Pros: Refined and powerful engines, excellent eight-speed transmission, satisfying ride/handling balance, high-quality cabin, adult-sized back seat.

Cons: Desirable options like navigation quickly inflate the price.

What's New: The 2013 X3 xDrive28i gets a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine and standard 18-inch wheels, and all models receive standard auto start/stop, an "ECO PRO" drive mode that promotes better fuel economy, and a power tailgate. Minor packaging changes round out the updates.

Introduction

If you're worried that tightening fuel-economy regulations may take the fun out of fine vehicles, the 2013 BMW X3 presents a more pleasant scenario. Yes, the X3 now starts with a more efficient four-cylinder engine, but this energetic turbo four is hardly a consolation prize. It's actually kind of fun.

Replacing the old six-cylinder base engine, the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 puts out the same 240 horsepower as its predecessor, but we were thoroughly impressed by its get-up-and-go. German horses often seem to pull a little harder, and this herd is no exception, especially with the turbo motor's superior torque. Throw in the X3's already exceptional handling and supple ride, and you've got a recipe for a highly satisfying drive.

Of course, you can still opt for the absurdly fast six-cylinder xDrive35i with 300 horsepower if you like.

One of the X3's less desirable German traits is its appetite for expensive options that drive up the base price in a hurry. As such, we recommend exploring the custom-build option, if you don't mind waiting a little. You simply tell your local dealer the exact feature set you desire, and then BMW gives you a live feed from the Spartanburg, SC factory that lets you watch your X3 being built.

So watch those options, but otherwise, just sit back and enjoy one of the best all-around vehicles in this class. If the 2013 X3 is the future of the SUV, we're looking forward to it.

Comfort & Utility

The 2013 BMW X3 is available in two trim levels: naturally aspirated xDrive28i and turbocharged xDrive35i.

The xDrive28i comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, keyless entry with push-button ignition, a power tailgate, auto start/stop, leatherette upholstery, 8-way power front seats with driver memory, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, automatic climate control, iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity, a 12-speaker audio system, and the iDrive infotainment system with the basic small, square display.

The xDrive 35i adds a turbocharged inline six-cylinder engine, adaptive xenon headlamps, LED brake lights, wood interior trim, a panoramic sunroof, and a sportier steering wheel.

The most notable option, in our view, is the navigation system, which radically changes the iDrive system, replacing the standard screen with a beautiful 8.8-inch widescreen display?and adding hard-drive-based operation with digital music storage. There are many other options, of course, including sport seats, adaptive dampers, a power tailgate, 19-inch wheels (now available on both models via the M Sport package), and a 16-speaker, 600-watt audio system.

In our interior evaluation of the X3, we immediately noticed that BMW's got the commanding driving position nailed. The front seats are nice and tall, affording an expansive view over the hood?and since the X3's got plenty of glass all around, outward visibility is great no matter where you're looking. We'd consider springing for one of the packages that offer the sport seats, though, as the beefed-up side bolsters and manual thigh-support extenders are worth the stretch.

The X3's gauges will be comforting to BMW aficionados, employing the classic white-on-black numerals that change to orange-on-black at night. Interior materials are almost uniformly premium, and the attractively restrained dashboard design is another element that's straight out of the traditional BMW playbook.

The X3's rear seat is elevated like those in front, yet there's plenty of headroom, so even lanky passengers will have plenty of space. We actually prefer the X3 to the larger X5 in this regard. As for cargo space, there's a respectable 27.6 cubic feet of it behind the second row and 63.3 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded down.

Technology

The central tech topic for the X3 is its iDrive infotainment system, which comes in two forms. You'll want to pay close attention to this.

The standard system has a square display, lacks navigation, and doesn't offer digital music storage, either. It's nice that some form of iDrive comes standard, we suppose, but we're not enthused about the functionality of this version.

If you opt for the pricey navigation system, though, you get a crisp, colorful 8.8-inch widescreen that's hard-drive-based with plenty of space for your mp3s. In terms of controls, iDrive has improved dramatically from its controversial early years, now featuring a vastly better menu structure and numerous physical buttons next to the primary knob for direct access to common pathways. This goes for both versions, by the way, so at least the basic version is pretty user-friendly.

Performance & Fuel Economy

The X3 xDrive28i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The xDrive35i steps up to a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 good for 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. Every X3 has a very smooth and responsive eight-speed automatic.

Although not every turbo four is ready for prime time yet, the xDrive28's engine is a superstar. Acceleration is confident, and unlike most small turbocharged engines, this one doesn't fall on its face at high rpm - it keeps pulling all the way to redline. Aided by the astoundingly refined eight-speed transmission, fuel economy improves to a satisfying 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway; for reference, the old six-cylinder motor was rated at 19/25 mpg with its six-speed automatic.

Nonetheless, the xDrive35i's turbocharged inline-6 remains highly desirable, as it transforms the X3 into a genuinely fast vehicle. The transmission's gear ratios are perfectly matched to the inline-6's strengths, resulting in thrilling performance when you put your foot in it. A sedately driven xDrive35i will return 19/26 mpg, which isn't that far off the xDrive28i's pace.

Note that all X3s come standard with all-wheel drive, though the Dynamic Handling Package adds a rearward power bias for sharper handling.

Safety

The X3 comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side-curtain). The numerous available safety technologies include a new lane-departure warning system for 2013.

The government hasn't crash-tested the X3, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the X3 its highest rating of "Good" in every category.

Driving Impressions

The X3 is a tall vehicle, no doubt about it, but it remains exceptionally composed in corners for a crossover SUV. That makes its smooth, quiet ride all the more remarkable?BMW really nailed the suspension tuning in this truck. Throw in a choice of two powerful and efficient turbocharged motors, and you've got the clear driver's choice among entry-level luxury crossovers.

Other Cars to Consider

Audi Q5: The Q5 feels nearly as athletic as the X3, and we prefer its styling. A must-drive with the optional supercharged V6. 

Cadillac SRX: Aside from that edgy styling, the SRX's calling card is its recently introduced 3.6-liter V6, which pumps out a healthy 308 horsepower.

Volvo XC60: The XC60's available turbocharged inline-6 is a winner, and we like this crossover's sensible, well-rounded nature.

AutoTrader Recommends

Our pick last year was the xDrive35i, but now that the xDrive28i has that sweet new turbo four, we'd save the $5,000 or so and get the latter instead. It's a really great car.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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