2012 BMW X3: How Does It Compare To An '08 X3?
June 11, 2012
Of fortuitous coincidence, I happen to have a first-generation BMW X3 on hand. (It's my wife's car.) Since I've been driving our long-term X3, it seemed only natural to compare the two and see where the differences lie.
A little background reading on the first-generation X3, should you want it: The X3 debuted for 2004 and lasted until 2010. In reviews of the time, the X3 typically earned praise for its sharp handling (it was related to the "E46" 3 Series) but took a lot of flak for its harsh ride and disappointing interior materials. For the '07 refresh, BMW introduced a number of changes, including an upgraded interior, a retuned suspension and more power (a 260-hp 3.0-liter inline-6). You could get a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic (five-speed previous to '07), and all-wheel drive was standard.
My wife's X3 is a 2008 with 45,000 miles on it. She's owned it since December of last year as a certified pre-owned model. Major options include the Premium package (leather seating), the Sport package (firmer suspension, sport seats, full body-color exterior) and the 19-inch wheels (available only with the Sport package).
The two X3s here are pretty representative of BMW's driving dynamics path for the past half decade. I'll sum it up this way: more power, less responsiveness. There's no question that our long-term X3, with its 300 turbocharged horses, is quicker. And I really do love this engine. It's just bonkers that you can pull a 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds in a small SUV. The eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters is nice, too. It shifts quicker than the older six-speed, has rev-matched downshifts and never seems intrusive. You even get better fuel economy with this powertrain: 19/26/21 for the 2012 X3, and 17/24/20 for the 2008 X3. (The '13 X3 with the new 2.0-liter turbo-4, incidentally, will get 21/28/24.)
Another new X3 advantage: ride quality. The first-gen X3 rode more comfortably after the '07 refresh, but most reviewers at the time said it was marginal. Yet my wife's '08 has not only the sport-tuned suspension but the 19-inch wheels as well. It's as stiff as the first-gen X3 got. (Yet my wife is not, as you might think, a car enthusiast. At the time of purchase, she merely liked the monochromatic exterior look of the Sport package plus the shiny 19s. Basically, she was willing to trade comfort for style.) Our '12 long-termer rides more comfortably, for sure.
But I will say this: reports of the first-gen's X3's crap ride quality are a little exaggerated in my opinion. Perhaps if all you did is drive on downtown LA or Detroit streets, you'd hate it. But even with this maximum attack X3, the ride is acceptable from a car enthusiast stand point. Plus, you get something out of it: impressively sharp handling and steering. I suppose that sounds a little silly -- if that's what you care about, why buy a SUV? -- but if you need the utility and can own only one car, it kind of works out. Around corners, the '08 X3 has more communicative steering and a more playful nature. It seems to have more grip, too, as it's currently fitted with Pirelli summer-spec tires.
Another '08 advantage: throttle response. There's no electronic adjustability here because it's just done right to start with.
Interior and Features
I like the interior of both X3s. From a quick observational standpoint, there's not a whole lot of difference. Interior room seems about the same, as does comfort and interior material quality. But there are two areas that the '12 is superior.
The first one is interior storage. There's just a lot more room to put your stuff in the '12. The '08 has just one cupholder, its door bins are small and it doesn't have a center stack cubby.
The other is electronic interfaces. The '08 has an auxiliary input jack and Bluetooth, so it's not completely stone age. But the Bluetooth microphone doesn't work very well, and I'm not sure if you can get satellite radio from the stock head unit. In contrast, the '12 has a sharp-looking display screen, an iPod interface, Bluetooth (with streaming audio), satellite radio navigation and an iDrive system that's vastly superior to what BMW was offering in '08. (My wife's X3 doesn't have navigation, thankfully. And in some ways, not having iDrive whatsoever is kind of nice.)
Summing it all up, it does seem that the 2012 X3 is superior in just about every fashion. It's certainly better thought out, with BMW's second-gen changes being nicely aimed at the majority of small luxury crossover shoppers. But my wife still seems pretty happy with her X3. And it cost a lot less than our $53,000 long-termer. I'll have some of her opinions on the subject later this week.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 8,100 miles