2013 BMW X3

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Here’s the most important thing to know about the just-updated 2013 BMW X3:BMW lead

Despite pressure from our Dear Leaders in DC to make more fuel-efficient engines, BMW isn’t building less powerful engines – as many others are doing. In fact, the X3’s new standard engine – a 2.0 liter turbocharged four – is stronger than the old 3 liter in-line six it replaces.

And it gets better gas mileage, too.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is there’s still no diesel engine on the roster – though BMW has dropped some hints there might be by sometime in 2014.

Meanwhile, Mercedes has just launched a diesel version of the X3’s rival, the GLK – and Audi’s got a hybrid version of the Q5.

One wonders why BMW is holding back.

But the question for today is whether you ought to.

WHAT IT ISBMW dash

The X3 is BMW’s entry-level CUV and competes most directly with the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLK.

Base price is $35,900 for the four cylinder-powered X3 28i and $43,900 for the X3 35i, which comes with a larger six-cylinder engine.

Both versions come standard with BMW’s “xDrive” AWD system.

WHAT’S NEW

The X3’s formerly standard 3 liter in-line six has been replaced by a turbocharged 2.0 liter four cylinder engine – the same unit that’s also standard equipment in the 3 and 5 series sedans. Though smaller than the engine it replaces, it produces the same hp (240) and more torque (260 lbs.-ft,. vs. 221 previously) while also using less fuel: 21 city, 28 highway vs. the old engine’s 19 city, 25 highway.BMW road 2

To further improve efficiency – at least, potentially – BMW has made its formerly optional EcoPro driver-selectable engine management system standard equipment in all X3 trims, along with engine Auto-stop (which can be turned off). The formerly extra-cost power liftgate is now standard.

WHAT’S GOOD

New four is stronger than old six.

Pirouettes through the corners better than some sport sedans – and better than its competition.

More room inside than Benz GLK; more fun to drive than the Q5.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

New four sounds like a four.BMW shifter

Game Boy-style electric gear selector gives little physical feedback.

Auto stop’s slight efficiency gains (maybe 1 MPG, either way) probably irrelevant to people who buy $40k cars.

No diesel… yet.

No manual transmission, period.

UNDER THE HOOD

The decimation of eight cylinder engines is already well under way and now sixxes are in the sights of the no-goodniks in DC. BMW is merely joining the ranks of other automakers who have been forced to nix their sixxes in favor of more fuel efficient fours – in order to comply with the fuel economy fatwas issuing from our Dear Leaders.

But, unlike some of the others, BMW hasn’t downrated as it has downsized. The new 2.0 turbo four that replaces the previous 3.0 inline six not only achieves par, horsepower-wise (240) it also produces significantly more torque (260 lbs.-ft.) with all of it coming online at just 1,250 RPM – exactly 1,500 RPM sooner (well, lower in the powerband) than the old six’s 221 lbs.-ft.bmw engine- which arrived at 2,750 RPM.

Acceleration is almost exactly the same: zero to 60 in about 6.7-6.8 seconds. But fuel economy with the new engine is now 21 city, 28 highway – vs. a less CAFE-friendly 19 city, 25 highway with last year’s straight six.

These numbers are dead heat with the Audi Q5 2.0T (zero to 60 in about 6.8 seconds; 20 city, 28 highway) and noticeably better than the Benz GLK350 (zero to 60 in 7.2 seconds and 16 city, 22 highway) which still comes standard with a six. However, Mercedes is bringing out a new engine, too. A diesel four cylinder engine. It displaces 2.1 liters and makes a reported 190 hp and 369 lbs.-ft. of torque – comparable in output to a six liter gas V-8.  When this review was written in late March 2013, only preliminary stats were available for the new BlueTec diesel-powered GLK, but it is likely to take its place as the clear leader – MPG wise – in this class. It should have no trouble achieving at least 35 MPG on the highway – and may exceed 40.

There is also a hybrid version of the Audi Q5;  however, neither its mileage (24 city, 30 highway) nor its performance (0-60 in about 6.8 seconds) are anything to chatter about – especially given its $50,900 base price – which is $12-$15k higher than the base prices of either the X3 28i or the Benz GLK.

You can also move up to the X3 35i, which still comes with an in-line six, but turbocharged – and making 300 hp and 300 lbs.-ft. of torque. This engine cuts the X3’s 0-60 time down to 5.5 seconds, which absolutely blows the V-6 GLK (and probably the new diesel GLK, too) out of the water and also edges out the Q5 equipped with its optional supercharged 3.0 liter supercharged V-6 (5.8 seconds to 60).BMW pipes

Interestingly, this engine’s EPA stats – 19 city, 26 highway – are actually better (if just slightly) than the 2012 model’s non-turbo 3.0 six.

Either way, xDrive AWD is standard – as is an eight-speed automatic transmission and the already-mentioned Auto Stop thing. When you come to a red light or otherwise roll to a stop with the transmission in Drive, the system will automatically turn the engine off in order to avoid burning fuel while just sitting. When the driver takes his foot off the brake, the engine is automatically re-started. Both Audi and Benz afflict their rides with similar technology.

BMW also includes Eco Pro with either engine. Via console-mounted buttons, the driver can select from programs that fine-tune certain operating parameters for maximum fuel economy – or maximum performance.

ON THE ROADBMW action

Don’t sweat the loss of two cylinders and the liter of displacement – as far as power/performance. If anything, the new turbo four is more responsive than the old non-turbo six. The increase in torque output – and the immediacy of its availability – is an objective improvement. Push the gas pedal and the X3 goes right now – unless, of course, Auto Stop is on. If it is, there will be a very slight – but noticeable – delay in forward progress. There will also be a slight – but again, noticeable – shudder/vibration as the super-fast/high-torque starter spins the engine back to life.

Now, the sailfawn-gabbling set probably won’t notice the slight delay – just like they don’t notice that the light has gone green until it already has been green for a moment or three. But if you’re the sort who anticipates the green – and are ready to go the moment it does turn green – you may find the momentary pause annoying. Also the slight – but noticeable – vibration as the engine re-fires. Given the microcosmic fuel economy benefit Auto Stop confers, I suspect most X3 owners will be grateful there’s an off button – integrated conveniently with the push-button ignition. However, I’m pretty sure you have to turn the thing off every time you go for a drive (assuming you want it off). Just like the traction control and other such things. There may be a way to program the car to turn Auto Stop off permanently, but I couldn’t find any such procedure in the manual.BMW auto stop

Which brings up Eco Pro. Like Auto Stop, this is a fuel-saving (desperation) measure – mostly there to placate the people dictating how cars ought to be built rather than those who are actually buying them. I say this because when engaged, Eco Pro mutes the performance/responsiveness of the X3’s drivetrain for the sake of ekeing out the best-possible gas mileage. But who buys an X3 for muted performance and less responsiveness? Aren’t there Honda CR-Vs for that? Eco Pro also wicks down the AC – as well as the heater in the winter. Again: We are talking about a vehicle that starts at nearly $40k – and which can easily crest $50k fully loaded. Probably the people who are in the market for such a vehicle aren’t much interested in sweating – or freezing – for the sake of saving an extra 1-2 MPGs.

Luckily, again, this is something you don’t have to suffer – by simply not electing to engage it. Keep the system in Sport – or better yet, Sport plus, which turns off the traction control and very noticeably increases the sharpness of throttle tip-in as well as the quickness of the eight-speed automatic’s gear changes. It’s much more satisfying. And appropriate. You have a BMW – act like it.

Or go buy a Prius V.BMW eco pro

The four’s only objective weakness, as I see it, is its sound. It sounds like a four. Not bad – just like a four. The six sounds richer – deeper. Being an in-line six (extremely rare) it also sounds like no other six. That distinctive in-line six pitch is gone now. Well, it’s gone from the four cylinder-powered X3. Of course, you can still upgrade to the X3 35i . The price jump – $5,100  – isn’t too extreme (it’s $7k less than a hybrid Q5) and you do get a pretty significant uptick in both power and performance – without a significant drop in fuel economy. The turbo’d six manages 21 city and 26 highway – which is a hardly noticeable downtick (except to the government) relative to the 2.0 engine – and significantly better than the less powerful 268 hp 3.5 liter V-6 in the current Benz GLK350 (16 city, 22 highway).

The BMW six also does slightly better than the Q5’s optional 3.0 liter (272 hp) V-6, which registers 18 city, 26 highway.BMW drive 3

Not for nothing has BMW got a rep for building “driving machines.” Though a crossover SUV – which means it rides higher off the ground than a car and is also heavier than most cars its size (at 4,112 lbs., the X3 28i weighs 817 lbs. more than the 3,295 lb. 3 Series sedan it’s based on) it is nonetheless a very agile, light-on-its-feet-feeling ride. The quickness and accuracy of the steering is decidedly un-CUV, as is the way the X3’s suspension acts as a sort of centripetal force generator – keeping you in the curve,  holding the line – despite the ever-increasing velocity vectors. In plain English, this thing can be leaned on.

They say you can’t have your cake and eat it, too – and there’s truth to that. But it’s not so glaring in this case. Some crossovers – including the Benz GLK – require you to slow down to (or near) the posted speed limit in the curves – not so much because of the law, but because they’re just not set up for a faster lateral pace and will let you (and you passengers) know it.

Of the Big Three – the X3, the Q5 and the Benz GLK – I found the X3 to be the most eager –  with the Q5 a close second … and the GLK a distant third.

To be clear – and fair: There’s nothing wrong with the Benz. It’s just set up differently. Apples – oranges. And that’s a good thing.

Different strokes, different folks.

AT THE CURBBMW curb

Size-wise, the X3 is significantly (about five inches, overall) longer than the truly compact-sized Benz GLK and so not surprisingly, has significantly more cargo capacity behind its second row (27.6 cubes vs. 23.3 cubes for the Mercedes) as well as almost two inches more legroom for backseat riders (36.8 vs 35.1 inches). The smaller-on-the-outside Benz does – somewhat surprisingly – have about an inch more legroom up front – 41.4 inches vs. 39,9 for the X3.

The Audi Q5, on the other hand, is about the same size overall as the X3 – but has a more space-efficient interior than either the GLK or the X3 – with 29.1 cubic feet of trunk space as well as significantly more front and rear seat legroom (41 inches and 37.7 inches, respectively) than the BMW.

In terms of aesthetics, the Q5 and the X3 are very close. Both sit lower (65.2 inches off the ground for the Audi, 65.4 for the BMW – vs. a much more upright 66.9 for the Benz) but – interestingly – the X3 has the most generous ground clearance of the three: 8.3 inches vs 7.9 for both the Q5 and GLK.

The Benz has a more formal – more SUV-ish – silhouette while the the Q and the X lean hard toward the sportwagony.

Which, in truth, is what they are.

THE RESTBMW dash

I have nothing but high praise for the X3’s new 2.0 engine. It’s not quite as symphonic as the in-line six but it does maintain the performance level established by the six – while achieving the uptick in gas mileage necessary to keep Uncle from breathing down BMW’s neck for awhile. Unfortunately, this will not be the end of it. As much-improved as the X3 2.0’s mileage is relative to the previous in-line six, it’s not improved enough to make the soon-to-be-in-force government mandate of 35.5 MPG average.

I expect two things to happen. First, BMW will probably have to down-power the 2.0 X3 next year – or the one after that – to get it closer to 35.5 MPG (which goes into full effect in 2016) since the four-cylinder X3 is the version of the X3 BMW sells the most of  – which matters as far as CAFE averages. The six-cylinder X3 will become very high-end/high cost and thus, low volume –  just as the V-8 equipped versions of many current cars have already become. Within the next few years, sixxes (in-line and otherwise) will, in their turn, likewise come to be regarded as “high powered” and “exotic”  – with exotic price tags.

V-8s, by 2016, will be what a fully-automatic Browning .50 cal is today: An item only the rich and determined may possess.BMW dear leader

Thank our Dear Leaders for this.

I still miss the presence of a manual transmission among the X3’s roster of options. It has been gone since 2011 – and looks to be gone for good. Again, for reasons of economy. A modern, learning algorithm/electronically managed automatic is more consistently precise than a human driver – and thus, more fuel-efficient. This – along with declining buyer  interest in shifting for themselves – accounts for the receding availability of manual gearboxes across the line. To be absolutely fair, the eight-speed automatic is a brilliant piece of work that can adjust in an instant from race car snappy to Camry complacent. But an automatic BMW… ?

It’s just not the same.

The thing I really miss, though, is a turbo-diesel. In Europe, BMW offers two diesel engines in the X3. A 2.0 liter and a 3.0 liter. There is a rumor (see here for more) that a diesel engine will become available in the X3 sometime during model year 2014. But EPBMWnothing has been officially confirmed yet.

Meanwhile, Benz has just put that 2.1 liter, four-cylinder diesel engine onto the GLK’s roster. Neither BMW – nor Audi – have anything to counter it.

At least not as of early spring 2013.

And 2014 is a long way off… .

THE BOTTOM LINE

The X3 is very good – as good as it probably can be, given the times. But it would be a lot better with a diesel under its hood.

Or better yet – our Dear Leaders out of our lives.

Throw it in the Woods?

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  17 comments for “2013 BMW X3

  1. James
    April 2, 2013 at 12:30 am

    The advantage of a compression ignition engine is its simplicity. High mileage and torque from a strong block and head that is unencumbered by excessive plumbing.

    Ah, the good old days.

    I wish I could get excited for new diesel engine choices, but I can’t. Have a look under the hood of a modern automobile equipped with a modern diesel power plant. Observe the stranglehold that emission and engine control fitments have on an otherwise simple method of propulsion. The most heartbreaking thing I’ve seen to date is the under-hood view of the Ram trucks equipped with the Cummins engine. Even with allowances for the turbo-specific plumbing, I can’t see the ground! And this is in the engine bay of a full-size truck equipped with an inline-6 engine!

    It’s enough to make a grown man cry, I tells ya.

    A pox on the EPA. A pox on CAFE. A pox on DC.

    • swamprat
      April 2, 2013 at 12:43 am

      Yeah, and the Diesels don’t have the efficiency that they otherwise would without that pollution control. Sickening. Contemptible.

    • April 2, 2013 at 9:59 am

      Ditto, James.

      The numbers make it hard to justify buying a diesel. There is the initial buy-in (choosing the diesel over a gas engine typically adds at least $2k to the sticker price) and now – courtesy of the Ultra Low Sulfur Fuel thing, it costs more to fill up the diesel than it does a gas-engined equivalent. In many cases, on top of this, one must also top off the urea tank. Another expense. Meanwhile, the diesel engine isn’t nearly as fuel efficient as it could be (and used to be), thanks to the onerous emissions control requirements.

      So, let’s say the diesel gives you 8 MPG better mileage overall than a gas engine would in the same vehicle. It’s not enough to make a big difference in terms of your ultimate total costs of driving. And it will take at least a couple of years to even reach break even.

      But, there are some caveats.

      The numbers do start to look better if you can amortize the cost of the vehicle over say 15 years vs. 10. Keep the diesel longer – which should be doable – and your return ought to be better.

      If gas prices become higher than diesel fuel prices (possible), then you reach break even sooner – and pull ahead faster.

  2. swamprat
    April 2, 2013 at 12:42 am

    Although there are probably not a lot of those here, I would like to personally thank all of the idiots who wet their diapers in 2006 and gave us a Democrat run House and Senate in 2007. The 35.5 mpg CAFE standard was passed at that time. Apparently, it gave the president authority to increase CAFE further. This is all designed to kill the car industry one final time. All because a bunch of Parade magazine reading laundromat voters got pissed that we were paying $2.25 for gas and that we were at war with Iraq, which probably very few even played an active role. I would spit on a Democrat voter if I could get away with it, and that’s no April fools joke. Same thing goes for the Republicans as well.

    • BrentP
      April 2, 2013 at 2:48 am

      Ultimately CAFE is just a tax. Eventually a tax that will simply be passed on to car buyers as BMW and a few others do today. Automakers will be forced to just give up and consider it a cost of doing business.

      • April 2, 2013 at 9:31 am

        “Automakers will be forced to just give up and consider it a cost of doing business.”

        They already have. These new turbo engines (and so on) are Exhibit A. In the case of the base X3, the MSRP for the same vehicle (2012 X3 vs. 2013 X3) has increased by $1,750. The 2012 and 2013 base X3 28i are identical… except for the engine. The 2012 model with the old straight six stickered for $37,100. The 2013 with the turbo four: $38,850.

        Now, some of the price jump is inflation; some of it just the usual new model year increase. But if you look at the MSRP of the X3 35i, which is likewise the same as the the 2012 X3 35i, the price jump is less: $1,250.

        So, roughly, BMW has had to bulk up the price of the base model by $500 to offset the cost of replacing the formerly standard straight six with the new turbo four.

        • BrentP
          April 2, 2013 at 2:38 pm

          I meant more in the respect of just not going after any further gains in fuel economy simply to meet CAFE. BMW pays CAFE fines every year. They just pass the cost on. Their fuel economy efforts are probably more towards minimizing those fines and remaining competitive for those buyers that are concerned about fuel economy. Their competition is still meeting CAFE, but for how long?

          IMO Eventually all of the manufacturers will be paying the fines to put cars on the showroom floor buyers are interested in.

          • Myles
            April 2, 2013 at 4:30 pm

            I tired of this incessant meddling. Their fuel economy mandates conflict with their safety mandates. It reminds me of how the push for ROHS is in conflict with the push for compact florescent bulbs. They don’t want lead and mercury in electronics, yet they practically insist we use CF light bulbs, each of which contains…wait for it…a drop of mercury. I guess carbon dioxide is more dangerous to human health than mercury. Shows how much I know.

          • BrentP
            April 2, 2013 at 6:30 pm

            Those well behind the conflicting regulations know they are conflicting. It is part of the design IMO.

    • April 2, 2013 at 9:52 am

      Part of it is they believe there is such a thing as a free lunch. That Obama or The Chimp or whomever the sock puppet happens to be can just wave his magic wand – presto! – “we can have cars that get 35.5 MPG”!

      And we certainly can.

      Just not without cost.

  3. swamprat
    April 2, 2013 at 12:45 am

    Regarding this car, I don’t like it at all. I sat in one at a car show and found it to be cramped on the inside. Does anyone else get the sense that cars are getting bigger on the outside and smaller on the inside?

    • April 2, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Crossovers are not my big thing, either – but I like the X3 more than the Benz GLK (which is overwrought in terms of its styling and – no offense to GLK people – slow (for the price/class) and fairly clunky handling. The Audi Q5 is very slick, but I prefer the X3’s RWD-sourced origins.

      I have to try to view the cars I review from the standpoint of someone who is interested in that type/class of car.

  4. swamprat
    April 2, 2013 at 12:48 am

    All that said about diesels, they may be the only way carmakers will achieve the 35.5 mpg average without sinking performance. While diesel costs more than premium right now, expect the costs to drop as economies of scale take hold on ULSD highway fuel.

    • April 2, 2013 at 9:40 am

      Diesels will help – but as you know, there are two big problems. The first is diesel emissions control standards, which have become so onerous that not only are diesels much more expensive to make/sell, they are much less efficient to operate. The second is that the vehicles they’re going in continue to get heavier… because of the need to make them ever “safer.” So, for example, instead of a 1,600 lb. car with a 1 liter, three cylinder diesel that gets 70 MPG, we have 3,200 lb. cars with 2.0 liter four cylinder diesels that get 41 MPG.

      Current diesel-powered cars are only barely as fuel-efficient as the gas-burning economy cars of 30 years ago.

  5. Scott
    April 5, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    I’m surprised that all of the comparisons to Audi vehicles center on the Q5.

    I would have thought that comparisons to the Audi Q3 would be more apt.

    • April 5, 2013 at 1:28 pm

      Hi Scott,

      The Q3’s not out yet… it’s also smaller and (IIRC) will not offer a six cylinder engine. The drivetrain will (IIRC) be the 2.0 four/CVT with Quattro.

      BMW did a pretty smart thing positioning the X3 as larger than compact, but not a behemoth. It overlaps the compact and mid-sized segments, in terms of interior space and cargo capacity and also offers more power/performance than others in its segment.

      For me personally, it’d be a very close decision between the Q5 – which is a slick piece of work – and the X3 (which has the edge in terms of performance/handling).

  6. laars
    April 22, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    How about that torque? Will the grunt off the line give us good 0-60 times?

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