By Chris Chase, CanadianDriver.com
The BMW X3 was introduced for the 2004 model year as a smaller alternative to the brand’s original crossover, the X5. When it went on sale, the X3 shared its compact, luxury crossover status with just one other vehicle, the Land Rover Freelander, and it wasn’t until 2007 that it would have another competitor in the Acura RDX. The only other vehicles that might be seen as true competitors were fully-loaded versions of more affordable crossovers like the Ford Escape or Subaru Outback, for just a couple of examples.
By 2009, Audi had joined the fray with its Q5, and the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class was available in calendar-year 2009 too.
The original X3 was available with two inline six-cylinders, one being a 2.5-litre (184 hp; 2.5i model) and the other a 3.0-litre (225 hp; 3.0i model), both borrowed from the 3 Series sedan line. In 2007, the engine line-up was revised: the 2.5-litre was dropped, and a 215-hp version of the original 3.0-litre became the base engine, while a 260-hp motor was the upgrade. The model designations were changed to reflect this, with the base model now known as the 3.0i, and the more powerful version called the 3.0si. For 2009, the base 3.0i model was dropped, and the remaining model renamed as the xDrive30i, and in 2010, an xDrive28i was added, using a less-powerful version of the 30i’s engine.
Initial transmission choices were a six-speed manual that could be optioned to a five-speed automatic with either engine. In 2007, the five-speed auto was dropped in favour of a six-speed unit, and the manual transmission was cut from the option sheet in 2009.
Performance at the pumps has more to do with transmission choice than with what engine you prefer. A 2005 X3 3.0i was rated at 13.8/8.8 L/100 km (city/highway) with the manual transmission. Those figures were nominally higher than a manual-equipped 2.5i model, but choosing the automatic with the larger engine means a seven per cent bump in the city fuel consumption rating. The penalty is smaller with the lesser engine, and the difference in highway consumption is much less severe.
For 2007 models, with their revised engine line-up and new six-speed auto, fuel consumption is lower, with ratings for all models coming in between 12.2/8.2 and 12.5/8.4 L/100 km (city/highway), regardless of engine or transmission choice.
Consumer Reports gives the X3 a used vehicle reliability rating of average to above-average, depending on model year.
X3 owners posting on a couple of different BMW forums mention incidences where the ABS, brake and four-wheel drive system warning lights all come on at once while the car is being driven. Possible causes range from a bad wheel speed sensor (these work with the anti-lock braking and traction control systems) to a bad sensor in the all-wheel drive transfer case gearbox. Check these threads at XOutPost.com and RoadFly.com (one and two) for more information.
Consumer Reports gives 2007 and 2008 X3s below-average marks in the publications “transmission – minor” category. This coincides with the year that BMW switched from a five- to a six-speed automatic transmission as the optional gearbox, and according to this thread at BimmerFest.com, is linked to bad transmission software programming. Symptoms are a failure for the transmission to “respond to throttle inputs or engage a lower gear,” and a tendency to downshift roughly in normal mode; the problems disappear when the manual shift mode is used.
An engine cooling system problem noted by Consumer Reports is related, best as I can determine, to many mentions in BMW forums of drivers being alerted to a low coolant level by the car’s on board computer. What’s not clear is whether the X3 is more prone to coolant leaks or faulty coolant level sensors.
Watch for bad air conditioning compressors and refrigerant leaks in older models.
Consumer Reports also notes a startling drop in quality in power equipment in newer models, and trouble with squeaks and rattles and body hardware in early models, which speaks to wear-and-tear issues.
Crash safety ratings are very good. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives all X3s its top-tier “good” rating in both frontal offset and side impact tests, and its performance earned the model the IIHS’ “Top Safety Pick” award for 2009.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) never tested the X3.
On the whole, the X3 comes through the wringer with surprisingly few serious issues, especially compared to its big brother, the X5. If you’re on a budget, look for an early version: used X3 values, says Canadian Black Book, range from $16,025 for a 2004 2.5i model without sunroof or leather seats, to $43,475 for a 2010 xDrive30i model with all the extras, including the M Sport Package and navigation. If you have a little more money to spend, then choose a newer one being sold under BMW’s Certified Series banner, as these vehicles come with a 160,000 km warranty that offers some protection. The X3 is notable for being relatively trouble-free for a high-end German vehicle, but that extra warranty will help avoid some the high cost of any repairs that are necessary.
Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) November, 2010:
|Year||Model||Price today||Price new|
A couple of the usual BMW resources appear here. BimmerFest.com has a dedicated X3 section, as do Roadfly.com and BimmerBoard.com. Then, there are sites that deal exclusively with BMW’s crossovers, like XOutPost.com and XBimmers.com.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2008307; Units affected: 8,090
2004-2006: On certain vehicles, the front passenger seat occupant detection mat can fatigue during field usage depending on the seat configuration, vehicle geometry, manner and frequency of front passenger entry/exit. Over time micro cracks could develop in the side flanks of the mat, which could lead to a break of the conductive path and the system will recognize a failure and with exception of head protection system the front passenger air bag will be deactivated. The airbag On/Off lamp will be illuminated to make the occupants aware of the deactivation. Correction: The occupant detection mat will be granted a warranty extension of 10 years.
Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004053; Units affected: 233
2004: On certain vehicles, the compliance label does not meet the requirements of CMVSS 120. The Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) for the front axle is missing and the GAWR for the rear axle is incorrect. Correction: Dealer will install new correct labels.
Crash test results
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.
For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.
Chris Chase is an Ottawa-based automotive journalist. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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