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

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The Good The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i's turbocharged engine offers a good performance while Eco Pro settings help maximize efficiency. The 2013 X3's handling is more carlike and manageable, particularly with the optional performance upgrades.

The Bad BMW's apps system is iPhone-only for this generation. Too many bundled options quickly inflate the price.

The Bottom Line The 2013 BMW X3 prints smaller than it is, making it a great choice for drivers uncomfortable with large vehicles but who need a bit more in the way of people room and cargo space.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.4 Overall
  • Cabin tech 7
  • Performance tech 8
  • Design 7

Review Sections

Perhaps it's BMW's fault for cramming so many similarly sized vehicles, between-size variants, and remixed configurations into its lineup, but I had the hardest time deciding if the 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i is too big or too small.

The second-generation vehicle's aesthetic is more wagonlike and it seems to press down into the ground when viewed in the round, which makes it look smaller -- both in photographs and in person -- than the pre-2010 model, which has a more angular, upright design. However, put the models side by side and it becomes apparent that the new model has actually grown by a few inches in every direction.

Adding to the spatial confusion, front and back seat passengers remarked that the 2013 X3's cabin didn't feel as spacious as they thought a small SUV should, even while I was raving about enjoying about the crossover's tall driver's seat position, which gives a good view of the road ahead and the area around the vehicle when maneuvering into tight parking spaces.

For the entire week, I went back and forth on the X3's scale, but ultimately decided that I liked it -- perhaps the X3 is just right. It looks and feels smaller than it is, which is a good thing for drivers who want a vehicle with more space for people and the flexibility of the crossover's hatchback, but don't want to feel like they're behind the wheel of a Hummer.

Fortunately, it's not my job to decide whether the X3 is rightly sized -- that's a subjective decision that ultimately lies in your, the buyer's, hands -- I've only got to decide whether it's good or not.

Almost everything that you need to know about this BMW X3's power train can be derived from the xDrive28i designation in the model name. Let's break it down.

xDrive indicates BMW's on-demand all-wheel-drive system, which in this implementation defaults to a rear-biased torque split of 40:60, front-to-rear. The system can steplessly and infinitely vary the torque split from front to rear, sending up to 100 percent of power to either axle as the system dictates. The X3 is only available with the xDrive all-wheel-drive system.

The 28i suffix lets us know that this X3 is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with direct injection and twin-scroll turbocharging technology that is designed to increase output while preserving the efficiency of the small engine. With a twin-scroll turbo, the X3 can avoid turbo lag -- that hesitation followed by a surge of power when you stomp the accelerator on older turbocharged engines. The result is power delivery when you need it and efficiency when you don't, with very little waiting in between.

Output is rated at 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. Thanks to the engine's technology and BMW's EfficientDynamics system -- which ditches the alternator in favor of charging the 12V system with regenerative braking, reducing drag on the engine -- fuel efficiency is stated at 24 mpg combined, which breaks out to 21 city and 28 highway mpg. During our testing, the digital trip computer stayed safely within that range.

engine bay
The 2.0-liter turbocharged engine feels like a good fit for the relaxed X3, but there's room in the engine bay for the more powerful 3.0-liter mill. Josh Miller/CNET

Between the xDrive system and the engine is a single-option eight-speed automatic transmission that features a manual shift mode and a sport program, but our tester didn't have paddle shifters -- which says something about the X3's realistic sporting aspirations.

That doesn't mean that the X3 xDrive28i doesn't try to have a little fun. Our example was equipped with a $3,000 M Sport package that adds 19-inch wheels, an adaptive suspension system, BMW's Performance Control torque-vectoring system, sport seats, and a variety of aerodynamic and styling upgrades. Also equipped was the Dynamic handling package, a $1,300 option that adds variable sport steering.

Drivers who want a bit more giddy-up can opt for the xDrive35i variant, which fills the X3's spacious engine bay with a larger, 3.0-liter turbocharged engine that outputs 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.

Performance and Drive modes
BMW combines the controls for the X3's adaptive suspension, steering, and power train in one place: the drive mode selector. With this rocker, the driver can select from four drive modes at the touch of a button.

Comfort is the default setting that places the suspension and steering in their most, well, comfortable settings. The accelerator sensitivity and engine responsiveness in this mode are also baselined for relaxed, around-town driving.

drive selector
The X3's various performance and economy modes are within easy reach of the driver's seat. Josh Miller/CNET

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.

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