Among SUVs and crossovers, the 2007 BMW X3 3.0si looks small. Get up next to it and you can see right over the roof. Lower it and it would pass for a wagon. The hood uses a distinctly sedan design. The X3 always favored refinement over a tough look, even while retaining similar off-road capabilities as most bulky SUVs (which is to say, none).
The X3 doesn't have blazing power, but it's fast enough and handles very well. It does have decent clearance and, with its all-wheel drive system and descent control, should handle wintry conditions. BMW keeps the quality level high inside the cabin, with good fit and finish. Its cabin electronics are quirky and badly in need of an update, as they are vintage 2003, but it has everything from navigation to Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration. Like all BMWs, it is pricey, and it had better watch out for all the crossover competitors just now coming on to the market.
Test the tech: Urban drive
Because of the size and look of the BMW X3, we felt like it would work well as a city car. We spent a day running errands around the congested streets of San Francisco to test our hypothesis. The difficulties we would face went from finding parking, navigating narrow streets, and avoiding double-parked delivery trucks to dealing with the ever-present traffic.
For our first challenge, we picked up a friend from City College, in the south of San Francisco, and brought her to the city's Civic Center neighborhood, near City Hall. We searched the navigation system's points-of-interest database and found a category for education--so far, so good. The system showed us all the educational institutions within 25 miles. We found two campuses, but neither was the main campus. As a workaround, we told the car to take us to Ocean Avenue, the street on which the campus is located.
The nav system told us to take a quick freeway run to zip through the city. As we approached the on-ramp we gunned it to get ahead of the cars also entering the freeway on the next lane over. The X3 responded well, bounding up the on-ramp to the point where we had to merge with a solid line of cars on the freeway. Relying on the blinkers and some shouldering, we created a gap we could fit the X3 into. The X3's model age is apparent with its simple blinker switch, unlike the newer soft-touch switches on other BMWs. Although the X3 isn't a big car, its maneuverability helped in merging, as we could quickly take advantage of a gap in traffic.
We find a parking space across from our favorite taqueria.
A run down the freeway, then a quick exit, and we picked up our charge at the college. The X3 cruised easily at slow speeds among the hordes of students walking across the parking lot and streets, affording good visibility but attracting little attention. For the way back, we merely pointed the car north and followed the roads. This strategy took us through winding residential streets and over Mount Davidson, where Dirty Harry meets Scorpio in the first Dirty Harry movie. The X3 tackled the hills without shirking and its size made maneuvering through the narrow streets easy. But when we got to Civic Center, we realized the whole trip would have been quicker on public transportation.
After that task, we took the X3 to a small shopping complex, where we had to negotiate the paint-scraping pillars of a parking garage. Again, the size of the car helped us get into a space with only a couple of adjustments, helped further by the park distance control, which sounds off when it detects obstructions to the front and rear.
Whether sitting in traffic or careening down winding, hilly streets, the X3 proved a comfortable and capable car for our urban run. During the slow parts, we rocked out to the stereo, which produces a powerful sound with solid bass. The hands-free cell phone system let us easily make calls to coordinate meet-ups, and the navigation system made sure we didn't get lost, although we should have used it for the run from City College to Civic Center.
In the cabin
The cabin tech in the BMW X3, similar to what we saw in the BMW Z4 M Coupe, is a generation old. The navigation system uses the same type of pop-up screen and controls as the M Coupe. The screen offers decent resolution, but the positioning, on top of the dash, isn't great, as it's subject to glare. But even with a massive panoramic sunroof, the glare wasn't as bad in the X3 as in the M Coupe, probably due to a less-raked windshield.
The knob and buttons on the right control navigation, phone, and stereo functions.
One person on our staff commented that the controls for the stereo, nav, and phone system are less confusing than iDrive. The controls are very minimalist, featuring one push button/knob and buttons marked Tone, Menu, and Sel. The menu brings up probably the ugliest software screen on the LCD we've seen to date. Sel lets you select music, a function you can't enter from the Menu screen. And Tone brings up simple bass and treble controls. The stereo also has a 7-band graphic equalizer, but you get to that through the DSP entry on the Menu screen. This interface needs work.
The navigation system works well enough, but is fairly basic by today's standards. You can select destinations by address, points of interest, or from the map, which the minimal controls make tedious. Route guidance is adequate, although you don't get an upcoming-turns list. When the system is in full-screen mode, it won't show graphics for upcoming turns, either. You have to keep it in split-screen mode for useful route guidance. But we do like the look of the maps, and find it interesting that the system shows your GPS coordinates and altitude.
Our test car came with the premium sound option, producing BMW's characteristically strong audio. In the BMW X3, the speakers produce very rich bass and an overall heavy sound. The equalizer allows for a lot of tweaking and we liked the clarity and separation of the system. It might not be as good as some of the really crazy audio systems, but it's far better than average.
The map resolution is nice, but this pop-up screen is subject to glare.
HD radio is an option, although it wasn't installed in our test car. For audio sources, we had the minimum, which includes broadcast radio, an auxiliary input, and a single CD player. The disc player reads MP3 CDs, but, strangely enough, doesn't show track information on the LCD. Navigating MP3 CDs is basic--you have to jump from folder to folder. The auxiliary input is inconveniently placed down at the bottom of the console, facing the backseats. Satellite radio doesn't appear to be an option, although you can get a six-disc changer.
The Bluetooth hands-free cell phone integration in the BMW X3 is the same top-notch system we've seen in other BMWs. We paired our phone to it, and immediately had access to our contact list on the car's LCD. There is a voice command system for the cell phone integration, but we didn't find it particularly useful. We had no problem using the phone system with the push button/knob, but the phone button on the dash didn't seem to do anything, while the phone button on the steering wheel only dialed the last number called.
Under the hood
The engine in the 2007 BMW X3 is as last-generation as the cabin tech. It uses BMW's 3-liter six-cylinder engine, still a great engine but becoming rarer in BMW's other models. Maybe the next generation will include a twin turbo X35. This engine puts out 257 horsepower and, mated to its six-speed transmission, provides easy acceleration. It won't press you back in the seat, but it will let you make fast maneuvers in traffic.
During our review period, we also had a comparably equipped 2008 Saturn Vue XR, which comes with a 3.6-liter V-6. We did some 0 to 60 mph acceleration tests to see how the cars compared, and the Saturn won. We squeezed 7.5 seconds to 60 mph out of the BMW X3, while the Saturn Vue's best time was 7.35 seconds. Both cars weren't super fast off the line, and the Vue experienced some torque steer, which wasn't present in the X3. So while the Vue had the better time, the X3 showed better handling.
The descent control button is useful for going down steep slopes in slippery conditions.
In fact, the X3 showed all-around good handling. It's not a car we wanted to push particularly hard around twisty mountain roads, but for a crossover it did well, right up there with the Acura RDX. The steering wheel is nice and thick, and turns feel precise. With BMW's X-Drive all-wheel drive system, the car gets some extra traction on the corners and should perform well in slippery conditions. It also has descent control, useful for going down steep driveways with snow and ice.
The EPA rates the 2007 BMW X3 with an automatic transmission at 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. During our time with the car, our driving was decidedly city-based, and we achieved 19.2 mpg--not spectacular, but well within the EPA's range. The better news is that the BMW X3 rates as a ULEV II under California's emissions ratings, making it one of the cleaner crossovers you can buy.
Our 2007 BMW X3 3.0si rang in on the pricey side. It starts out with a base price of $38,000, already on the high side for this type of car. We added metallic paint ($475), the Cold Weather package ($1,000), the Premium package ($2,450), a heated steering wheel ($150), BMW's Comfort Seats ($700), Park Distance Control ($700), Xenon headlights ($800), navigation ($1,800), premium sound ($675), and tinted glass ($350). Along with the $695 destination charge, the total came out to $47,795.
We like the driving experience of the 2007 BMW X3. It's an easy car to get around in, and the sound system is good enough to make you want to let your favorite song finish before getting out. But so much of it feels in need of an update that we would wait for the next generation of this car. It also has heavy competition in the small SUV/crossover arena. You can get an Acura RDX for a little less money, and it offers more tech and a better sound system, along with an equally engaging driving experience. Or you can take a step down in price and go for one of the many crossover competitors, such as the 2008 Saturn Vue.