2012 BMW X3 Long Term Road Test - Audio & Technology

2012 BMW X3 Long Term Road Test

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2012 BMW X3: Hot CDs

January 9, 2013

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8

I don't usually listen to CDs in the car. But a business association that I belong to started a book club. I can get a lot of "reading" out of the way on my one-hour commute to the office.

One nice thing about the BMW X3's CD player is that it displays chapter titles on the display screen. Because we are always switching cars and I have to take my CDs with me, it helps me keep track of where I left off.

A weird thing about this CD player: When I eject the disc, it is hot. I'm mean like really hot to the touch. I doubt this is how it is supposed to be. Does anyone else have an X3? Let us know if you have a similar experience. The commenting feature should be functioning soon.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor @ 22,819 miles

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2012 BMW X3: Lost Without Google

January 3, 2013

2012 BMW X3

I knew the restaurant was somewhere in midtown Sacramento, I just didn't remember where. But when I plugged in the name of the restaurant in our 2012 BMW X3's nav, it couldn't find it. The nearest place resembling the name of the restaurant I was looking for was over 400 miles away. BUT when I plugged it into the Google function of our nav it found it right away. What gives?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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2012 BMW X3: Easy Off Display

December 03, 2012

BMW X3_display off.jpg

You can access the function to turn off the X3's display from seemingly anywhere within the iDrive menu structure. Just bump the iDrive controller to the right two or three times to call up the screen and select the Switch off command. To get the screen back, simply depress the dial controller or one of the function buttons.

This is a feature I'm starting to demand in my advancing age, usually only for night driving when there's already enough light pollution. I don't need nav on my drive home and I don't surf radio channels enough to need the screen on throughout a drive. I know there's a brightness control in there somewhere, but usually I just want a dark screen into which to steal a glance and consider the universe. A dedicated display off button near the screen, like the CR-V's, is most useful. But we all have too many buttons to contend with in our cars already. This'll do.

And for all its initial failures, iDrive is now one of the best media interfaces available. By limiting motion to up/down and side-to-side selection, iDrive feels less distracting than guiding your finger on a touchscreen or a cursor across a cinema display. iDrive isn't as pretty as Audi's MMI, but feels easier to get around. Mercedes' COMAND feels right on par with iDrive, although you'll get multiple opinions about that around our office.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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2012 BMW X3: Comfort Access Keyless Entry

November 29, 2012


One of the most convenient features of our 2012 BMW X3 is still the Comfort Access keyless entry. I've really grown to appreciate the idea of leaving the key in my pocket as I get into and then start the car. Each OEM approaches this function with slight variations.

BMW uses a handle that senses your fingers behind the door pull to unlock the car. In order to lock it, just slide your finger across a grooved section on top of the pull. With dew on the handle, that section is barely visible. Well, as I found, my finger was similarly invisible to the sensor. It would not work. Not until I first wiped the water off the handle.

This is by no means a deal-breaker, as I'd still pony up the cash for this optional feature. It is just an observation of a situation an owner will encounter.

Mike Schmidt, Vehicle Testing Manager @ 19,690 miles

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2012 BMW X3: Beware of Lightning

September 20, 2012

Our 2012 BMW X3 came with the "BMW Apps" feature, a $250 option according to the window sticker. The feature allows you to use some apps from your Apple iPhone and display them on the car's iDrive screen. You can check your Facebook or Twitter status, see upcoming appointments in the calendar, get a news feed, check Wiki Local and listen to Internet radio.

You can access these apps by either plugging in with an iPhone USB cord or by purchasing the "snap in adaptor," which will set you back another $250. The snap-in adaptor has a specific version for the iPhone 3G/3GS and iPhone 4/4S.

But what if you're someone -- like me -- who is about to get an iPhone 5 tomorrow? If I also own a BMW and have plunked down my money for the snap-in adaptor, is it going to work?  Looks like the answer is no.

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2012 BMW X3: Stopped Playing My iPod

August 28, 2012

For some reason our BMW X3 will no longer play my iPod. There is a USB connection in the center storage compartment. I've always plugged my iPod into the USB port and the BMW would recognize it and show "Donna's iPod" on the entertainment screen as a media choice. I would then select it and it would play normally. Easy.

But now when I plug in, my iPod makes a connecting noise but the BMW ignores it. I know my iPod is old but it used to work. What gives? I've tried all of the External Device choices and it won't play on any of them. I don't have an AUX cable.

Any advice?

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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2012 BMW X3: Is the Nav System Any Good? Plus, Bonus Photos from the Road

August 23, 2012

After my meandering L.A.-to-Seattle honeymoon road trip in the 2012 BMW X3 (which averaged 24.2 mpg), I have no qualms about recommending it for road trip duty, no matter how far you plan to drive. I've taken many long-haul road trips now, and in my mind, nothing tops the 2006 330i that Caroline Pardilla and I once drove to Vancouver... at the time, that car was the perfect compromise of comfort, performance and out-and-out fun. The X3 errs more on the side of comfort, but I enjoyed driving it as much or more than the 528i I took to Montana last summer, and often forgot that it was a crossover and not a sedan.

One aspect of the X3 I really enjoyed over 3,200 miles was the factory navigation system. It's easy to dismiss OEM nav units as needless add-ons in the era of smartphones. But as in our 528i, this system offers a lot of features that are useful during multiple days in the car -- and if I was going to buy a BMW, I would pay extra for this system.

To start, I love the widescreen format and the map graphics -- they're as good as a topographical atlas and you can follow along as you drive. I also find it easy to move around the map and between the various menus with the current-gen iDrive controller. Early versions of iDrive were terrible, but now the interface is quite good.

And I found a new feature that I like.

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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).

Driving Impressions

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.

bmw_X3_int08.JPG 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.)

bmw_x3_int12.JPG 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

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2012 BMW X3: Tuning the Driving Dynamics Control

May 22, 2012


I've been driving our long-term X3 quite a bit and I'm a fan. Sure the new Range Rover Evoque is better looking, but from behind the wheel the X3 kicks sand all over the Rover.

BMW equips every X3 xDrive35i, including ours, with its Driving Dynamics Control system. With a couple of buttons on the crossover's console you can dial in the cars feel more to your liking.

BMW says, "With the push of a button, increase the level of driving pleasure from COMFORT to NORMAL, NORMAL to SPORT and SPORT + in seconds. Almost immediately, the engine responds more spontaneously to the accelerator, releasing a high, revving roar, before quickly changing gear and tightening the steering and chassis.

Current settings are clearly displayed below the speedometer, and in SPORT mode, the drive train and chassis settings can be quickly and individually configured using the iDrive Controller for more dynamic driving on sand, gravel, or deep and packed snow."


Honestly, I'm not a fan of these systems. Most default to NORMAL with every twist of the key, so you have to reset it every time you get in the car. Plus, I still think all the engineers would be better off focusing on one perfect tune than having to figure out so many variations.

Whatever, they are here to stay.

Recently I reported on the similar system in our Audi A8, and how I like that car set up. In the X3 I like the quicker response of the Sport setting for the drivetrain, but not the BMW's steering. I still prefer the steering in the Normal setting.

Our X3's suspension settings are not adjustable.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 8,122 miles

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2012 BMW X3: Checking the Oil

April 19, 2012


This past Monday I checked the X3's engine oil level. Took just a few seconds from the comfort of the BMW's driver's seat. A click here and a click there with the vehicle's iDrive dial and the SUV's computer told me the "Engine oil level OK".

Then I checked our records. To date we have added zero oil to the BMW's turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six. Not a drop in nearly 7,000 miles of driving.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Cheif @ 6,812 miles

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2012 BMW X3's Handy Rear Lock Feature That the A8 May/May Not Have

February 16, 2012


I really like this feature in our 2012 BMW X3; that you can just hit that lock button which will not only lower and close the liftgate for you, but will also lock up the car. I like it because I don't have to dig out the key fob in my Bermuda Triangle of a purse to secure the car. And it's especially appreciated when my hands are already occupied with groceries or the like and I can't reach the key fob.

Out of curiosity, I checked out other long-termers that had that automatic-closing tailgate feature to see if they offered the same locking convenience. Turns out the Nissan Quest doesn't but I think our Audi A8L does. The reason I'm not sure is because sometimes when I hit that Close Tailgate button the Audi will make that sharp, high-pitched beep that the car is locked but it won't do this every time.

I tried hitting the button and walking a little bit aways. Nope. I then tried just standing there til the lid closed. Nope. And then another time when I wasn't thinking about it, it did lock the car. Heh?

I checked the Audi's manual to see if it would clarify how you can lock the car by just hitting that close button but all it said was "Press the button in the rear lid. The rear lid moves to the closed position by itself and soft close locks it automatically." M'kay. What am I missing?

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

audia8 021.jpg

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2012 BMW X3: Now That's a Nice Screen

February 28, 2012


As I mentioned yesterday, our Mazda 3 has one of my least favorite map screens. Our 2012 BMW X3's is my current favorite in our fleet. The screen has rich color, the picture is large enough to show more than the half block I happen to be on, and it has plenty of room to show street names even when zoomed pretty far out. It also offers nice perspective and can be customized to your viewing preferences.

Our X3 costs twice the price of our Mazda 3, so you naturally get twice the screen.

Donna DeRosa, Managing Editor

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2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i: Back-Up Camera Personalization

February 16, 2012

BMW X3 back up camera.jpg

Our long-term 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i (say that 5x fast) has a fancy-pants back-up camera system. Fancy, in that you can personalize several of the settings throught the iDrive controller.

The back-up camera is part of the Technology Package that will debit your checking account
by $3,200(!!).

On the jump I provide two epic vids.

Check out what you can personalize on the back-up cam...

With the iDrive controller you can:

  1. Switch from back-up camera to top view (very useful for tight parallel parking)
  2. Vary brightness
  3. Increase/decrease contrast
  4. Show pathway and turning circle lines (you may or may not find them useful)
  5. Obstacle marking, with a small square with a color that matches the parking sonar warning, show in the Top View pic on the right of the screen. As I got closer to the ladder both the obstacle dectection square and the parking sonar color would turn yellow, then red

Pathway lines help the driver estimate the space required when parking (on a level road) and is dependent on the steering angle. Turning circle lines show the course of the smallest possible turning circle (on a level road.)

The videos are similar. The first one shows the obstacle detection in action, while the clearer second video does not.

What do you think? Is all this useful, or not really?

Albert Austria, Senior VE Engineer @ 2,500 miles

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2012 BMW X3: 7,000 Miles To Go

April 23, 2012


As you can see, according to our X3's iDrive system, the BMW is in good health. The computer also tells us that the crossover will need an oil change after another 7,000 miles of driving or in December of 2013, whichever comes first.

Considering we've already driven the X3 7,000 miles in just three months, we'll probably be changing its oil sometime this summer.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief @ 6,986 miles

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2012 BMW X3: Bluetooth Screaming

February 10, 2012


Normally, Bluetooth streaming audio is my last choice for audio sources. There are plenty of cars I've driven that have this feature, and most of them sacrifice some sound quality for convenience. Not our BMW X3, though.

I've been using Zee Avi's Concrete Wall and Smokescreen by Willis as test songs lately. Both have really strong bass with lingering highs, which for me, is an important component of a sound system's capabilities. Both were crystal clear through the iPod cable, but to my surprise, they sounded equally great via Bluetooth streaming.

A lot of times with Bluetooth, the bass starts to fall apart or the highs get scratchy; then there are the occasional signal cutouts. In our X3, none of these issues surfaced. The only problem I experienced was a random bout of unresponsive buttons. Twice on my drive home, the skip track buttons failed to work. I worked around this by switching sources and back, which seemed to reset it.

I'll still be using the iPod cable, since it charges my phone and allows for searching for songs, but the Bluetooth streaming is certainly a worthy substitute if the cable is missing.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

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2012 BMW X3: Silent Connection

March 08, 2012

bmwx3 011.jpg

I mentioned before in a Fiat 500 post that I really dislike it when cars' Bluetooth systems ask you to record a name for your phone. Kind of a tedious process. Plus who, besides reality stars, likes the sound of their own voice?

That's why I have to tip my hat to cars, like our 2012 BMW X3, that automatically detect your phone's name when you connect it. See? The technology is there.

Only thing that would make the X3's system even better is if it, like the Fiat, didn't have a limited number of slots to fill. But I'm sure that's an issue families wouldn't take umbrage with.

For a compelling video on how easy it is to connect an iPhone, hit the jump. Personally, I like that BMW has owner's manual videos.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

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2012 BMW X3: Tighten Up

March 28, 2012

BMW X3_sport prefs.jpg

Here's a feature I can see getting more use as gas prices climb. You want to sharpen the X3's steering and damper settings without tightening the throttle. Sport up the tall cross-utility-performance thing's ride manners without wasting milliliters of the costly fluid to an eager foot. Easy enough. Tap the Sport button, configure preferences, done. Good like Archie Bell and the Drells.

The chassis adjustment is actually noticeable at speed. Select the box and you can feel the suspension squat a bit and the steering get a little thicker. Kinda cool. Makes a boring freeway commute a little more stimulating (next time, canyon roads). Maybe I can coordinate a semi-controlled test around here: drain one tank in Normal mode, one tank in Sport (and/or another on Sport+) and see what we really lose in MPG.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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2012 BMW X3: I Don't Trust the Guide

February 20, 2012


Now that rear view backup cameras are all the rage these days, nearly every manufacturer is trying to come up with its own twist on the idea. In the case of our X3, BMW provides these handy guide lines that show the immediate space behind the vehicle if you back straight up and yet another set of guidelines that depict where it will end up if you crank the wheel one way or the other.

I have no idea how the vehicle calculates this, nor do I do I know if they're at all accurate. The one thing I do know is that I don't really trust them much. If I was planning to back up into the carport space above there's no way I would assume that the red line is correct. Instead, I would go slow, look over shoulder, adjust my line as I went in and largely ignore whatever the guide on the screen said.

Maybe I'm just paranoid, or distrustful of technology. Either way, there's no doubt I'm going to turn around and look for myself. Other drivers might not feel the same way and find these guide invaluable. I have yet to meet one, though, and doubt I ever will.

Ed Hellwig, Editor, Inside Line @ 2,639 miles

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