[I accidentally posted this a few hours into the past. So, sorry for the semi-repost]
BMW three liter n/a straight six backed by a satisfying manual gearbox: this is a good formula to start with, but then it kind of goes off the rails.
I’ve been driving my wife’s 2007 BMW X3 more lately as it approaches 200,000 miles and my car is lingering down in the 150k range. Also mine has snow tires, so on snowy days she takes mine because she’s going ~100 miles round trip and I’m not (hence the high mileage on her DD).
Let me start by pointing out probably its biggest issue. It’s another Amorphous Blob of a bloated, “lifted wagon” that US consumers seem to LOVE for some reason, instead of the equivalent car-based wagon of similar size. As others have observed, this causes a huge range of vehicles to look exactly the same in profile or silouhette.
Why on Earth anyone would choose this over a 5-series wagon is beyond me. My lovely, brilliant wife literally says, “I like to be higher up relative to other cars (read: SUVs) on the highway, even though I know rationally it’s not better. It just feels better.” At least she admits that it’s not totally rational. But that’s a little bit like, the neigbors have an ugly fence that’s 5' high so I made mine 6' high. Now theirs is 7' high so I had to go up to 8.’ I blame the Joneses.
So I can kind of get over the fact that it’s taller for no reason, because it does handle pretty well. I drive an E46 every day so I do *think* I know what a nice handling car feels like, and the X3 holds its own. The problem is, they had to stiffen things up to get it not to roll over like a harbor seal in the corners, so when it gets bumpy, you feel it. And by “it” I mean Everything. Those little tiny frost heaves that are erupting all over our roads right now like a teenager’s acne-peppered face? I hate them in the X3. Let me tell you, I had my parents’ 2006 Volvo XC70 for a few days and it was pure bliss on those same bumps. Granted, you pay for that when you try to go around corners, but the Volvo isn’t that bad. Plus the Volvo is quite a bit bigger inside.
A quick Google search tells me I’m right: the Volvo has more cargo space: ~37 cu. ft. vs. ~31 cu. ft. with the seats up, and about the same (~71 cu. ft.) with the seats down. But I’ll tell you where that space is. It’s *vertical* space that’s useless unless you’re packing a) styrofoam peanuts, or b) a cabinet that is the EXACT size of your cargo area and then, you’re SOL if you so much as LOOK at the sunroof while loading a piece of furniture. I’ll come back to that.
The bottom line is, the Volvo rides nicer, doesn’t handle as well, but holds appreciably more stuff for the 95% of the time when your back seat isn’t folded down. Which for us is more like 100% because we have 2 child seats permanently installed in the back seat. In fact, while I’m sure my 325 wagon has LESS overall cargo space, again it’s mostly in the height department and I find that there’s very little practical difference in the stuff we can fit in the 325 vs. the X3. Add to that the placement of the rear child seat anchors (see pic) and you’ll see what the space looks like in reality.
I haven’t exactly been positive here, so let me turn that around a little. I started by mentioning that engine/transmission combo that’s been a defining characteristic of so many great BMW’s. While the X3 is no hero, it does make for a satisfying drive. The transmission is far better than the 5 speed in my 325, the throws are shorter (or they feel like it anyway), the engagement is more precise, and the ratios are good. That 6th gear is a nice highway cruiser that my 325 could desperately use. This car really handles long highway stretches nicely, I will certainly say that. Our example has an unusual option of “comfort seats” which have adjustable lumbar and oddly, the seat back pivots in the middle. Yup, there’s a button to curve the seatback both directions, in addition to changing the overall recline angle like all seats. It’s weird, but I guess it’s nice? I may still prefer Sport seats with higher bolsters.
Speaking of the seats, the driver’s seat heater actually burned through the seat while my wife was sitting in it. She wasn’t really hurt, but it was rather... alarming. BMW bought us a new seat bottom, so that was nice. Clearly this was a safety concern but not a recall, and we were WAY out of warranty, so I’ll take it. Still, yikes.
What about other, more standard features? Strangely enough, they only offered one trim level for the ‘07 and probably a few other years as well, the “3.0si.” I’m sure you could option things like Nav (you shouldn’t) and heated rear seats (ours has this, but they are trapped under car seats). But overall I think they could have gone without the 3.0 and definitely the “si” badge - when I hear “si” in BMW context, I think “3.0csi,” but this isn’t that. Maybe it means “sunroof inevitable.”
Ohhhhh, the sunroof. My wife was reaching into the back seat to help our then-infant son with something, and bumped her head gently on the sunroof cover, which was closed at the time. I should mention it’s a panoramic sunroof, and it wasn’t an option from what I’ve heard. You have a 2007 X3, you have this sunroof. Cool in concept, but she broke a single clip on the track of that cover and long story short, the entire headliner had to come down to replace not just the clip, because they’re not sold like that; the entire “cassette” which - little known fact - is actually a German word translating roughly to “bend zee fuck over stupeed Amereecann, zis is going to be expenseeve.” This was about a $1,500 mistake and that’s not even dealer pricing. That was the single most painful car repair I’ve ever had. Now we do not close the cover unless absolutely necessary.
Speaking of repairs, this car has been
very good okay... moderate in that department, sunroof debacle notwithstanding. We had to replace the silly electric water pump to the tune of $1000(in my 325 this is under $100 and takes about 30 minutes), but other than that, it’s had a few sensor issues that I was able to easily remedy in the driveway, a bad coil (5 minute DIY), a broken rear spring (yup, replace both) and front lower ball joints. What else? A valve cover gasket... and that’s it (I think)? I know that’s not a cheap list, but we bought this car outright about 4 years ago with 90k miles for around $15k and it’s nearing 200k as I mentioned. It has a lot of life in it, it still drives very nicely, it’s comfortable, and generally no less fun to drive on normal roads than my 325.
Oh yeah this is an SUV so I should probably mention its off-road capabilities (ahem, cough). It has some ground clearance, but the gearing of the manual is too high for any low-speed maneuvering. It has a hill-descent control that I’ve never used (my wagon also inexplicably has this feature). The AWD system is of course suited to slippery road traction, rather than mud slingin’ or rock crawlin’ but wait, no one is buying a manual X3 for this.
Mileage? It claims 18/26 and it’s more like 16/22. Interior? The leather is nice and things are well put-together, but the 2007 navigation system and related screen are now horrendously dated, just like I predict EVERY CAR WILL BE thanks to the proliferation of already-outdated hardware and software being installed in place of traditional replaceable head units and intuitive HVAC systems with knobs and dials. Some of the trim and switches just aren’t as nice as my 2003 E46 - see pic of window switches. But overall, it’s got good ergonomics, nice space for the passengers, reasonable visibility, and all the gadgets work.
One last point: the passenger’s cupholder. WTF. It comes out of the dash, right by the passenger’s right knee. So, you either can’t get in/out of the car with it extended, or you’re going to get coffee spilled on your leg, or both. And neither my wife nor I are are big people - we can squeeze past it in theory - it’s just so incredibly poorly placed, that it is utterly useless. Like the old Subaru ones that were directly over the head unit, only much more likely to be broken accidentally; admittedly less likely to spill Red Bull directly into your CD slot.
Overall, would I buy one again? Nah, I’d have the 5-series wagon like I said up front. Or my 325 wagon which is 90% as useful and 110% as fun to drive. Or a Volvo XC70 because it’s got more room inside and isn’t much worse to drive. Probably the biggest reason we’ll to hang on to this car for a while? That sweet - endangered - manual. Plus I just turned over 189k this morning; we’ve GOT to see it past 200 at this point, right? And then it’s only another ~38k to the Moon...