What's New for 2011
The 2011 BMW X3 has been fully redesigned. Highlights include an optional turbocharged engine, a standard eight-speed automatic transmission, crisper exterior styling, revised suspension tuning and an updated interior design with the latest iDrive electronics interface.
When it debuted seven years ago, the BMW X3 seemed like a natural follow-up to its larger linemate, the X5. But burdened with mediocre power, a jarring ride and subpar interior, the X3 almost seemed more like a corporate afterthought than a fully realized small crossover SUV. Thankfully, BMW softened the suspension and upped the power in successive years. And still blessed with BMW's typical handling excellence, the X3 found an audience among those seeking a sharp handler over road and trail but also a ride large enough to ferry a couple of golden Labs to the bark park.
With the 2011 X3, BMW is hoping to fully make amends. This redesigned X3 is about the same size as the first-generation model but features notable mechanical revisions. Under the more dynamic looking sheet metal is a redesigned suspension that softens the stiff ride of its predecessor. The X3 is still plenty taut and inspired in corners, aided by all-wheel drive, but now provides a more compliant ride. An optional adaptive suspension allows the driver to select from three different modes calibrating suspension, throttle, transmission and stability control settings.
This year also brings a second trim level to the lineup. The xDrive28i ostensibly replaces last year's xDrive30i, and offers slightly less power, but also a slimmer entry fee. The xDrive35i, with its turbocharged, 300-horsepower six-cylinder engine, is the target to which to aspire. Both models get a new eight-speed transmission, which rows through gears in a quiet fury to reach cruising speed. And when you need maximum acceleration in an instant, the transmission can drop from 8th to 2nd gear in a single direct snap, bypassing the gears in between.
Overall, BMW's refinements make the X3 a prime contender in the small luxury crossover SUV segment. But it's not without peer. The Infiniti EX35, for instance, drives with similar power and agility. The Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is less athletic, but feels more solid. The Audi Q5 is smoother around the edges, while the Volvo XC60 is more family-friendly. As you've probably gathered, each of these others offers a slightly different take on what a luxury crossover should be. But if you want one with performance leanings, the 2011 BMW X3 is a fine pick.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 BMW X3 is a five-passenger compact luxury crossover SUV available in two trim levels: the xDrive28i and the xDrive35i.
Standard features on the 28i include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, eight-way power front seats, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, automatic climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth, BMW's iDrive electronics interface and a 12-speaker audio system with a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod interface.
The 35i is similar but has 18-inch alloy wheels and adaptive xenon headlights. Options are largely grouped into packages, but several of the items are available separately. The Sport Activity package varies slightly for each model, but includes 18-inch wheels, sport front seats, roof rails and a sport transmission with paddle shifters. The Premium package adds a sunroof, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and leather upholstery.
The Technology package offers a rearview camera with top view, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth streaming audio and a hard-drive-based navigation system with voice commands and real-time traffic. Opting for the Dynamic Handling package gets you adaptive suspension dampers, variable-ratio steering and three driver-selectable drive modes. A Cold Weather package adds heated front and rear seats and a heated steering wheel.
Additional stand-alone options include 19-inch wheels. a rearview camera, a head-up display, a sunroof, keyless entry/ignition, a power liftgate, a 40/20/40-split rear seat, satellite radio and a premium audio system.
Powertrains and Performance
A 3.0-liter inline-6 engine powers both 2011 BMW X3 models. The engine in the xDrive28i makes 240 hp and 221 pound-feet of torque, while direct injection and turbocharging increase power in the xDrive35i to 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. A new eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode is standard on both models, as is AWD.
In Edmunds testing, an xDrive35i accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, a very quick time for this segment. BMW estimates the x35i's fuel economy at 19 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock disc brakes, automatic brake drying (useful in rainy weather), front airbags, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active front-seat head restraints, stability control, and hill descent control. In Edmunds testing, the xDrive35i stopped from 60 mph in a short 116 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
About an inch wider than its predecessor, the 2011 BMW X3 offers the driver a little more elbow room between the door and the front seat passenger. While still considered a compact crossover, the X3 has swelled to proportions similar to the previous-generation X5. Rear legroom is likewise generous.
The additional room is welcomed, allowing occupants to feel cocooned within the high-quality materials covering the seats, consoles and dash. The fourth generation of BMW's iDrive -- the system that controls settings, information, navigation and entertainment -- now offers better intuitive control, although the hybrid dial/joystick selector still requires some practice and patience. Thankfully, it falls to hand easily next to the gearshift, like a television remote.
With its weight distributed almost equally over its front and rear axles, the 2011 BMW X3 is an adept handler. The chassis feels light and the speed-sensitive steering gives the X3 a nimble quality that makes you want to swing it around. The Dynamic Handling package adds different driving modes, though we've found these to be an overly complicated solution to a problem that never existed in the first place. In particular, throttle response can be annoyingly slow, especially in the base, "Normal" mode. And when your foot's request is finally approved by the electronic governors, the engine catapults you through the transmission's eight gears. It's slightly unsettling, and only somewhat mitigated by selecting Sport mode. Once at cruising or highway speeds, acceleration is swift and effortless.