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The price of progress

BMW’s X3 3.0i — the company’s entry-level crossover SUV — costs $45,300for the base model. Hey, German engineering isn’t cheap, right? Butwhen you compare the X3 to its closest competitors, the Acura RDX($43,000 and change), Infiniti EX35 ($40,000), and Land Rover LR2($46,000 and change), the price doesn’t seem all that incredible.


BMW’s X3 3.0i — the company’s entry-level crossover SUV — costs $45,300 for the base model. Hey, German engineering isn’t cheap, right? But when you compare the X3 to its closest competitors, the Acura RDX ($43,000 and change), Infiniti EX35 ($40,000), and Land Rover LR2 ($46,000 and change), the price doesn’t seem all that incredible.

The thing is, BMW spotted the mini-crossover craze years ago. For its competitors, the X3 was the benchmark in every way — power, equipment, size, and pricing.

So Acura’s RDX has the BMW’s handling, the Infiniti has its style, and the Land Rover its luxury. But are any of these three actually better than the original?

For starters, the X3 trails a bit in the power department. Sure, its 3.0-litre inline six-cylinder engine is the epitome of smoothness, but at 215 horsepower it won’t be winning any stoplight races. The power level isn’t noticeable in everyday driving, but becomes obvious when loaded with people and luggage for a weekend getaway.

Interior room, while well-appointed with the latest gadgets and (amazing) optional panoramic sunroof, isn’t much better than a BMW 3 Series wagon. A Land Rover LR2 is tops in this class if you’re looking for space and utility.

In the technology stakes, BMW was one of the first to offer true iPod connectivity, Bluetooth integration and a proper hi-fidelity audio system (with two subwoofers!)

Now, Acura and especially Infiniti have upped their game to provide even more electronic toys.

Where the X3 shines, though, is in the driving experience. It’s especially nimble and car-like for in-town driving — something its competitors can’t match. The ride in early X3s was far too harsh, but has since been fixed to provide a comfortable drive. The X3’s impressive visibility, easy steering, good brakes and black bumper protectors are everything you’ll need for city driving.

An automatic transmission is a no-charge option; the premium package ($3,300) adds the big sunroof, heated steering wheel, xenon headlights and privacy glass; and a sport package ($1,000) gives different suspension, sport steering wheel and upgraded 18-inch alloy wheels. Metallic paint ($800), Nevada leather ($2,400), park distance control ($900), active steering ($350), aluminum running boards ($750), and BMW Assist (roadside safety service) with Bluetooth ($1,100) are all standalone options.

In short, this little BMW isn’t a vehicle impressive in any one area. It strikes a good balance between city driving and highway touring — but it really shines in an urban environment. If you’re in a downtown condo with limited parking and need a vehicle that’s easy to use with a modicum of luxury, the X3 is just about perfect. If you’re not that person, the X3 is still a strong contender in the mix.

 
 
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