This week’s drive begs the question of style and performance vs. reputation and performance. How so?
The tested BMW X3 compact SUV is a direct competitor of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio I tested a week prior. Darn near the same dimensions, the Alfa is just an inch longer. Similar power too, the BWM having 20 more ponies under its hood.
The difference is in looks, styling if you will, and reputation. While Alfa has a performance reputation, the long-term reliability of its vehicles has historically been a bit sketchy. BMW boasts of being the ultimate driving machine, and generally has a stronger long-term reliability rating.
Face value though, that impression that hits you when you first see a vehicle, is all in the Alfa’s favor. It looks lean and fast and, well, a bit sexy if you can see that in a car. Its nose is distinctive, like no other. It turns heads.
Meanwhile, the dark olive metallic (a brownish black) BMW X3 maintains its pleasant but uninspired businessman-in-a-dark-suit styling. It blends in, but it’ll kick you in the seat of the pants when you’re not looking.
Power in the tested xDrive 35i model (top of the line) comes from a silky smooth turbocharged six cylinder engine that delivers 300 horsepower and an equal torque rating. Power comes on in a steady surge and just keeps building, with only slight hesitation when you press the accelerator and after cornering. Shifting from the 8-speed ZF automatic is near perfect.
Handling is impressive too. The compact SUV powers around corners like a sport sedan and the SUV has three drive modes to allow the driver to choose his or her performance. Sport holds the engine revs longer and firms the steering wheel, although there’s still a touch of play in it. That’s something I didn’t expect in a BMW. The Alfa actually felt more responsive and nimble.
Normal mode eases the steering effort some and feels more fluid than crisp. There’s a little more wheel play. But the little X3 ute still corners like a champ.
Ride is controlled and pleasant at all times while always leaning toward a sport vs. a luxury ride. Braking is top shelf and the xDrive model comes with all-wheel-drive, so would be fine in winter driving. Only the base X3 sDrive 28i is rear-wheel drive.
That “base” X3, by the way, lists for $40,245, including delivery fees, and comes with a 240-horse 2.0-liter I4 turbo. Meanwhile the tested X3 35i starts at $48,945 and with options (there’s the rub), climbed to $59,745, nearly $60 grand. Mind you this is a compact SUV, not a mid-size or full-size ute.
Yet inside you’d swear it is near the top of the heap as it’s so quiet and comfortable. But again, more than $10,000 worth of options help make it that way.
The test ute came with a black dash and tan leather seats and door trim, a gloss black center stack and console with wood trim above the stack, but below the large radio/nav screen and on the doors. Trim is a matte silver.
Both the front and rear seats, plus steering wheel, are heated. But that’s due to a $950 cold weather option package. Even the rearview camera is extra here, despite the ute’s nearly $50 grand starting price. The camera and park distance control are another $950 and then the “driver assistance package plus” adds blind-spot detection, a surround view camera, and the all-encompassing BMW Active Driving Assistant. That warns the driver of possible forward collisions, brakes for it automatically, beeps if there’s a pedestrian in the ute’s path and includes lane departure warning and constant updates as to the current speed limits. All that adds $1,700.
Prefer an active cruise control system that slows the car when someone slowly pulls in front of you? Well, it’s packaged with the stop & go, or start-stop system that turns off the engine when the vehicle is at rest in an effort to save fuel. That costs $1,200 and the dynamic handling package that includes the drive modes that firm or loosen the steering effort costs $1,400.
You can see that such add-ons add up quickly. And there were more.
For instance a wireless charging system for your phone costs $400, adding leather seats instead of a fake leather that is standard, adds another $1,450 and finally there was a technology package with a head-up display, smart phone interface, real-time traffic info for the GPS and fancier instrument cluster with remove communications. That’s the big boy from a cost perspective at $2,750. Ouch!
Some things are standard though on the top-level X3, including the massive panoramic sunroof and the power rear hatch. Oh, that hatch is even standard on the base model. Keyless entry is standard here too. Yawn!
On the practical side, the X3 has a 40/20/40 split rear seat that folds in those proportions. That helps extend the cargo area, the floor of which is raised, making it slightly more difficult to load heavy flat items as you must lift them even further over the rear bumper. Storage space is good though, better than in the Alfa.
Well-shaped form-fitting seats also are standard. These were quite comfortable and supportive and naturally were powered and included a power lumbar support and two memory buttons. Long-legged drivers will appreciate that the bottom cushions also can be extended for better thigh support.
The X3’s dash is well laid out and easy to see, especially the large nav/radio screen. Sadly BMW continues with a complex multi-function radio/map/media menu controlled via a knob on the console. While I figured it out quickly, it’s not easy to use while driving.
There’s also a manual tilt/telescope steering wheel. I’d expect power at this price. And the visors overhead do slide, but are so stiff that they are hard to budge.
Gas consumption is not bad, very similar to the Alfa’s smaller turbo four-banger. In theory the smaller engine should be more efficient. I managed 25.9 mpg in about 70% highway driving and the BMW, being a premium model, drinks premium fuel. The EPA rates the X3 at 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, a smidge lower than the Alfa.
Pricewise the BMW stacks up against the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F-Pace and Audi Q5. Less expensive are the Alfa, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX50, Lexus NX and Volvo XC60, to name a few.
So is it style and performance or reputation and performance you seek? And at what price?
FAST STATS: 2017 BMW X3 xDrive 35i
Hits: Excellent power, handling, ride plus AWD. Quiet interior with big sunroof, heated front/rear seats and steering wheel, form-fitting power seats, power hatch and three drive modes.
Misses: No power tilt/telescope wheel, complex multi-function radio/map/media menu on console, visors slide, but hard to slide, raised cargo floor limits easy loading and cuts into storage area, plus it drinks premium. Many options punish the price.
Made in: Spartanburg, S.C.
Engine: 3.0-liter turbocharged 6 cylinder, 300 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 110.6 in.
Length: 183.6 in.
Cargo: 27.6 cu. ft.
MPG: 19/26 (EPA)
MPG: 25.9 (tested)
Base Price: $48,945 (includes delivery)
Invoice: $46,090 (includes delivery)
Cold weather package (heated front/rear seats & steering wheel, retractable headlight washers), $950
Driver assistance package (park distance control, rearview camera), $950
Driver assistance package plus (blind-spot detection, surround view camera, Active Driving Assistant – collision mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, pedestrian warning and speed limit info), $1,700
Dynamic handling package (damper control, variable sport steering), $1,400
Technology package (remote services communications system, instrument cluster w/extended contents, head-up display, advance real time traffic info, smart phone interface), $2,750)
Cruise control/active w/stop & go, $1,200
Seat trim, Nevada leather surface, $1,450
Wireless charging, $400
Test vehicle: $59,745
Sources: BMW, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage