2011 BMW X3 Review and Prices

Last Updated: Nov 11, 2010

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2011 BMW X3 Buying Advice

The 2011 BMW X3 is the best premium compact SUV for you if you want to experience how an all-star automaker fights back under competitive pressure.   

The 2011 BMW X3 is the all-new second-generation version of this compact crossover. Now built at BMW’s manufacturing facility in South Carolina rather than in Europe, the 2011 X3 is slightly larger on the outside and roomier inside than the 2004-2010version. The 2011 X3, however, remains a performance- and sport-oriented on-road all-wheel-drive wagon rather than an off-road warrior. The new styling is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but the powertrain lineup expands to include a standard eight-speed automatic transmission. Best of all, the 2011 BMW X3 is available for a lower price than the version it replaces.

Should you buy the 2011 BMW X3 or wait for a 2012 BMW X3? Buy the 2011 X3. The 2012 X3 isn’t likely to get any changes worth waiting for. Buying a 2011 X3 helps you dodge the inevitable annual price increase, and you’ll be getting an additional year’s ownership out of the current generation.

2011 BMW X3 Changes back to top

Styling: The 2011 BMW X3 remains a five-passenger, compact crossover SUV with four doors and a rear liftgate. The 2011 model’s basic profile is similar to the prior generation’s, but its styling is a bit more refined. A new front-end treatment features the latest rendition of BMW’s double-kidney grille, larger lower air dams, and a newly sculpted hood. The brand’s trademark reverse-kink rear roof pillar returns. and the body sides retain some of the hollow-cheekbone look of the first-generation model.

The redesigned 2011 BMW X3 is slightly larger than its predecessor. It gets a stretch of a little more than a half-inch in wheelbase, the distance between the front and rear axles. Its body is 3.4-inches longer overall, and wider by 1.1 inches. Ground clearance and overall height both increase a half-inch.

All this adds up to a modest but welcome expansion of passenger room, especially rear leg room, and cargo space for the 2011 X3. It also helps BMW distinguish the second-generation X3 from the all-new BMW X1 crossover set to launch in the first quarter of calendar 2011. The X1 is smaller than even the 2004-2010 X3 and gives BMW a new entry-level crossover SUV.

Efficiency not extravagance remains the byword for the 2011 BMW X3’s cabin, though higher-quality materials are used throughout for a more luxurious feel. The fold-down rear seatback again splits 60/40 to maximize cargo room, with a 40/20/40configuration available to accommodate a pass-though for skis and other long objects while still accommodating two rear riders.

Like all BMW SUVs, the 2011 X3 qualifies as a crossover because it employs car-like construction in which the body and frame are essentially one unit. Such “unibody” assembly is lighter than the separate body-and-frame design of truck-based SUVs such as the Toyota 4Runner. Unibody SUVs can’t tow or haul as heavy a load as truck-type SUVs, but they deliver better fuel economy and have more car-like ride and handling characteristics.

Mechanical: The 2011 BMW X3 remains focused on athletic road manners and features a new transmission and a choice of two new six-cylinder engines. The 2010 X3 came with one engine, 3.0-liter inline-six with 260 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque, and a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.

The base 2011 X3 model – now officially called the X3 xDrive28i – has a 3.0-liter inline-six rated at 240 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque. BMW says this engine gives the 2011 X3 a 0-60-mph time of 6.7 seconds, nearly a half-second quicker than the previous generation, with credit due in some degree to the new automatic transmission (see below).

The 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i has a turbocharged and direct-fuel-injected 3.0-liter inline-six with 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque; BMW claims it’s good for a 5.5-second 0-60 mph sprint.

Enthusiasts who prefer to shift gears on their own are out of luck because the X3 is no longer available with a manual transmission. A sophisticated eight-speed automatic is the only transmission offered on the 2011 BMW X3, though it can be taken through the gears in manual fashion via the console-mounted shift lever or steering-wheel paddles.

The more gears an automatic transmission has, the greater its ability to manage engine speed optimally, either by cruising in a relaxed ratio to maximize fuel economy or by summoning a quicker ratio for power. BMW says the 2011 X3’s eight-speed is engineered to provide quicker acceleration in lower gears and quieter operation and better fuel economy at higher speeds. It can even downshift directly from eighth gear to second gear -- without touching a gear in between -- for maximum highway passing response.

The 2011 BMW X3 comes standard with the latest version of BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. It’s calibrated to maximize dry-road handling and wet-weather traction in equal measure. Unlike many premium compact crossovers that are available with two-wheel-drive in addition to AWD, BMW equips all second-generation X3s with the handling-enhancing xDrive as part of a game plan to position it as a technically sophisticated driving machine. Under normal conditions, xDrive splits the engine’s power 40/60 front/rear to deliver a sportier rear-drive feel. It has the ability to send as much as 100 percent of the engine’s power to either axle in reaction to road and driving conditions.

BMW says the 2011 X3’s redesigned suspension delivers added agility and addresses a criticism of the previous generation by furnishing smoother ride quality. A newly optional Electronic Damping Control system is said to enhance these abilities by automatically adjusting the suspension’s stiffness according to the vehicle’s speed and load and the condition of the road on a real-time basis. BMW claims it can perform this task so quickly that it can sense a pothole at the front wheels and adjust the rear suspension’s damping by the time the back wheels reach the same pavement irregularity.

The Electronic Damping Control option also includes a Performance Control mode that’s claimed to benefit handling by automatically adjusting the AWD system to a 20/80 front/rear power split during cornering. It can also engage the inside rear brake while sending added power to the outside rear wheel to fight noseplow and help rotate the vehicle quickly and securely through a curve.

As is available in other BMW models, an optional Driving Dynamics Control system allows the driver to tailor suspension firmness, power steering assist, and engine, transmission, and stability control response according to “normal,” “sport,” and “sport plus” modes. When fitted with the optional navigation system and iDrive system controller, these performance aspects can be individually customized when the “sport” mode is engaged.

Features: The 2011 X3 continues to follow a BMW philosophy that emphasizes standard equipment heavy on fundamentals while relegating non-essentials to the options list. But BMW also invites U.S. buyers of the second-generation X3 to cherry-pick options with the same freedom exercised by overseas customers. Two factors make possible this newfound power of choice: the transfer of X3 production from Austria to BMW’s plant in South Carolina; and a new ordering system that enables U.S. buyers to specify equipment as few as six days before their X3 starts down the assembly line.

The 2011 BMW X3 counts among its standard equipment a full array of traction and antiskid systems, large four-wheel disc brakes, alloy wheels, and an assortment of airbags that includes head-protecting side curtains for both seating rows. A tilt/telescoping steering column, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, power windows, locks, and heated mirrors, and BMW’s “leatherette” upholstery are also included.

Newly standard items include Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone connectivity, an iPod/USB interface for the audio system, and an anti-theft alarm. The 2011 X3 xDrive35i further adds Xenon adaptive headlamps that automatically pivot to better light the way through curves.

Among the 2011 BMW X3’s myriad available features, offered in packages or as stand-alone items, are leather, wood, and aluminum interior appointments, a large panoramic moonroof, heated steering wheel and seats, a voice-activated navigation system, and a rearview camera with BMW’s Top View feature that lets the driver see what’s behind, in front of, and to the sides of the vehicle for easier and safer parking. Newly offered is Blackberry smartphone integration that enables motorists to read e-mail via the optional navigation system’s display screen while parked, and have the system read them aloud while driving.

The automaker’s controversial iDrive system is optional. It’s designed to concentrate in a single console-mounted, knobby joy stick and one dashboard screen all the control necessary to govern a BMW’s complicated communications, navigation, climate, audio, and car-system settings. Responding to criticism that iDrive is distracting to manipulate and understand while driving, BMW has over the years simplified the system, restored conventional dashboard buttons for some functions, and, as on the X3, made it optional instead of standard on certain models.

2011 BMW X3 Prices back to top

Base price range for the 2011 BMW X3 is $38,500-$42,375. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; BMW’s fee for the 2011 X3 is $875.)

Base price of the 2011 BMW X3 xDrive28i is $38,500. That’s $2,100 less than the equivalent 2010 X3’s base price, despite the added features. Holding the line on prices helps BMW keep the X3 competitive with rival premium crossovers, such as AWD versions of the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK ($38,375 base price) and  the Infiniti EX35 ($36,425).

The 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i, with its turbocharged engine and added features, is priced from $42,800. That’s slightly less than the $43,375 starting price of the AWD Audi Q5, which has a 270-horsepower V-6.

Option prices were not available in time for this review, but expect a fully equipped X3 to easily top the $50,000 mark.

2011 BMW X3 Fuel Economy back to top

EPA mileage estimates for 2011 models had not been released in time for this review. But a fair estimate of 2011 BMW X3 fuel-economy ratings would be 19/27 mpg city/highway for the xDrive28i and 18/26 for the 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i.

That compares with fuel-economy ratings of 17/24 for the 2010 X3 with both its manual and automatic transmission. And it would make the 2011 X3 competitive with most entries in the premium compact-crossover segment.

2011 BMW X3 Release Date back to top

The 2011 BMW X3 should be in showrooms by late winter 2010.

What's next for the 2011 BMW X3 back to top

BMW could decide to roll out additional engine choices for model-year 2012 or 2013. The X3 is offered in Europe with a 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine. A diesel X3 for the U.S. would be considered an outside possibility unless gas prices skyrocket and the demand for the extra range of diesel makes it an attractive alternative to gasoline. The most intriguing possibilities might be addition of a gas/electric hybrid X3, while performance buffs would get excited over a higher-performance X3 M model.

The first-generation X3 enjoyed a seven-year lifespan, with a minor midcycle facelift and a 35-horsepower bump for model-year 2007. The lifespan of this second-generation X3 might not be quite so long, given the competitive pressure to renew models as frequently as possible. Still, don’t expect any major revisions until model-year 2015 or so.

2011 BMW X3 Competition back to top

2011 Audi Q5: Introduced for 2009, this suave compact crossover leapfrogged the first-generation X3 for composed driving manners and is especially desirable for its well-dressed cabin. The Q5 has fine passenger room, though cargo space is only average. The base engine is now Audi’s responsive 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, and it’s teamed with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Also remaining available is a 270-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 that uses a six-speed automatic. Audi’s adept quattro AWD is standard. Fuel economy is 20/27 mpg with the $36,075 2.0T version and 18/23 mpg with the $42,800 3.2 model.

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350: Introduced for model-year 2010, the GLK comes in both rear- and all-wheel-drive models that start at $36,375 and $38,375, respectively. Both use a 268-horsepower V-6 and a seven-speed automatic transmission. Another unibody crossover, the GLK doesn’t have significantly more passenger space than X3 but it bucks this class’s penchant for station wagon-like styling with a squared-up body that mimics a truck-tough SUV. Fuel-economy ratings are 16/23 with rear-wheel drive, 16/21 with AWD.

2011 Acura RDX: Baby brother to the larger Acura MDX, this sporty-looking, quick-reflexed compact crossover is the budget alternative in this group. “Budget” is relative, given base prices of $33,480 for the front-wheel-drive model and $35,480 for the AWD version. Introduced for model-year 2007, RDX may have anticipated a premium-crossover trend by limited engine choices to a turbocharged four-cylinder. Despite a lively enough 240 horsepower, the turbo compromises throttle response some. Still, the RDX is spacious, stylish, and solid. It’s rated 19/24 mpg with front-drive, 17/22 with AWD. Acura gave the RDX a midcycle facelift and more comfortable suspension settings for 2010.

UPDATED BY JIM GORZELANY

2011 BMW X3 Next Steps