Efficiency is the name of the game in almost every area of the automotive market, and even luxury brands are starting to feel the pressure of upcoming government regulations and rising gas prices. The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i has been given a brand new drivetrain that attempts to better the performance of the previous model year's larger motor while simultaneously reducing the amount of fuel that it consumes in the process.
A difficult task, to be sure, but one that modern technology is more than capable of handling - right? Not exactly. The BMW X3 xDrive28i compact crossover is a success in many respects, but the decision to have it join the small-displacement turbo revolution appears to have been premature, especially in the face of stiff competition from the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class and the Audi Q5.
The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i comes in a single trim level that offers access to a wide range of options packages. In fact, in order to benefit from the kind of high end content one would expect from a luxury car it's necessary to load up with more than one of the available groupings of features. On top of my test vehicle's $39,600 MSRP, it also bore the weight of the Technology package (navigation system, BMW Apps), the Lighting package (adaptive HID headlights), as well as individual options such as X-line trim, a moonroof, heated front seats, parking assistance, and even a $550 charge for metallic paint. All told, the X3 xDrive28i's sticker price showed as $47,400.
The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i presents a number of challenges to the casual observer. Unmistakably a BMW when viewed head-on, the X3 suffers from a bit of an identity crisis from the side mirrors on back. From certain angles, there's something almost handsome and distinguished about the SUV's chiseled front bumper and muscular hood, but seen from the side - or the rear - there's little to distinguish the X3 from the current crop of affordably-priced compact crossovers that have flooded the market. Inside, the BMW X3 xDrive28i provides a very traditional Teutonic experience, with a focus on minimalist presentation, subtle hints of luxury in the use of wood trim and soft dash plastics, and sightlines that are great out the front and somewhat less expansive when peering through the rear glass.
The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i is a cut above its European competitors when it comes to making the most practical use of its compact platform. With an interior footprint that approaches mid-size offerings like the Lexus RX, the BMW X3 easily accommodates a pair of adults front and rear. Those riding in the second row will be particularly impressed by how much space they have been given to stretch out their arms and legs, a characteristic that the X3 shares with its 3 Series sedan platform-mate.
Cargo space is equally usable, with 63.3 cubic feet of total room available when the back row has been folded forward. Even with the seatback in place I was surprised by how much room was accessible inside the crossover's trunk. The BMW X3 can be counted as one of the most useful small luxury suvs from both a people-moving and cargo-hauling perspective.
Like all modern BMW's, the 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i places the focus on its iDrive system when configuring or otherwise interacting with its various systems. Although buttons on the dash and steering wheel are available for directly accessing various stereo and climate control features, using a Bluetooth-linked cell phone or the navigation system requires one to fiddle with the iDrive knob found on the center console. In most respects, iDrive is easy to figure out provided one has enough time to parse through the seemingly endless number of menus and options it displays on the excellent LCD screen mounted in the middle of the crossover's dashboard. The same can't be said for the voice command system that also comes with iDrive, as I had a miserable time even getting the feature to let me dial a contact from my smart phone's address book, let alone input an address into the navigation system.
The most frustrating issue with the 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i's otherwise solid set of controls had to do with its rain-sensitive windshield wipers. During several days of stormy weather I found myself cursing the sensitivity controller on the steering column stalk, as no matter what setting I chose the speed of the wipers never dropped below their regular back-and-forth rhythm. With no option to select an intermittent speed, I found the feature to be almost useless when dealing with light rain - a common complaint with this particular technology.
The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i comes complete with the standard complement of airbags found in any modern crossover: dual forward units, side curtain airbags that deploy along the full length of the passenger compartment, and seat-mounted side airbags. It also offers anti-lock brakes with a brake drying feature, electronic stability control, traction control, and hill descent control, all free of charge. Optional safety gear includes a top-view camera for parking, a lane-departure warning system, and the BMW Assist telematics system.
2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i Crash-Test Ratings: The BMW X3 xDrive28i scored 'Good' in all four of the IIHS' crash tests, giving it Top Safety Pick status. NHTSA crash test data is not available for this vehicle.
As mentioned in the introduction to this review, the 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i marks the debut of the brand's 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine in an SUV. Previously restricted to the BMW 3 Series, the mill can be counted on to produce 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, with the latter figure representing an increase of 39 lb-ft. The vehicle's eight-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive remain on the spec sheet.
More torque isn't the real reason BMW stuck the tiny four-cylinder into the hulking X3, as the motor also adds two miles per gallon in city driving and three miles per gallon on the highway when compared to 2012. This gives the X3 xDrive28i a final EPA fuel mileage rating of 21-mpg around town and 28-mpg during highway cruising.
Sometimes even the best intentions can't overcome the laws of physics. The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i might have picked up a few miles per gallon thanks to its turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but in the end it traded in the kind of luxurious, smooth power delivery that BMW has become famous for with its forced-induction motors. The 2.0-liter X3's drivetrain feels almost unfinished, starting with the way its drive-by-wire system hesitates when accelerating hard off of the line before delivering any kind of usable power and moving all the way up to the unpleasant tailpipe rumble and gas pedal shudder that accompanies requests for forward acceleration when cruising in the autobox's top gear. Push down with greater urgency and the transmission debates which cog to select prior to delivering any kind of burst of speed. This is a shame, because the potential offered by the turbocharged four-cylinder can be felt when the much-heavier-than-a-3-Series X3 eventually hits its stride and spends an all-too-brief amount of time in the healthy part of its powerband.
The SUV's Driving Dynamics Control system comes with a Sport mode, which I thought might alleviate the X3's reluctance to give me the power I wanted, but instead what I got with this setting was twitchier behavior from both the engine and transmission. The BMW also offers a new Eco Pro mode, and an automatic engine start/stop feature - both of which should be disabled so as to not further indulge in the X3's lack of drivetrain refinement. The automatic engine stop was particularly intrusive, as the vehicle's steering wheel would suddenly stiffen as soon as the motor shut down. Wresting it to the right or the left in order to execute a sharp turn from a stop sign was met with initial resistance prior to the 2.0-liter unit firing up again, a sequence that, once repeated five or more times on a given trip, quickly became tiresome.
It's unfortunate that the xDrive28i model doesn't live up to the potential offered by the BMW X3's chassis, which, while not at the level of a sports sedan, came through with a very strong performance when it came to comfort. I very much enjoyed the way the X3 coddled me and my passengers when bouncing down Montreal's overly-rough city streets, and on the highway the vehicle was a model of straight-line stability. Not as welcome was the crossover's electric power steering system, which is so far the only implementation of this technology that had me performing a reality check while parking or driving at slower speeds to make sure I knew where the front wheels were actually pointing.
Although the vehicle isn't designed for it - and few owners will ever make a similar attempt - I flogged the BMW X3 xDrive28i through a light off-road course to see if its hill descent control feature was there for more than just show. I should be clear that when I say 'flogged,' I mean 'proceeded very slowly and carefully across even the least challenging of trails,' as the X3's ground clearance doesn't invite anything more than a few all-wheel drive bursts across a grassy field or the precise navigation of a muddy gravel road on the way to the cottage.
The 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i is an appealing daily driver held back by a disappointing drivetrain. The amount of interior space available with the SUV, combined with its standard all-wheel drive and large, but not too-large sizing are balanced out by a rough engine that conserves fuel at the expense of a pleasant driving experience. The lack of a luxury feel from the xDrive28i's turbocharged motor, ill matched to the weight of the SUV, is thrown into even starker relief when contrasted against the $47,000 price tag borne by my tester. Spending that much coin opens up a wealth of options in the crossover segment, and many of them are more engaging from behind the wheel and offer comparable interior comforts and practicality.
BMW Group Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.