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Meet the new 2011 BMW X3

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Story by Jim Murray

For those of us in the car business, nothing compares to the release of a new vehicle. And year after year, nothing seems to dampen that excitement. It’s always a new, joyful kind of experience. This year, BMW Canada introduced its second generation of a vehicle that launched the an entirely new Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV) segment: the all-new 2011 BMW X3.

The original 2004 BMW X3 came to market in 2003 and, like the automotive landscape itself, the X3 has changed dramatically since then. While the original was highly successful, with worldwide sales exceeding 600,000 units, its release also gave rise to a furiously competitive SAV segment which remains, in fact, the fastest growing segment in the luxury car market with many fresh entries in the last few years alone.

Production of the latest BMW X3 has recently moved from its plant in Austria to join BMW’s worldwide SAV production at the Spartanburg South Carolina Plant. Home to the X3, X5 and X6, the $4-billion Spartanburg plant is situated on 1,150 acres with a 4 million sq/ft campus. Its average output for the worldwide market: 1,000 cars per day. Late last year, I was invited to tour the newly expanded plant at the world launch of the new X3 – a truly impressive facility that’s worth a visit if you find yourself in South Carolina. Now back to the car. It’s amazing.

First impressions

The 2011 X3 has built on its core competencies but has added a bunch of new technological features to establish a new benchmark in this segment. The first thing I noticed was its size. Like a proud parent, I have to say it really has grown, both physically and esthetically. The new X3 is a real looker, borrowing

some obvious design inspiration from the X5, but with a surprisingly bold and sculptured body that really makes it unique. It should come as no surprise that the X3 is as attractive inside as it is outside. The premium interior option includes double-stitched leather that is exclusive to the X3, along with a selection of elegant wood and aluminum trim.

The Technology package boasts the latest advancements, including Connected Drive, which essentially transforms the X3 into a mobile office – it allows Bluetooth Smartphones to read emails and text messages aloud and can transfer them to the i Drive screen. Music can be streamed wirelessly from mobile devices and compatible players. A really cool perk: store up to 12 GB of music from an iPod, iPhone, memory stick or CD on the car’s built-in hard drive. Rock on, indeed.

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The nitty gritty

Playing a supportive role for both Powertrain variants is the innovative new 8-speed automatic transmission – it truly brings smooth shifting, sportiness and efficiency to new levels. The 8-speed has taller cruising gears, which contribute significantly to reducing fuel consumption and emissions, plus has a wider spread of ratios from lowest to highest to enhance response and acceleration across the entire range of driving speeds.

With class-leading performance and efficiency, the 2011 X3 xDrive 35i is the top model featuring BMW’s newest turbocharged 3.0l in-line 6-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection, twin-scroll turbo technology and Valvetronic. At 7,000 rpm, the X3 3.5i will sprint from 0 to 60mph in just 5.5 seconds. The X3 xDrive 28i, on the other hand, features the award winning magnesium/aluminum 3.0l in-line 6 cylinder engine and jumps from 0 to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds – that’s nearly half a second quicker than the outgoing 2010 X3. Both cars offer tremendous value for BMW SAVs of this stature, ranging in base price from $41,900 to $46,900

On a roll

Both the 28i and the 35i use the latest (3rd generation) xDrive intelligent all-wheel drive system. This incorporates improved handling characteristics, quicker response times and marks an evolution in xDrive capabilities I’m always amazed at the X3’s off road potential. During my factory tour and performance drive at the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, we put the X3 35i through a series of

off-road tests. Believe me: this X3 is far more competent that you could ever imagine – I was able to go vertical at seemingly impossible angles, raising two of its wheels off ground. That was the moment I truly understood what our xDrive system is capable of.

In such an extreme scenario, the car manages to grip the road and supply power to the wheels without any of the slipping or jerking that you would expect. Its smooth, constant performance on uneven, slippery terrain lets me know that an everyday drive over Vancouver streets is sure to feel effortless an extremely smooth ride with agile cornering and breaking.

Fashion & Accessories

In addition to its bold and confident body, the new X3 3.5i will be available with an M Sport package, which includes colour keyed M cladding, Sport automatic transmission with M Sport shift paddles, black high-gloss roof rails, sport seats, brushed aluminum trim, anthracite roof liner and, of course,19-in. M alloy wheels with all season tires. The New X3 possesses a host of other new features not seen on the previous incarnation. Previously, a Sport package meant a compromise between maximum performance and ride quality, but with the optional Dynamic Comfort Package, active dampers solve that dilemma. While Bluetooth comes standard on the X3, the optional BMW Combox allows text messages and emails to be read to you while you drive via the BMW mobile office system. The storage compartment package adds great value with innovative storage solutions not offered in any other BMW. The latest Navigation system gets you to your destination safely with turn-by-turn instructions and, once there, allow the rear- and top-view cameras to guide you into your parking space with confidence. Always a leader in performance, and now a forerunner in technological perks, you might call the new X3 a classic overachiever.

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