Within the next few months the second generation of BMW's X3 will be arriving at dealerships. On-road SUV fans may want to pay close attention to this vehicle as BMW has grown the 2011 X3 with an eye on America.
The first generation X3 plays the role of the slightly smaller sibling to the X5. They both have a stout stance, but the X3 generally appears lighter and a little sleeker. The 2010 X3 is almost a foot shorter, three inches narrower, and weighs 19% less than the X5. In football terms if the X5 is an offensive guard, then the first X3 plays tight end.
For 2011 the new X3 will blur the line between the two even further. The 2011 BMW X3 grows to within 4% of the X5. The styling cues for the 2011 X3 carry the heavier jowls of the BMW X5. No weight figures have been released yet, but BMW hints that there will be no weight gain. This is a small relief because BMW will not only be adding size to the X3, but also extra equipment.
The additional options in the 2011 X3 are likely a response to America's expectations. The company is an internationally known provider of premium automobiles, but America only gets the cream of the crop. BMW's offerings in Europe and other continents dip lower in engine size, luxury amenities, and price. For example, the least expensive BMW (the 1 Series hatchback) is not sold here, and no BMW in the U.S. is sold with a cloth interior. The outgoing X3 model was an exercise in simplicity for BMW. They tried to make an SUV that started at a lower price point and added amenities as needed. Unfortunately this came off as somewhat cheap in the U.S. BMW would eventually correct the problem over the first generation's lifespan, and it does not want to make the same mistake twice. The second generation X3 will initially be produced with more amenities and better quality materials.
The X3 production has moved from Austria to BMW's plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The switch reveals insight into BMW's plans for the new model. One of the primary reasons auto companies set up foreign factories is to make the car where it will sell in quantity. BMW first did this in 1999 with the X5, and now the X3's move signal BMW's North American target.
BMW is quietly dropping its smallest engine from the X5 lineup in the U.S. 2010 X5s were available with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine making 260 hp. But in 2011 that would give the X5 an awkward placement between the new X3's 240 hp 3.0-liter inline-six cylinder and 300 hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six cylinder engines. Instead the 2011 X5's power begins at the X3's top end with the same 3.0-liter turbo.
Like all other SUVs from BMW this one is expected to be less of a full-force off-road vehicle, and more of a foul-weather friend it calls a Sports Activity Vehicle (SAV). This began when BMW developed the first generation X5. They owned Land Rover at the time, and BMW created the SAV to complement but not cannibalize the capable Range Rover line. The SAV's formula of suspension and performance designed for on-road work has equaled sales success. So although Land Rover is gone from the BMW portfolio, the SAV is here to stay.
The idea of the small BMW suv is not being abandoned in the U.S. The company recently introduced the X1 to the European market. The German-built SUV is less than 3% shorter than the first generation X3, and offers gas and diesel engines ranging from 2.0 to 3.0-liters. When the X1 goes on sale in the US in 2011, it should appeal to those who like the original X3.
The last piece of BMW's SAV puzzle is the X5. BMW has a new one planned for within a few years. With the expansion of the X3, the new X5 has to opportunity to grow for proper room for its third row seating.
Pricing for the 2011 X3 should start around $40,000. This will initially make the X3 more expensive then the Mercedes GLK and Audi Q5. The other two Germans catch up after options are added. This pricing reflects the X3 nudging closer to its X5 sibling. After all options, the 2011 X3 should top out at about $48,500, just a few thousand above the lowest level X5's base price. The X3 used to hold the bottom end of the entire BMW SUV lineup, but for 2011 it is firmly planted as the starting point for the X5 range.