2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i review: Too hot? Too cold? Or is this BMW just right?

Switching up to Sport mode boosts the responsiveness of the accelerator pedal, making the engine feel more alive under your foot. Variable sport steering and the adaptive suspension, if equipped, are also set to more aggressive settings, slightly improving turn-in and causing the car to at least feel more planted. There's also a Sport+ mode that takes these settings just a step further and also loosens (but doesn't fully release) the reins on the stability control system for more dynamic handling with a bit of slip when you want it.

But the X3 xDrive28i doesn't really ever feel like it wants to go fast. It's a small, comfortable crossover for the city car that just happens to handle like a Bimmer. That's why, for me, the Eco Pro mode is the most intriguing of the drive mode selector's four settings. Eco Pro is similar to the Comfort mode, setting the chassis and drivetrain to their most comfortable settings, but it also adds a layer of settings that help the driver to boost fuel economy.

Eco Pro mode
The selected driving mode is momentarily displayed on the X3's dashboard screen. Josh Miller/CNET

Firstly, it adjusts the responsiveness of the accelerator pedal in an attempt to lighten a lead foot. It also gives the driver access to options that increase the efficiency of the climate control systems or alert the driver when the speed has exceeded a preset point. On the dashboard screen, the Eco Pro menu displays a bar chart that shows your potential fuel savings, while in the instrument cluster, the trip computer shows in blue letters how many extra miles you've wrung from the tank thanks to Eco Pro's efforts. At the end of the week, I'd gone a reported 5.3 miles farther than my lead foot would have taken me otherwise.

Technology
The standard BMW tech loadout isn't bad at all. The system is built around a standard color display and the automaker's iDrive control knob. I go back and forth on whether I prefer iDrive to Audi's MMI system. With Audi's system, I always find myself rotating the control knob in the wrong direction, while BMW's clockwise for down, counterclockwise for up orientation feels more natural, but that's a matter of preference. One thing that I'm firm on is my belief that both systems are streets ahead of Mercedes-Benz Comand.

iDrive in x3 xdrive28i
BMW's iDrive system features a control knob and shortcut keys for most parts of the infotainment system. Josh Miller/CNET

Other standard features include Bluetooth for hands-free calling and audio streaming, iPod connectivity via USB, and HD Radio reception.

I'm fairly certain that the standard 205-watt audio system sounds okay; the $950 Premium sound option that graced our example was rather good. For the money, the speaker count is bumped up to 16, which split 600 watts through nine surround-sound channels. This option also adds satellite radio to the audio source mix.

The $3,200 Technology package adds navigation with traffic to iDrive's feature set. This is essentially the same navigation system that I evaluated in the BMW X1 , so the same pros and cons apply here.

The Technology package also adds proximity sensors that aid in parking, a rear camera, and a pair of side-view cameras that can combine to create a bird's-eye view of the ground around the vehicle. Unlike Nissan/Infiniti's system, BMW's around-view does not include a front camera.

Interior X3
The X3 was loaded to the gills with expensive options, but the fit and finish almost justify the price. Josh Miller/CNET

Rounding out the tech and convenience options are the Convenience package's ($1,300) keyless entry and xenon headlights, the Cold Weather package's ($700) heated seats and steering wheel, and the Premium package's ($3,450) panoramic moonroof, ambient lighting, lumbar support, and autodimming mirrors. We also got BMW's $250 Apps package, which you should skip unless you're an iPhone user.

Pricing
When I recently reviewed the BMW X1, a few commenters asked how I could like the X1 so much when the larger X3 was possibly a better value. At the time, I didn't have an answer, but after a week in the 2013 X3 xDrive28i, I'm still solidly in the X1 camp. (Personally, I'd lean toward the 328i Touring, but wagons are so underappreciated in the U.S. market that even I often forget that BMW is still making them, so I'll kindly just shut up about it.) Active-lifestyle types will appreciate that the smaller crossover's roof rack is easier to reach. Occasional cargo haulers can almost make up for the difference in stowage capacity by folding the seats of the X1 flat. And the smaller X1 is just a hair easier to park in a tight city and a lot more fun to drive in the country.

2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i
I may be alone in thinking so, but I prefer the nimbler BMW X1 to the more spacious X3. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

But again we're venturing deep into subjective territory. For drivers who need more space than the X1 offers -- perhaps room for infant safety seats and a full load of groceries -- the X3 is a fine choice. At a starting price of $38,500 for our 2013 model, it could even be considered a better value.

However, no one gets an X3 as well-equipped as this one for $38,500. We've got all of the aforementioned options, plus $550 for the Blue Metallic Paint and $895 in destination charges. That brings us to a $54,095 as-tested price that's not bad for what you get, but pretty much blows the word "value" out of my mind.

Tech specs
Model 2013 BMW X3
Trim xDrive28i
Power train 2.0-liter TwinPower Turbo 4-cylinder, 8-speed automatic, xDrive all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 21 city, 28 highway, 24 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy n/a
Navigation Optional, HDD-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard with audio streaming and hands-free calling
Disc player Single-slot CD
MP3 player support Standard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB connection, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connection
Other digital audio Optional SiriusXM satellite radio
Audio system Optional Premium audio, 16 speakers, 600 watts
Driver aids Rear and top-view cameras, proximity sensors, adaptive cruise control
Base price $38,500
Price as tested $54,095

What you'll pay

Pricing is currently unavailable.

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Where to Buy

2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i

Part Number: 200420853

MSRP: $38,850.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Trim levels xDrive28i
  • Body style SUV
  • Available Engine Gas
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