First Drive: 2007 BMW X3 3.0si

2007 BMW X3 3.0si First Drive

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2007 BMW X3 SUV

(3.0L 6-cyl. AWD 6-speed Manual)

More of a good thing

It appears BMW has been reading the reviews of its soon-to-be former X3 3.0i sport-activity vehicle. The chief complaints of economy-grade interior treatments, lack of power, harsh ride qualities and a relatively high asking price have all been addressed with the 2007 BMW X3 3.0si, which is on dealership floors right now.

You'll have to gaze hard to spot the new X3's exterior changes. The easiest to recognize are the black front bumpers with integrated foglamps, replacing the elaborately contoured body-colored bumpers, and the badge on the front-quarter panel, of course, which now reads "3.0si" instead of "3.0i."

Under the skin, however, the changes are far more pronounced.

New power
The new lighter magnesium-aluminum 3.0-liter engine increases output some 35 horsepower over the outgoing engine of the same displacement and dimensions. With 260 hp available at a now higher 6600 rpm (versus 225 hp at 5900 rpm), one might think the X3 would be less happy around town. Fortunately, the peak torque, which is what you really feel, is both increased to 225 pound-feet (from 214 lb-ft) and it arrives at a much lower 2750 rpm (versus 3500 rpm).

This immediately translates to a more relaxed and powerful low end, combined with brighter, more energetic high-rpm characteristics. Despite the added power, fuel consumption (of premium-grade gasoline) has improved marginally, at 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway for the standard six-speed manual transmission, and 19/26 mpg for the no-cost optional six-speed automatic transmission.

New transmission/improved all-wheel drive
That new six-speed automatic (it replaces the five-speed) is responsible for much of the X3's newfound drivability. Performance and efficiency of the new automatic are also immediately evident. Shifting is noticeably quicker (50 percent according to BMW), and the company claims the new transmission accounts for a 6-percent gain in fuel economy, offsetting the increase in power and curb weight. A new torque converter lock-up rationale (lock-up occurs nearly from a standstill) allows the X3 to feel more responsive to throttle input. Standard "Drive," "Sport" and manual-shifting positions are retained.

BMW's standard xDrive all-wheel-drive system is now integrated into the X3's dynamic stability control system (DSC), as well as ABS functions and dynamic traction control system (DTC). From our spirited highway drive, as well as a decent amount of off-roading, the results were pretty obvious. The X3 3.0si still drives like a sport wagon, but the point at which the former stability system would have made a correction is now further away. No doubt the electronics were hard at work, but the revised suspension settings were also more able to cope with irregularities in the pavement, making the X3 both smoother and more forgiving than the stiff-legged ride of yore.

When we took the X3 off-road, we tried ascending a loose-packed hill with and without DTC and found the system was definitely more effective at putting the power in the right places at the right time. Going down the other side, we were happy to use the Hill Descent Control system, which maintains the vehicle at a programmed speed (adjustable on the fly) without the need to touch either pedal.

New-ish interior
For 2007, the X3 now joins the rest of the BMW lineup with a typically tasteful interior. Wood trim adorns grab handles and more of the dash has a higher-quality look and feel. A three-spoke steering wheel dominates the dash, whose geometry and two-tone hues now more closely resemble the current 3 Series. The screen for the $1,800 optional navigation system still sprouts out of the dash pad, but larger storage bins are sprinkled throughout, making the interior more useful and better integrated.

Cold weather, premium or sport packages alter the seating materials and support levels. Heated front seats are part of the Cold Weather pack, but newly optional heated rear seats are also available. Ultimate cargo room (to the window line) remains the same, a modest 54.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded and the vertical net in place.

Virtually the same price
The X3 3.0si comes with all these improvements and more for a minimal $1,200 MSRP increase over the 2006 model. Still, being priced right in the sweet spot at $38,695 puts it in the neighborhood of some stiff competition from Acura's all-new RDX, the stalwart Lexus RX 330 and even the Mercedes-Benz ML350 if you go easy on the options. This X3 is as all-new as a midlife refresh can be.

With BMW's sport-utility sales slipping recently, some might criticize BMW for letting the X3 languish too long before implementing all the enhancements. If the original X3 were as good as this one is, it might've avoided some of the early dissatisfaction and enjoyed even more success than it has. If you're in the market for a small and sporty sport-ute, put the 2007 BMW X3 back on your list.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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