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From the very first time we drove a pre-production prototype in a secluded forest in Bavaria, we knew the second-gen BMW X3 was going to be a much more popular vehicle than the original. And that was with Munich’s crazy black-and-white paisley camo covering the finer details of its body, and a linen closet’s worth of drapes covering the dashboard and center console’s secrets.
Fast-forward a year and a half, and we’re in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the new X3 is built, and we’re taking delivery of our newly-minted 2012 X3 long-termer. We’re lucky on two counts: First, that BMW was able to allocate an X3 to us considering they’re in such high demand right now, in pretty much every corner of the planet. Second, that we were able to schedule a delivery time at the Performance Center adjacent to the factory; it seems factory delivery is an increasingly popular option these days as well.
We placed our order for a 2012 model back in the summer with plans for an early fall delivery. Past long-termers we’ve usually pilfered from the inventory of cars built for new-model press launches, but our last experience left us a little cold. It was our own fault really, having insisted on a 535i with manual transmission and sport package. The pickin’s were thin, and we ended up with a lightly-equipped version that lacked such bare necessities (in our opinion) as navigation, seat heaters and satellite radio. So this time we asked if we could spec one out like a customer and then do a full delivery in Spartanburg. To our amazement, BMW agreed.
So here’s what we ordered. Starting with the turbocharged six-cylinder 35i model ($43,275 with destination charge), we insisted on adding the very basics (see above, re: 535i) to its already well-equipped standard specification. That meant a cold weather package (heated front seats and steering wheel) for $700 and a technology package (navigation plus rearview camera and park distance sensors) for another $3200. A sport package would have been fine, but we wanted ours to stand out just a bit more, so we upped the ante a bit and went with the full-on M Sport package with its more aggressive bodywork, 19-inch wheels, thick sport steering wheel with paddle shifters and anthracite headliner ($3000). This move limited our color choices to some degree, but we felt the metallic Vermillion Red hue (paired with oyster-colored leather) suited the sportier look quite well, even if it meant another $550. We also opted in on the dynamic handling package ($1300) that includes variable sport steering.
At this point we would have been satisfied, but we did the same thing most owners probably would at least seriously consider — we rode the elevator. Next stop, premium package. At $3450, it’s not cheap, but it has so many of the things that really take the new X3 from a premium lifestyle vehicle to a true luxury car. It’s hard to imagine stepping up to this level and skipping auto-dimming mirrors, power liftgate, keyless comfort access and built-in garage door openers. Details like the rear side-window shades and ambience lighting give the small soft-roader a more polished feel too.
Final stop, electronics department. Here we splurged a bit more, starting with the $950 premium sound package, which upgrades the standard system by adding 395 watts of power and 4 additional speakers for a total of 600 watts and 16 speakers; it also includes our beloved satellite radio tuner with a one-year subscription to SiriusXM. As if our entertainment options weren’t already plentiful, we also ticked the box for BMW Apps, allowing us to stream music using both Pandora and MOG, as well as make ridiculous updates to social media pages without ever picking up our phone. This little treat was the cheapest of all at $250, bringing our MSRP to a grand total of $56,675.
Despite our best efforts to schedule our delivery while the paint was still wet, the realities of life (auto shows, new vehicle launches, a wedding) meant our X3 sat in a holding lot for several weeks before we were able to retrieve it. But on the assigned day in mid-November, we arrived in Spartanburg (technically, it’s in Greer) to find the red gem parked in one of the immaculate glass delivery bays at the BMW Performance Center. Our liaison and vehicle delivery expert Jonathan Stribble had all the paperwork prepared and spent the better part of the next hour patiently going over all the intricacies of the X3, making sure we understood all the functions and menus. For me, it was at least the fourth time I had spent with the X3 since its launch as a 2011 model, and yet another in the countless number of new BMWs I’ve driven in the recent past, yet I still learned a couple new tricks thanks to his thoroughness.
As the knowledgeable Mr. Stribble tells us, the standard delivery window at the Performance Center is a full two hours. While many returning BMW owners choose this option (North American owners may take delivery of any new BMW at the Spartanburg center), a healthy percentage of deliveries are new to the brand entirely. Since their only job is to acquaint new owners with their cars — they aren’t trying to answer sales calls or rushing off to greet the next “up” in the parking lot — the delivery experts cover a lot of ground. It’s a great strategy considering how complicated a new BMW might seem to the uninitiated; drivers who actually know how to use their cars are likely to be more satisfied and less confused by them.
Whether or not you take delivery in Spartanburg, you’ll still have a chance to see your new X3 (or X5 or X6 for that matter) being built. BMW has installed video cameras at certain assembly points along the line. You can watch the car being built live if you place your order in advance and register at BMW’s customer site, otherwise everyone gets a copy of the completed video after it’s assembled.
Typically customers taking delivery at the Performance Center are hosted overnight at the Marriot hotel in nearby Greenville and are given a tour of the factory plus a little taste of the driving instruction on the day of their delivery. We’d already taken a tour of the plant the week before and had a full day of driving ahead of us, so we skipped the additional attractions and hit the road.
The drive from Spartanburg to our offices in Chicago is a little over 700 miles, which works out to about twelve hours if you roll with fast traffic and keep stops to a minimum. The X3 already had a full tank, but we needed a little roadtrip fuel for ourselves, something to stick to our ribs and keep us full for a couple hundred miles or more. When you’re in the south, that can mean only one thing — Waffle House. Our Yankee accent apparently confused our waitress, who could have sworn she heard us order grits with our waffle, eggs and bacon. “Ain’t too often we git us a northerner that orders grits!” Well, we did.
That first tank of gas lasted longer than the Waffle House grub, and at 376 miles from Spartanburg we left the highway for dinner at the Cracker Barrel in Frankfort, Kentucky. We took on a full plate of chicken ‘n dumplings and sweet tea (pronounced as one word) while the X3 swallowed 16.2 gallons of premium unleaded. There was still a gallon and a half in reserve, enough to take us maybe another 35 miles based on its 23.2-mpg consumption, but why risk it? That second fillup turned out to be enough to get us the rest of the way home, though just barely. The next morning we tip-toed to the local gas station where the car took on exactly 17.569 gallons!
Since the first day’s nearly-800 mile trek, we’ve been using the X3 primarily as a daily commuter. As expected, the fuel economy in daily use has dropped to around the 20-mpg mark, falling in line with the EPA’s 19 city and 26 highway ratings. But already we love this X3 as a family car with a sporty personality. In the next update, we’ll fill you in on all the in-car entertainment options we’ve been exploring.