What's New for 2008
The 2008 BMW X3 gets newly standard active headrests and a new "Sport Activity" package. The latter is basically an appearance package that includes 18-inch wheels, privacy glass, running boards and blacked-out window frames.
Given its very athletic personality, calling the 2008 BMW X3 the "3 Series of SUVs" wouldn't be a stretch. In fact, that statement would be most fitting, as this crossover sport-ute shares its platform DNA with BMW's perpetually praised compact sport sedan. As with other small luxury SUVs, the X3 is geared more toward providing optimum all-weather performance on blacktop rather than off-road ability. Sharp steering and quick reflexes provide plenty of everyday driving enjoyment. Adding to the fun is a powerful and turbine-smooth inline-6 that can be paired to a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission -- the latter a rarity in this class dominated by automatic-only rivals.
Luxury is part of this Bimmer's appeal as well, though it's of the understated variety. Look closely and you'll discover perfectly tailored stitching on the well-shaped seats, precise fitment of the real wood trim and switches that operate with the precision of a musical instrument. Of course, the X3 can also be fitted with a wide array of high-end features, and versatility is quite good thanks to a rear seat that can accommodate 6-footers, and generous cargo capacity that measures 71 cubic feet when that seat is folded.
Admittedly, some folks may find the X3's ride too stiff, and for its size, it's pricey. There are a number of midsize premium-badged crossovers -- such as the Cadillac SRX and Lexus RX 350 -- that can be had for the same money. There are also an increasing number of small luxury crossovers to think about, such as the Infiniti EX35, Acura RDX and Land Rover LR2, all priced some $2,000 to $5,000 less. But for those looking for the maximum in driving enjoyment from their compact SUV, the 2008 BMW X3 is still the one. And this should come as no surprise considering its DNA.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 BMW X3 is a small luxury crossover SUV that comes in a single 3.0si trim level. Standard features include 17-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights, heated mirrors, automatic climate control, leatherette (a.k.a. vinyl) upholstery, full power accessories (including front seats), keyless entry and a CD player with an auxiliary audio input.
There are three major option packages: a Cold Weather package (heated front and rear seats, headlight washers and a ski bag), a Premium package (leather seating and additional interior and exterior lighting), a Sport package (firmer suspension calibrations, 18-inch alloys, sport seats and body styling accents) and a Sport Activity package (18-inch alloys, running boards, privacy glass, blackout window frames).
Stand-alone options include 19-inch wheels, park assist, an upgraded sound system, HD radio, a navigation system with iDrive, 16-way "Comfort" front seats and adaptive xenon headlights.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 BMW X3 3.0si is powered by a 3.0-liter inline-6 engine rated at 260 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque. There is a choice of either a six-speed manual or Sportmatic six-speed automatic transmission. Power is sent to all four wheels through an all-wheel-drive system. We've timed a manual X3 at 7.2 seconds for the 0-60-mph sprint. The automatic X3 earns 2008 fuel mileage numbers of 17 mpg city and 24 highway, while the manual version rates 1 mpg less in both instances.
The BMW X3 features full-length side curtain airbags, front-seat side airbags, active headrests, antilock disc brakes and a stability control system. Additional features include automatic brake drying (whereby the rotors are lightly "wiped" during wet weather conditions) and hill descent control. Rear seat side airbags are optional. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash testing, the X3 earned the highest score of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The cabin of the X3 is well thought out and beautifully executed. Function takes priority over opulence, with excellent switch feel and plenty of storage cubbies. A DVD entertainment system is not available, and the audio and ventilation controls can be confusing at first, but once mastered, they return precise adjustments. We'd skip the navigation system, as BMW's befuddling iDrive system comes with it. Get an aftermarket unit instead. Support and comfort from the firm, well-shaped seats are excellent. Overall the X3's cabin is an environment geared for serious driving rather than entertaining diversion. Folding the rear seat forward reveals a healthy 71 cubic feet of cargo space.
If you judge small luxury SUVs solely by how well they slice through a curvy road, then there's no better one on the market than the 2008 BMW X3. The ultra-communicative and precise steering is simply the best, the spirited engine always has plenty of smooth thrust on hand, the suspension is nimble and the brakes are strong and resistant to fade. However, if what you're looking for is a family vehicle to haul the clan cross-country in maximum comfort or if you'd rather creep along a rutted trail than tear up the twisties, there are better choices.