2012 BMW X3 Review and Prices

Last Updated: Nov 11, 2010

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2012 BMW X3 Buying Advice

The 2012 BMW X3 is the best premium SUV for you if you want a sophisticated compact crossover with clean styling and bona fide BMW performance.

The 2012 BMW X3 is a five-passenger luxury crossover SUV that competes with other upscale sporty models like the Audi Q5, Infiniti EX35, and Mercedes-Benz GLK350. As with those models, the X3 is built more for adept on-road agility than rugged off-road performance. It was redesigned for model-year 2011 with freshened styling, added features, and a choice of two six-cylinder engines. All-wheel drive and a sophisticated eight-speed automatic transmission should remain standard on the 2012 X3.

Should you wait for the 2012 BMW X3 or buy the 2011 BMW X3? Go for the 2011 BMW X3. There’s always the chance BMW could add a feature or two to the 2012 model, but with the X3 all new for model-year 2011, any alterations would be minor. You’ll probably face a price increase if you wait for the 2012 model, and you’ll have owned your X3 for one less year of its second-generation product cycle.

2012 BMW X3 Changes back to top

Styling: The four-door 2012 BMW X3 isn’t apt to get any styling changes beyond addition of a new color or two. Completely redesigned for model year 2011, the 2012 X3 will retain BMW’s trademark kidney-shaped grille and reverse-kink roof pillars as distinguishing exterior visual cues. The 2012 X3 will continue to bear a strong family resemblance to both its larger showroom companion, the BMW X5, and to a new smaller crossover sibling, the BMW X1.

Having grown slightly for its model-year 2011 redesign, the 2012 BMW X3 will be marginally larger in most dimensions than the Audi Q5, and Mercedes-Benz GLK350. The X3’s wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear axles) will remain 110.6 inches. A 183.3-inch overall length, 74.1-inch width, and 66.5-inch height give the 2012 X3 a footprint smaller than that of a midsize sedan, making it well suited to navigate and park in crowded urban environments.

The 2012 BMW X3’s interior will continue to be neatly styled and efficiently packaged; in the BMW tradition, function is generally favored over form. Choosing the optional navigation system places a large LCD screen at the top of the center dashboard for displaying maps and pertinent vehicle information.

The 2012 X3 will again carry five occupants (four are most comfortable) with good outward visibility thanks to its upright seating and elevated ride height. It will again offer a modicum of cargo space that can be expanded into the cabin by a rear seat that can fold flat on a 60/40-split basis. Likely to remain available will be an optional rear seat that folds on a 40/20/40 basis, with the center panel able to act as a pass-through for skis and other large objects while preserving accommodations for two rear passengers.

Like other crossover SUVs, the 2012 BMW X3 will retain its car-like “unibody” structure in which body and frame are essentially one cohesive unit. Compared to a truck-based SUV and its traditional body-on-frame construction, the lighter-weight unibody design affords amenable ride-and-handling characteristics. The downside is that a crossover can’t haul or tow heavier loads like a standard SUV.

Mechanical: The 2012 BMW X3 isn’t likely to see major mechanical changes. That means the base 2012 X3 xDrive28i version will again have a 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine and it’ll probably retain a sufficient 240 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque. This engine is quite a bit stronger than the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that powers the base version of the rival Audi Q5, which for model-year 2011 generated 211 horsepower. BMW says an X3 xDrive28i accelerates 0-60 mph in 6.7 seconds, which is reasonably quick for a practical wagon.

Quicker yet will be the 2012 X3 xDrive35i model. It should again use a turbocharged and direct fuel-injected 3.0-liter inline-six that’ll produce 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. BMW pegs the xDrive35i at 5.5 seconds 0-60. This engine should again out-muscle both the available V-6 in the Audi Q5, which for model-year 2011 was rated at 270 horsepower, and the Mercedes-Benz GLK350’s 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6.

A sophisticated eight-speed automatic will almost certainly continue as the 2012 BMW X3’s only transmission. Purists might lament the absence of a manual transmission (the first-generation X3 offered one). But the eight-speed automatic includes a manual-shift mode via the console-mounted shift lever or steering-wheel paddles. It’s designed to provide maximum acceleration and can downshift directly from eighth to second at a stroke to furnish thrust in highway passing situations. And its top two gear ratios are chosen for maximum fuel economy.

Unlike most crossovers, which offer a choice of two-wheel drive or all-wheel-drive (AWD), the 2012 BMW X3 will likely continue standard with BMW’s xDrive AWD system. Not intended for serious off-roading, xDrive is engineered to enhance performance on either wet or dry roads and is an X3 selling point. In normal driving, the system sends 60 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels for a sporty, rear-wheel-drive. It can send as much as 100 percent of the power to either axle in response to driving demands or road conditions to maintain traction.

The 2012 BMW X3 should again furnish athletic handling with a reasonably pliant ride. Antilock four-wheel-disc brakes and electronic stability control will likely remain standard for secure stopping and control.

An optional Electronic Damping Control system should again be on hand to further refine the 2012 BMW X3’s performance. This automatically adjusts the suspension’s stiffness on a real-time basis, according vehicle speed, the weight aboard, and road conditions. The intent is to better soak up pavement imperfections and sharpen cornering ability. The system also aids handling via a Performance Control mode that sends up to 80 percent of engine power to the rear wheels during cornering. Performance Control mode can also help the X3 turn more surely by momentarily engaging the brake on the inside rear wheel while sending added torque to the outside rear wheel.

Another noteworthy performance feature likely to remain optional on the 2012 X3 is BMW’s Driving Dynamics Control system. This allows the driver to fine-tune throttle response, suspension firmness, power-steering assist, transmission shift points, and degree of stability control intervention according to selectable “normal,” “sport,” and “sport plus” modes. As before, choosing the optional navigation system with the iDrive system controller will allow individual adjustment of each performance variable when in “sport” mode.

Features: Standard equipment on the 2012 BMW X3 should again include power locks, mirrors, and windows, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with embedded audio controls, alloy wheels, a Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone interface, and a USB port for connecting iPods and other devices. The X3 xDrive35i standard equipment list will again include a few added amenities, such as adaptive headlamps that pivot in conjunction with the steering angle to better illuminate the road through curves.

As before, a long list of options will be available to upgrade the 2012 BMW X3. These will range from interior upholstery and trim choices to specific wheel and tire combinations and assorted comfort, convenience, and entertainment offerings sold individually or grouped in packages. Among returning options: a panoramic moonroof, voice-controlled navigation system, and BMW’s Top View camera system that displays a 360-degree view around the vehicle for easier parking.

BMW’s often-vilified iDrive multimedia control system that replaces assorted dashboard buttons with a joystick-like knobl will likely remain optional. To be fair, the latest version of iDrive we tested works more intuitively than with previous generations in part because BMW has added a series of buttons to help users better navigate the system. Connectivity-related options should again include a Blackberry smartphone interface that enables occupants to read their emails while the X3 is parked, or allow the system to read them aloud via a synthesized voice while it’s moving.

With the 2012 X3 being built at BMW’s manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, buyers can avail themselves of the rare opportunity to custom-configure their crossover as desired, even making equipment changes within as few as six days before it’s assembled.

2012 BMW X3 Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 BMW X3 weren’t available in time for this review, but they aren’t expected to stray too far from their model-year 2011 levels. This means a 2012 X3 xDrive28i should carry a base price around $39,000, which will remain competitive with most luxury/sport compact crossovers. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; BMW’s fee for the 2011 X3 was $875.)

Expect the 2012 X3 xDrive35i to be priced from about $43,000, not including options. This should again place it near the top of its class in terms of cost; for 2011 this model’s price was surpassed only by the top V-6-powered version of the Audi Q5. As before, a fully equipped X3 should top the $50,000 barrier, which would price it higher than the least-expensive version of  BMW’s larger X5 crossover.

2012 BMW X3 Fuel Economy back to top

EPA mileage estimates for neither the 2012 nor the 2011 BMW X3 were available in time for this review, but we expect the 2012 BMW xDrive28i to rate something like 19/27 mpg city/highway and the 2012 xDrive35i to rate around 18/26.

2012 BMW X3 Release Date back to top

The 2012 BMW X3 should arrive in dealers’ showrooms in the fourth quarter of 2011.

What's next for the 2012 BMW X3 back to top

The BMW X3 isn’t expected to change significantly until its next major redesign, which won’t likely occur until model-year 2015 at the earliest. However, BMW traditionally tweaks its vehicles’ features and engine and transmission choices long the way, so the X3 probably will get styling tweaks and powertrain revisions before it undergoes its next major makeover.

A 2.0-liter turbodiesel engine choice is offered in X3s sold overseas and there’s an outside chance it might be added to the U.S. model line, particularly if gas prices spike. It’s more likely we’ll see a higher-performance X3 M version, though impending stricter fuel economy regulations likely would preclude BMW from shoehorning a thirsty V-8 engine under the X3’s hood, so a higher-powered six-cylinder would be more likely. Another intriguing possibility is a fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid X3 at some point, perhaps even a plug-in version that could run for extended periods on battery power.

2012 BMW X3 Competition back to top

Audi Q5: This compact crossover features attractive styling inside and out and a comfortable, high-quality interior, though it provides just-adequate cargo room. A peppy 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder powers the base model, and it comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. A stronger and smoother V-6 version is available with a six-speed automatic. A gas-electric hybrid model is expected to join the lineup, perhaps as early as model-year 2012. Audi’s excellent quattro all-wheel-drive system is standard across the line for enhanced wet- or dry-road traction. Expect fuel economy at or around 20/27 mpg with the turbo-four and 18/23 with the V-6. Base prices should range from about $36,500-$43,000.

Mercedes-Benz GLK350: Mercedes’ compact crossover is expected to receive a cosmetic freshening for 2012, though we don’t expect the styling to lose its throwback trucky-SUV flavor. The GLK350 is available with rear- or all-wheel drive and should again come with a willing 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 and seven-speed automatic transmission. Expect fuel economy around 16/23 with rear-drive, 16/21 with AWD. The GLK350 will also offer a wealth of optional gadgetry including hard-drive storage for digital media and a navigation system that includes a subscription-free real-time traffic information service. Base prices run from around $37,000-$39,000.

Infiniti EX35: A model-year 2012 makeover will stop short of a full redesign but should still give Infiniti an opportunity to address the shortage of rear-seat and cargo room that have turned buyers off to this otherwise stylish and capable premium compact crossover. This SUV from Nissan’s upscale division should retain assets that make it worth considering, including solid build, great cabin materials, and a stout V-6 of around 300 horsepower linked to a seven-speed automatic transmssion. The 2012 EX probably will again be available with a choice of rear- or all-wheel drive and have a base-price range of roughly $36,000-$40,000.

2012 BMW X3 Next Steps