces 260 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque, and it's matched with a six-speed autobox.
Land Rover begins sales of its all-new LR2 this May, displacing the Freelander as its entry-level model. There's a 230-hp, 234 lb-ft 3.2-liter inline-6 from corporate cousin Volvo that's matched with a six-speed automatic.
Character Always Counts
Despite similarities on the spec sheet, these two SUVs have real-world driving characters that are as different as bell peppers and jalapeños. The X3's steering is precise, with a pleasant heft to the steering effort at low speed that is typical of modern BMW sedans. The X3 doesn't quite drive like a 3 Series, but 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 control interface is compromised only by odd pedal feel during light brake applications.
Driven back-to-back with the X3, the LR2's softer character is even more noticeable. Hard braking makes the LR2 nose-dive toward the pavement like it's hunting for truffles, sapping your confidence. Nevertheless, the LR2 consistently bettered the X3's stopping distances during our instrumented testing, reaching a standstill from 60 mph in just 117 feet.
The LR2's soft suspension calibration is also at odds with the vehicle's numb yet relatively quick steering. This steering calibration, meant to minimize kickback from off-road obstacles, feels on the highway as if the engineers in Land Rover's steering department missed a few meetings with the suspension guys during the LR2's development. In short, the LR2 lacks the steering acuity and tidy body control of its Bavarian competitor, trading driver involvement for ride comfort.
Motivation for Daily Driving
The difference in disposition between the X3 and LR2 continues under the hood.
The X3's power plant delivers spirited power over the majority of its rpm range, while the transmission's gearchanges seem positively caffeinated in their eagerness. It's a bright, responsive pairing. Slide the X3's PRDNL lever into the quick-shifting manual mode and take note that you pull back for upshifts and tap forward for downshifts. We prefer this Euro-style layout, which simulates the position of 3rd and 4th gear in a traditional H-pattern shift linkage, to the Japanese preference for a layout based on 2nd and 3rd gear.
While the X3's powertrain has spunk, the LR2 behaves as if it returned from the dentist an hour ago and is still shaking off the after-effects of Novocain. Shifts are slurred smoothly with torque-converter slushiness aplenty, and the engine's lack of low-end thrust is exacerbated by the six widely spaced transmission ratios.
The actual performance of the LR2's powertrain is adequate, but the BMW's livelier temperament gives it an advantage.
Calibration at the Test Track
At the test track, the 4,121-pound X3 is much swifter, posting a 7.2-second 0-60-mph time and covering the quarter-mile in 15.4 seconds at 89.6 mph. In comparison, the 4,315-pound LR2 takes 9.3 seconds to reach 60 mph and then 17.0 seconds at 81.7 mph to run through the quarter-mile. It's a simple case of more power and less weight commingling in the BMW.
Moreover, the X3 delivers better as-tested fuel economy than the LR2. During 1,903 miles of mixed driving, the X3 averaged 19.2 mpg with a best tank of 20.9 mpg. The LR2 turned out an average of 16.4 mpg over 815 miles, with a best tank of 17.8 mpg.
If you're wondering what's behind the discrepancy in miles driven, blame the electrons. Our LR2 test vehicle had a schizophrenic starter that required replacement midway through our test, sidelining the LR2 for nearly a week. It's possible that the LR2's as-tested fuel economy could climb a bit with a larger sample set. This glitch is not reflected in our scoring but definitely gave us flashbacks to the "Prince of Darkness" era of British electronics.
Off the Beaten Path
In reality, these two utes will see far more urban crush than crushed gravel, but this didn't stop us from seeking out a rocky trail high in the desert mountains. We expected the BMW's road-biased nature would cripple it here. But we were wrong.
Abundant traction and ground clearance allow the X3 to clamber up the trail with confidence. From our logbook: "There's more travel than expected. I kept anticipating a whack! from the suspension as it bottomed into the bumpstops, but it never happened." We were also surprised to discover that good steering is good steering, irrespective of the road surface. "The X3's steering remains a delight off-road — so accurate and without kickback."
Despite the X3's surprising competence, the LR2 is our preferred choice for off-road duty. Though capable and confident on a two-track, the X3 is damped firmly for highway use, so the ride is much busier than that of the Land Rover, both on- and off-road. Softly calibrated underpinnings that make the Land Rover seem tippy on pavement provide the LR2 with not only off-road traction but also a welcome plushness over the rough stuff.
Land Rover's "Terrain Response" offers four combinations of ride height and electronic mapping for the throttle, transmission and traction control. Our notebook says, "Terrain Response is a boon to off-roading neophytes — just twist the knob and go on your way." The X3 offers just one driving mode, though its Hill Descent Control operates more seamlessly than that of the LR2.
The Eagle Has Landed
Our LR2 test vehicle enjoys an $8,025 advantage over the $47,975 X3, which goes a long way toward closing the gap to the athletic X3 as far as our appreciation is concerned. When it comes to luxury equipment, the Land Rover LR2 offers a solid value. Overall, the LR2 is something of a jack-of-all-trades, demonstrating proficiency in many areas but mastery of none.
Yet the LR2's price advantage isn't enough to keep the BMW X3 from keeping a firm grip on our evaluation scoring. Beyond the pure performance numbers — where the X3 simply runs away from the LR2 — the BMW is a much more engaging vehicle to drive every day, and it also dispatches all but the roughest terrain with surprising agility. It shines with the precision and refinement commensurate with its higher asking price.
Unless your world consists solely of dirt and rocks, the BMW X3 better suits the world of luxurious all-weather wagons than the Land Rover LR2. It's the (AMC) Eagle scout with the most merit badges.
The manufacturers provided Edmunds these vehicles for the purposes of evaluation.
|| 2007 BMW X3 3.0si
|| 2008 Land Rover LR2 SE
|Leather seating surfaces
|Park distance control
N/A: Not Available
Adaptive headlights: Turn the wheel and the headlights follow. They're part of a $1,050 package in the LR2, while BMW wants $800.
Bluetooth: BMW includes Bluetooth phone connectivity as part of the $2,550 Premium Package; Land Rover's $3,500 Technology Package bundles Bluetooth with navigation and premium audio.
Heated seats: Nothing's better than a warm backside on a cold morning. The X3's $1,000 Cold Weather Package includes front and rear seat heaters along with a ski bag and retractable headlight washers. Land Rover's $700 Cold Climate Package includes front seat heaters, heated washer jets and a heated windshield.
Leather seating surfaces: It's easier to clean mud from leather rather than cloth. Land Rover includes leather as standard equipment; BMW includes it as part of the $2,550 Premium Package.
Navigation: Can't find your way? A navigation system can help. It's a $1,800 stand-alone option on the X3. Land Rover's $3,500 Technology Package includes it with other desirables.
Park distance control: Warning chimes sound as you approach objects while reversing. It's standard on the LR2 and $700 in the X3.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says:
I really enjoy the X3's sporty dynamics 10 percent of the time, and I like the LR2's comfortable ride 90 percent of the time. I like the power and transmission of the BMW all the time, but prefer the styling of the Land Rover all the time. Despite their apparent similarities, they're really different machines with different strengths and weaknesses.
The 2007 X3 3.0si addresses all the issues I've had with this SUV since its introduction thanks to more power, less-punishing suspension, a smarter transmission and an interior appropriate for a BMW. On the other hand, the '08 LR2 represents such a colossal improvement over the Freelander it's no surprise it's been given a completely new name.
I found the LR2's cushy-riding suspension a welcome reprieve from the BMW's suspension settings. Sure, the LR2 still has some interior design quirks, but I like the mélange of Range Rover and Land Rover style inside and out. In terms of off-road-ability, it has the multifaceted Terrain Response controller, but it's still more of a soft-roader. Ultimately, it wouldn't fill me with the confidence I expect from a Landy, and just might get me stuck farther from help than the X3 would.
In the end, the X3 leaves me asking the question, "If I wanted an all-wheel-drive 3 Series wagon, why wouldn't I just buy one instead of an X3?" Conversely, if I wanted a real Land Rover, a V6-powered LR3 starts at $41,435, not much more than this highly optioned LR2.
So I'd choose the LR2 over the X3 3.0si because it's more friendly, more of the time. The LR2 is a little slower, but it doesn't feel like it's trying too hard to be something it is not, like a too-tall wagon with a sport package.
||2007 BMW X3 3.0si
||2007 Land Rover LR2 SE
Personal Rating (5%): Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the SUVs in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.
Recommended Rating (5%): After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the SUVs in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.
31-Point Evaluation (25%): Each participating editor ranked the two SUVs using a comprehensive 31-point evaluation process. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.
Performance Testing (15%): We subjected these SUVs to our standard set of performance tests. Scores were calculated by giving the best SUV in each category 100 percent. The other SUV was awarded points based on how close it came to the better-performing SUV's score.
Feature Content (25%): Editors picked six features they thought would be most beneficial to a consumer shopping in this segment. Each test vehicle was then given a score based on which of those features it possessed. More points were awarded when these features were standard versus optional, and no points were given if the feature was unavailable. The score given here represents the percentage of points, out of a total possible 18 points.
Price (25%): The numbers listed are the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the less expensive vehicle of the two. Using the "as-tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the other vehicle receiving its score based on how much more it cost beyond the first vehicle's price.