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

I had the hardest time deciding if the 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i looked too big or too small, but it felt just right.

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
7 min read

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.


2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i

The Good

The <b>2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i</b>'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.

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.

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.

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.

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


2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 7Performance tech 8Design 7


Trim levels xDrive28iAvailable Engine GasBody style SUV