It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to drop loaded-to-the-gills examples of their latest rides on our doorsteps, eager for virtual ink on all the new (and often profitable) gadgets, devices and apps they hope you’ll tick when you’re dreaming about your next new car on their online configurators. Dream as you will, but the realities of life often dictate that some option boxes be left blank, as was demonstrated with the BMW X3 that recently visited us.
Seriously overhauled for 2011, BMW made significant upgrades to the second-generation X3, particularly in terms of interior space and material quality. It now looks and feels more akin to its bigger stablemate, the X5. Our experience with the new X3 has thus far been limited to the twin-turbo, 300-horsepower version, christened the X3 xDrive35i. But despite all these improvements, BMW managed to hold the price steady for the naturally aspirated base model X3, the xDrive28i, which despite a name change — it was formerly the X3 3.0si — carries over the 240-horsepower 3.0-liter N52 engine from the previous generation.
Even with no change in the rated output, the standard-issue 2011 X3 feels fresh and responsive. Credit no doubt goes in part to the new eight-speed automatic gearbox, which is standard and replaces the former six-speed auto. Adding to the smooth, quick-shifting mechanical fluidity is the quieter body and interior of the new design, better isolating the passenger compartment from the harsh world outside. In truth, if it weren’t for all the blank panels and switches on our test model, it would be easy to forget it’s not a top-shelf version. And filling in the blanks can really add up.
In true BMW fashion, each X3 model starts out more or less as a blank canvas on which you may add options in either a la carte or package form. Buying into the more powerful drivetrain automatically gains you a few more standard features — in this case, it’s a matter of larger wheels, wood trim, chrome exhaust, xenon headlights and adaptive LED taillights — but otherwise the options lists for the two models look more similar than different.
Ours was modestly equipped for the most part, adding a cold weather package ($1150, and making electric heat in the steering wheel and four seats), aluminum roof rails ($250), keyless comfort access ($500), satellite radio ($350), and optional metallic paint ($550) to the one big option, the $3450 premium package. Ticking this box gets you the panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery (leatherette is standard on all X3s), wood trim, auto-dimming mirrors and a built-in garage door opener. All of these options make for a nice family car, but it still doesn’t address all the blanks on the dash and center console.
BMW, naturally, will gladly fill those blanks for a price beyond the $43,875 on our tester’s window sticker. The options list for the X3 is deep. A technology package ($3200) is the best way to fill the block-off plates, adding park distance control, satellite navigation with real-time traffic data, and the impressive rearview camera with additional top-view cameras built into the side mirrors. Opting into that package widens the color screen in the center of the dash, taking it from an impressive seven inches to a surprising ten, and it eliminates the taunting of the non-functioning “NAV” position on the standard iDrive controller.
The dynamic handling package ($1400) will add a couple switches next to the shift lever while giving you the option of sport or normal chassis damping while maintaining a more rear-drive oriented power delivery and variable-rate sport steering. A head-up display ($1300) generates its own button below the headlight switch.
The convenience package ($1850) won’t fill any panels, but it will gain you the 35i’s xenon headlamps and adaptive light control, as well as offer rear seat passengers the added comfort of roll-up sunshades. And there’s always the option of upgraded audio for another $875.
Of course, the beauty of BMW’s flexible manufacturing process is that you can cherry-pick your options if you only want certain bits and pieces. The combinations are limitless, but even without a laundry list of technology options, the standard-issue X3 represents one hell of a decent family vehicle.