2012 BMW X3 Review

Pros & Cons

  • Potent turbocharged engine
  • high-quality cabin
  • crisp handling
  • comfortable rear seat.
  • Priced higher than many competitors.
List Price Range
$13,281 - $13,978

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Edmunds' Expert Review

The 2012 BMW X3 is a fine (if pricey) choice for drivers seeking sport sedan dynamics in a crossover SUV.

Vehicle overview

BMW doesn't always get it right the first time. Take the X3, for example. When it debuted nearly a decade ago, the company's first compact SUV was obviously inspired by its established and respected X5 sibling. But although it had BMW's trademark athleticism, that first X3 suffered from some subpar interior materials, an overly stiff ride and a high price tag. There was, as the saying goes, some room for improvement. So BMW, looking to make amends, fully redesigned the X3 last year. The superior results carry on into this year, and the 2012 BMW X3 is certainly better for it.

Although this second-generation X3 still provides sport sedan-like composure in the corners, its suspension is compliant enough to take the rough edges off the road. There's even the option of a Dynamic Handling package that also changes the suspension damping, throttle action, transmission shift schedule and stability control calibration to suit the driver's mood and/or road conditions. The interior is as well, with high-quality materials and solid construction. Of course, being a crossover SUV, the X3 also provides the expected traits of all-wheel drive and respectable cargo capacity.

The 2012 BMW X3 is available with two engines, both of which suffer from BMW's silly naming conventions. The entry-level X3 xDrive28i (xDrive is essentially BMW speak for all-wheel drive) provides a fairly spirited drive, while the X3 xDrive35i provides a very spirited drive thanks to its turbocharged, 300-horsepower six-cylinder engine. The X3's eight-speed transmission also deserves special mention for its quick ability to optimize performance. When you need "right now" response it can drop directly from 8th to 2nd gear in one shot, bypassing the gears in between.

Overall, the 2012 BMW X3 is a major player in the small luxury crossover SUV game. But it's not without peer. The Infiniti EX35, for instance, offers similar power and agility for considerably less money. The Mercedes-Benz GLK350 is less athletic but feels more solid. The Audi Q5 provides a smoother ride, while the Volvo XC60 is more family-friendly. Each offers a slightly different take on what the ideal luxury crossover should be. But if you want one with a performance-oriented personality, the 2012 BMW X3 is a great choice.

2012 BMW X3 models

The 2012 BMW X3 is a five-passenger compact luxury crossover SUV available in two trim levels that correspond to the engine: the xDrive28i and the xDrive35i.

Standard features on the 28i include 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, automatic 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 sound system with a CD player, HD radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB/iPod interface.

The 35i is similar but has 18-inch alloy wheels, adaptive xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof and wood interior accents.

Options are largely grouped into packages, but several of the items are available separately. The Sport Activity package includes unique exterior trim, 18-inch (28i) or 19-inch (35i) wheels, roof rails, sport front seats, a sport steering wheel and a sport mode-equipped transmission with paddle shifters (35i). The M Sport package is similar but has different wheel styles, blacked-out exterior trim and chrome exhaust outlets.

The Premium package for the 28i includes power-folding/auto-dimming mirrors, the panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, front seat power lumbar support, additional lighting and more storage features (including nets and tie-down hooks). The Premium package for the 35i adds keyless ignition/entry, a power tailgate and rear window sunshades.

The Technology package offers a rearview camera with top view, front and rear parking sensors, Bluetooth streaming audio, a navigation system (with voice commands and real-time traffic) and BMW Assist emergency communications (with collision notification and enhanced roadside assistance).

The Dynamic Handling package includes adaptive suspension dampers, variable-ratio steering and three driver-selectable drive modes. The Convenience package includes the adaptive xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, a power tailgate and rear window sunshades. The Cold Weather package adds heated front seats and steering wheel along with a 40/20/40-split rear seat. The Cold Weather package II includes heated rear seats and headlight washers. There is also a Premium sound package that features 16 speakers and digital sound processing.

2012 Highlights

The 2012 BMW X3 is essentially unchanged save for a minor shuffling of optional equipment package features.

Performance & mpg

A 3.0-liter inline-6 engine powers both 2012 BMW X3 models. The engine in the xDrive28i makes 240 hp and 221 pound-feet of torque, while the turbocharged variant in the xDrive35i is rated at 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. An 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, which is about 1.5 seconds quicker than the class average. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined for the 28i, while the 35i actually achieves a slightly better 19/26/21.


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 123 feet, an average distance.

In crash testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the X3 received the highest possible rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side and roof strength tests.


With its weight distributed almost equally over its front and rear axles, the 2012 BMW X3 handles with the adeptness that you expect from this German brand. 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.

Yet this athleticism doesn't take away from its ride quality that is comfortable and composed even over rough pavement. When it comes to gobbling up lots of highway miles, it's hard to complain about the X3. The same can be said about its engines. While the base 28i inline-6 delivers competitive power and acceleration for the class, the turbocharged 35i offers a degree of quickness that none of its competitors can match.


The X3's interior will be familiar to anyone who has spent time in a BMW product. Classic analog gauges, sensible ergonomics and a restrained overall aesthetic combine to create a pleasant driving environment. Occupants will feel cocooned within the high-quality materials covering the seats, consoles and dash. Though there is a learning curve involved, the standard iDrive electronics interface is intuitive and one of the best of its kind.

While still considered a compact crossover, the current-generation X3 has swelled to proportions similar to the previous-generation X5. As such, room for front passengers is more than ample, while rear legroom is downright generous. Total cargo capacity with the rear seats folded is 63.3 cubic feet, an average figure for this type of vehicle.

Consumer reviews

Read what other owners think about the 2012 BMW X3.

9 reviews
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Most helpful consumer reviews

Love the car but...
This is our first 2012 BMW X3 35i M Sports Package. My husband and I love the car but it drifts right. Even on a flat road the car will veer to the right if you let go of the steering wheel. The dealership had it for a week and came back and said that this was normal for the X3's. Does anyone else's X3 drift to the right? It's very noticeable at high speeds but you can still notice it at lower speeds.
Great Choice
I'll preface my review in that this is my 3rd BMW. Each time I've gone to find a car, I have done an exhaustive analysis with spreadsheets multiple test drives and comparison figures recorded. Let's face it, cars aren't cheap and we should be happy with our choice after the deal is done and we drive off the lot. On each search, while the BMW wasn't the winner for all of the categories it had the best combination of features/performance and price that I was looking for. My advise, order one, and you can still work your dealers over and you can get a much better price -- even as good as one already built. Also work them on financing and get the deal you want you'll enjoy the final x3.
the most fun to drive suv
so far 3000 miles of fun driving, no problems, excellent comfort and quality all around, my 5th bmw, great power
It can't get any better than this.
This is my 7th BMW and I couldn't be happier. Looks stunning. Drives like a sports car. Comfortable sports seats that hugs you. It's been 300 miles and I'm still getting use to the fun. I had the older X3 and this is night and day. The old x3 drived like a truck and was not comfortable at all. The 2012 model is extremely smooth with its 7 gears.

Features & Specs

See all Used 2012 BMW X3 features & specs


IIHS Rating
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety uses extensive crash tests to determine car safety.
  • Side Impact Test
  • Roof Strength Test
  • Rear Crash Protection / Head Restraint
  • IIHS Small Overlap Front Test
    Not Tested
  • Moderate Overlap Front Test

More about the 2012 BMW X3
More About This Model

It's hard to believe the 2012 BMW X3 is almost here. The BMW X3 is the Euro-premium soft-roader that got the Europeans thinking crossover instead of sport-utility all the way back in 2003, and we have now arrived at the second iteration. They grow up so fast, don't they?

For the second-generation X3 known internally as "F25," BMW brought us out to a patch of rural Bavaria to thrash around a preproduction vehicle. We were to negotiate some mild off-road stuff, do some splashy stuff and then drive several glass-smooth stretches of two-lane pavement where we would apparently be permitted to gun it while keeping an eye peeled for chickens and horses wearing lederhosen. Of the preproduction units present, we jumped at the new top-of-the-line 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i.

The first-gen X3 (known as the "E83") stops its build in early August of this year at the Magna Steyr plant in Graz, Austria, and by then, the model will have sold over 600,000 units worldwide, making it the global sales king in its segment. A new production line at BMW's plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, is already ramping up for the 2012 BMW X3.

Is Bigger Better?
Until BMW finally started bringing us the 328i sport wagon, the X3 has always been as close as North Americans would ever get to the small, sleek haulers seen hither and yon in Europe. Yet sales figures of the current X3 have been pretty lackadaisical in North America, according to Bernd Hassenjuergen, the X3's marketing boss. Hassenjuergen tells us that the top markets for the X3 have been (in order) Germany, the U.K. and then the United States.

"This new generation X3," Hassenjuergen confides, "needs to flip that around a little to make the U.S. the No. 1 market." As you might have already guessed, the strategy for the new X3 involves making it bigger as a consequence, and now this compact crossover is only a tad smaller than the original X5. But this has also been done to the X3 to help create some marketing space for the BMW X1 crossover now starting deliveries in Europe.

We have to say that the current X3 does come off a little tight in the living-space department, plus there are a few too many bits of cheap plastic and the nonadjustable suspension feels wound up a little too tightly. To make the point, BMW forced us to drive a current X3 xDrive30i from the airport to the event site southeast of Munich. Once we arrived and clambered into the new X3, we noticed the new vehicle's clearly better ingress and egress given the broader overall dimensions and slimmer side sills. Exterior length for the new 2012 BMW X3 grows 3.2 inches, width by 1.2 inches and height by a bit more than half an inch. The wheelbase has been stretched a little more than a half inch as well.

Inside, the room for more American-size bodies has been maximized with a veritable mile of headroom in front and back, plus eight-tenths of an inch more rear knee room. All of this is appreciated and should immediately put this X3 on more shopping lists than the outgoing model managed. Basic cargo room is up to 19.4 cubic feet behind the second-row seat, an increase of almost 3 cubic feet.

Sticking to Less Tech
So far as the basic approach of what to offer as standard and optional, the new-generation X3 steers away from the long, mesmerizing options list of the X5. Nevertheless, the 2012 BMW X3 has the new, ZF-built, eight-speed automatic transmission featured by the X5, both for the X3 xDrive28i that will be introduced in January 2011 and then the X3 xDrive35i that arrives a bit later. The "eighter" (as the Germans say) actually weighs less than the six-speed automatic that it replaces and improves the fuel economy of the new xDrive35i's turbocharged, 300-hp N55 inline-6 by 9 percent.

While it remains a challenge to parse out the options on the new X5 (or especially the new 5 Series), Hassenjuergen affirms, "We discovered that the typical X3 buyer worldwide doesn't tune in so much to all the high tech like a buyer in the next segment up does." All the same, the X3's options list ain't exactly skimpy. There is no Adaptive Drive tech package, but there is the simpler single-valve Driving Dynamics Control chassis setup as seen on the Z4 xDrive35i. It features just Normal, Sport and Sport+ settings, as it does without the Comfort setting seen on the high-end Bimmers.

Other available options include the three-spoke M Logic steering wheel with shift paddles (only for the 35i as tested here), then Dynamic Performance Control rear-axle torque vectoring (a miracle when it comes to moving the mass through the curves more like a Bimmer and less like a bummer). You'll find a head-up instrument display and Dynamic Cruise Control. Finally, you can have a range of wheels: 17-inch on the 28i, 18-inch on the 35i, up to 19-inch and even a 20-inch set through an approved aftermarket source.

Drives Like a Grown-Up Now
Even though the new X3 is set to be taken more seriously with all its bigger dimensions, the xDrive28i and the xDrive35i models weigh 45 pounds less than their corresponding outgoing models. We've still got loads of sheet steel on this small family-activity tank, but now the cast-aluminum, front and rear axle assemblies are lighter yet more rigid.

Thanks to less weight (the X3 is at about 4,000 pounds at the curb now), greater rigidity where needed, 17 percent more power and 31 percent more torque, the xDrive35i is a sincere piece of work that will have many more people in the X5 market thinking sort of smaller.

BMW has changed the supplier for the electric-assist part of the rack-and-pinion steering, and the action is much smoother through the full 2.3 turns lock-to-lock, the ratio altering at the rack mechanically depending on the steering angle, just like on costlier models. Though our elaborately costumed (camouflaged) tester was covered in black muslin inside to hide the details, we played a bunch with the chassis control as well as with the dynamic traction control (available only on the racier xDrive35i). Even in the wet, this fully optioned 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i with the chassis control set in Sport+ was a dynamic charmer. Though there is no hydraulically controlled antiroll bar here as on the 7 Series, we were seriously level through several yank-us-around curves.

The raw truth versus the soon-to-depart, naturally aspirated 30i version of the current X3 is that the new 35i gets us to 60 mph a full second faster with much greater comfort, so we'll see sub-6.0-second dashes in track tests once that can happen early next year.

Family Cloning
In rough terms, the 2012 BMW X3 looks exactly like the new X5, only smaller. We like the more mature presence of the X3 in this version, since keeping a SUV from looking quite so honking huge is a healthy thing. At the same time, it's substantial enough to keep traditional sport-utility buyers from thinking that they're giving up very much.

Besides the X3 xDrive28i and X3 xDrive35i, BMW managers are indicating a strong chance of an X3 xDrive35d coming to the North American market within another year after the introduction. Since this engine now makes up some 30 percent of the X5s sold in the U.S., and with the lack of such success with the 335d sedan, Munich might just remove that model from the U.S. portfolio and toss the allotted diesel motors into the X3.

When we asked about an X3 ActiveHybrid, we got the usual telling reply: "Everything is possible at this point." It's apparent that the new X3 will be wearing several more hats than we expected.

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

Used 2012 BMW X3 Overview

The Used 2012 BMW X3 is offered in the following submodels: X3 SUV. Available styles include xDrive28i 4dr SUV AWD (3.0L 6cyl 8A), and xDrive35i 4dr SUV AWD (3.0L 6cyl Turbo 8A).

What's a good price on a Used 2012 BMW X3?

Price comparisons for Used 2012 BMW X3 trim styles:

  • The Used 2012 BMW X3 xDrive28i is priced between $13,281 and$13,978 with odometer readings between 51814 and77808 miles.

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Should I lease or buy a 2012 BMW X3?

Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.

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