The BMW X3 is a four-door, five passenger sport-utility vehicle.The luxury sport utility vehicle market is extremely competitive, with manufacturers from Europe, Detroit and Japan all vying to fill every available niche. This has lead to an explosion of small to mid-size SUV’s which attempt to capture the tastes of buyers who may not have previously been interested in this type of vehicle. For luxury automakers, the focus has been on providing the functionality of a truck while erasing as much of the truck-like ride quality as possible so as to provide drivers with an experience similar to that of the sedans for which these companies are known.

The BMW X3 represents the German car company’s smallest and newest SUV. Based on a design similar to the full-size X5, the X3 straddles the platform between compact and mid-size. With a weight of 4,000 lbs, the X3 is certainly not in the same class as a cute-ute, but it is meant to fill a role similar to the BMW 3-Series: provide an entry-level vehicle which still meets the expectations of luxury buyers.

To this end, the X3 is well-equipped even in the base version. There is but one trim available, the X3 3.0si, and there is only one engine available, a 3.0 liter 6-cylinder unit which generates 260 horsepower. With variable-valve timing, the engine manages to achieve a respectable 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 miles per gallon when running on the highway, which is similar to some of the mid-size sedans in the BMW lineup. The X3 can be had with 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, and all versions of the SUV come with all-wheel drive.

The interior of the X3 is necessarily smaller than that of the X5, but it is in line with the volume of competitors from both Lexus and Acura. Interior equipment can be upgraded with both a Premium package (comfort seats, nicer leather, auto-dimming mirrors) or a cold weather package (heated seats both front and rear). For those looking for a bit more performance, there are two different sport packages, one which is mostly limited to exterior appearance and another which increases wheel size to 18 or 19-inches and which also stiffens the vehicle’s suspension and streamlines the aerodynamics.

With or without the sport suspension, the X3 is quite pleasant to drive, and it feels more capable on the road than its Japanese rivals. While some of this feeling might come at the expense of a plush ride, the payoff is a greater connection between the pavement and the driver. Off road performance is not the primary focus with this vehicle, but an array of electronic stability and traction control systems work to make sure that the SUV is easily controllable in inclement weather – which is the closest most luxury sport-utilities get to trail conditions.

The BMW X3 is an excellent gateway to the world of the BMW driving experience. While not quite as sure of foot as the 3-Series sedans, families will appreciate the increased interior room, and anyone living in a winter climate will grow to depend on the all-wheel drive traction and control.

The 2009 BMW X3 is a carryover from 2008. The 2009 X3 is solid in a single trim, the xDrive30i. This edition of the compact SUV is powered by a 260 horsepower, 3.0 liter inline 6-cylinder engine that also produces 225 lb-ft of torque. Transmission options range from a standard 6-speed manual to a 5-speed automatic, and the X3 comes with all-wheel drive as basic equipment. Fuel mileage for the vehicle is rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 23 miles per gallon on the highway when outfitted with the manual transmission.