Machine Design

2004 BMW X3 3.0i

Probably the toughest part of reviewing the 2004 BMW X3 3.0i is finding something to complain about.

Probably the toughest part of reviewing the is finding something to complain about. It does everything quite well. A 3.0-liter 225-hp inline six-cylinder engine coupled to a six-speed manual transmission (five-speed automatic overdrive also available) gives the "Sport Activity Vehicle" plenty of stopandgo zip, though it is equally capable of sustained, high-speed cruise. A pair of business day trips provided an opportunity to experience the latter, one of them in freezing rain and snow.

Here I was especially appreciative of the rain-sensing windshield wipers. The wipers automatically adjust stroke rate to keep up with road splash. The system works so well that I never gave it a second thought. I also like the aircraft-style, red-illuminated gages that don't hurt your night vision.

The X3 is glass smooth and whisper quiet at highway speeds, with just a hint of exhaust growl under acceleration. Handling as you'd expect is precise and predictable thanks in part to all-wheel drive. Ride quality is more like a performance luxury car than a sport-ute. An especially nice surprise is the decent fuel economy. BMW says to expect 17 mpg in the city and 25 mpg highway. I got 26 mpg on the highway.

A firm but comfortable driver's seat with two-way adjustable lumbar support helps melt away the miles. The front-seat passenger is afforded the same luxury. Rear seating is comfortable as well. A six-foot-tall friend who rode in back reported he had plenty of legroom. I also hauled a 180-lb package in the rear cargo area, after having first placed my entire weight on the load floor to verify its integrity.

Our test model came with a navigation system, an $1,800 option. I'd suggest reading the manual first because it can be somewhat intimidating, and there are plenty of capabilities I never tapped. A pop-up map display tilts in precise increments with a button push to suit driver preference. Neat. An onboard computer and a great sound system all feed through the same display.

Actually, there is one thing tougher than trying to find fault with the X3 — giving it up after a week. BMW engineers did their homework and it shows. The only bad news, if you can call it that, is the sticker price. A $36,300 base plus options brings the total to $42,170.

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