If you're worried that tightening fuel economy regulations may take the fun out of fine vehicles, the 2014 BMW X3 presents a more pleasant scenario. Yes, the X3 starts with a fuel-efficient 4-cylinder engine, but this energetic turbocharged motor is hardly a consolation prize. It's actually kind of fun.
Although the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder puts out a relatively modest 240 horsepower, we're thoroughly impressed by its get-up-and-go. German horses often seem to pull a little harder, and this herd is no exception. Throw in the X3's already exceptional handling and supple ride and you have a recipe for a highly satisfying drive. Of course, you can still opt for the 300-hp xDrive35i if serious speed is a priority.
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. Simply tell your local dealer the exact feature set you desire, and BMW will connect you to a live feed from the Spartanburg, S.C., factory that lets you watch your X3 being built.
So watch those options. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy one of the best all-around vehicles in this class. If the 2014 X3 is the future of the SUV, we're looking forward to it.
What's New for 2014?
The X3's iDrive system is upgraded and includes a new rotary controller with an integrated touchpad. There's also additional standard equipment, notably auto-dimming mirrors and a universal garage door opener.
What We Like
Refined and powerful engines; excellent 8-speed transmission; satisfying ride/handling balance; high-quality cabin; adult-sized back seat
What We Don't
Desirable options such as navigation quickly inflate the price
The X3 xDrive28i is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. The xDrive35i steps up to a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline 6-cylinder good for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. Every X3 has an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy for the xDrive28i receives Environmental Protection Agency ratings of 21 miles per gallon city/28 mpg hwy. The xDrive35i drops to 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy.
Note that all X3s come standard with all-wheel drive, though the Dynamic Handling Package adds a rearward power bias for sharper handling.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 BMW X3 is available in two trim levels: 4-cylinder xDrive28i and 6-cylinder xDrive35i.
The xDrive28i ($40,725) comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, keyless entry with push-button ignition, a power tailgate, auto-dimming mirrors, a universal garage door opener, 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 xDrive35i ($45,825) adds a turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine, adaptive xenon headlamps, LED brake lights, wood interior trim, a panoramic sunroof and a sportier steering wheel.
The most notable option is the navigation system, which radically changes the iDrive system, replacing the standard screen with a beautiful 8.8-in widescreen display and adding the nifty new touchpad-equipped rotary controller. There are many other options, of course, including sport seats, adaptive dampers, a power tailgate, 19-in wheels (available on both models via the M Sport package) and a 16-speaker, 600-watt audio system.
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. As for cargo space, there's a respectable 27.6 cu ft of it behind the second row and 63.3 cu ft with the rear seat backs folded down.
The X3 comes with standard stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side curtain). The numerous available safety technologies include a lane-departure warning system.
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.
Behind the Wheel
In our interior evaluation of the X3, we immediately noticed that BMW has the commanding driving position nailed. The front seats are nice and tall, affording an expansive view over the hood. And since the X3 has 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 offers 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.
On the technology front, the standard iDrive 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-in widescreen that's hard-drive-based with plenty of space for your MP3s. If you can swing the extra cost, it's definitely the way to go.
Under the hood, the xDrive28i's 4-cylinder 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. Nonetheless, the xDrive35i's turbocharged inline 6-cylinder remains highly desirable, as it transforms the X3 into a genuinely fast vehicle. Either way, the astoundingly refined 8-speed transmission delivers seamless shifts that maximize both responsiveness and efficiency.
On the road, 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 have 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 or turbocharged diesel V6 (TDI).
Cadillac SRX -- Aside from its edgy styling, the SRX's calling card is its standard 3.6-liter V6, which pumps out a healthy 308 hp.
Volvo XC60 -- The XC60's available turbocharged inline 6-cylinder is a winner, and we like this crossover's sensible, well-rounded nature.
The xDrive35i is tempting, but the xDrive28i's turbo 4-cylinder is so sweet that we'd go that route instead. Take the $5,000 savings and get the navigation system.