2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i car review: SUV or SAV, it’s BMW

2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i

2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i

Oh, yawn. Just another crossover SUV. True, BMW calls the 2011 BMW X3 an SAV, for “sport activity vehicle”, but we all know what it is. And it’s, well, it’s a crossover SUV. However, it’s also a BMW and that makes all the difference.

The 2011 BMW X3 is all-new, the second generation of a model that debuted in 2004 and sold 600,00 units worldwide and 150,000 in the U.S. since then. The all-new goodness begins with what BMW defines as completely redeveloped suspension technology, leading with a double-joint spring-strut suspension up front and a multi-link rear suspension along with BMW speed-sensitive power steering.

The BMW X3 comes in two trim levels defined by the engine in each, a naturally-aspirated magnesium/aluminum 3.0-liter inline six in the X3 xDrive28i, and in our road test 2011 BMW xDrive35i, a turbocharged in-line six producing a maximum output of 300 hp at 5800 rpm. Even more important is the engine’s torque rating, 300 lb-ft from 1500 up to 5000 rpm.

The turbocharged engine’s broad torque curve is due in part to the turbo’s “twin scroll” design, which simply means the exhaust gas the drives the turbocharger’s turbine drives the turbine from two points rather than the conventional one, providing a quicker spool-up for a more responsive engine. As a result, the engine wholly lacks the common turbo lag, the difference between foot on the gas and when the power shows up.

The BMW X3 with either engine comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The eight speeds allow a taller top gear ratio for quieter, more efficient cruising, but the surfeit of ratios means that the steps between them are smaller and as a result, the shift are smoother.

2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i engine

The three-liter turbocharged inline six of the 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i produces a broad spread of torque from 1300 to 5000 rpm.

A novel technology reduces mechanical efficiency losses in the eight-speed transmission. It’s too complex to discuss here–meaning we don’t understand it either.  However, more efficiency means better fuel economy. The design also allows faster shifts and skipping gears. The transmission can skip from a eighth to second, for example, for rapid acceleration. BMW claims the transmission’s kickdown is quick, but our notes say such downshifts, at least in full automatic mode, are “slow to happen,” as if the transmission is taking a moment to think about it. There’s also a delay in moving away from a stop (it’s not turbo lag) that can be eliminated with a deft throttle pedal toe, but the driver shouldn’t have to accommodate the vehicle.

But speaking of rapid acceleration, the 2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i has it, moving like  sports car and sounding like one as well. Which is should, of course, as the engine is used in BMW’s Z4 sports car. The right pedal becomes something of a guilty pleasure. Driving an SUV, um, SAV, isn’t supposed to be giggle inducing, but our test X3 had us grinning every time we dipped into the acceleration well.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.