2012 BMW X3: Magic Transmission
September 14, 2012
Rumor has it the X3's 8-speed automatic transmission is filled with clutch packs and planetary gearsets which allow it to shift from 8th to 2nd gear without passing through the intermediate cogs. Rumor also has it that there's still a conventional torque converter involved in all this mechanical mystery and that it locks up quickly to boost fuel efficiency.
I have another hypothesis that goes like this: I think it's filled with fairy dust or, possibly, plain unfiltered magic.
The magic seeps out every time this SUV is driven. Now, admittedly, its tasks are few -- really just upshifting and downshifting. Yet so many transmissions manage these assignments with far less skill. This one, whether you let it decide for itself what gear to use or direct it according to your own whims, is immediate and quick shifting when that's what you want or utterly transparent when you'd rather take it easy.
Still, there's a difference between being transparent and being lazy. Nowhere does this shortcoming show up more clearly than in our Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8's 5-speed auto. Its wide gear spacing makes a huge production out of kickdowns by being at first reluctant (165 addition pound-feet of torque will do that) and then intrusive about the event. By comparison, the X3 is always in the right gear and willing to accelerate when I put my foot down. Certainly, three more cogs and a wider powerband helps.
That the X3 has 300 hp, rips to 60 mph in an IL-verified 5.8 seconds (5.5 with rollout) and still achieves combined fuel economy (in our hands, no less) of 20.4 mpg to date is uncanny. The EPA says it should earn 21 mpg combined, so we're not too far off.
Now that I think about it, though, I suppose it's neither fairy dust or magic that makes this the best tranny in any SUV, ever. Nope, It's probably just massive Bavarian resources and genuine hard work by capable engineers.
Josh Jacquot, Senior editor