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The BMW X3 compact crossover SUV got more efficient for 2013 with a new engine and new standard features, including automatic stop/start on all models. The naturally aspirated inline-6 once used in the base xDrive28i disappeared, replaced with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 found in many other BMW models, including the X1, Z4, and 3 Series. Although smaller than the outgoing engine, the new twin-scroll turbo was slightly more powerful and offers improved fuel economy.
For 2014, each X3 gains some standard equipment, including a universal garage door opener, auto-dimming inside and outside mirrors, 40/20/40 split folding rear seats, ambiance lighting, BMW Assist Call, and BMW TeleService. The navigation system, now called iDrive 4.2, includes a new idrive rotary controlled with integrated touchpad.
The X3 was last redesigned for 2011. The exterior is tasteful, with classic BMW design cues such as the signature twin-kidney grille. Inside, the interior is luxuriously appointed, with a surprisingly generous amount of cargo space behind the second row. A power liftgate is standard on all X3 models.
The BMW X3 comes in two model choices. The 2014 BMW X3 xDrive28i is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 241 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The 2014 BMW X3 xDrive35i contains a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline six-cylinder, rated 300 hp and 300 pound-feet. Both engines are mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system comes standard on all X3 models. The X3 retains as much of a rear-drive feel as it can muster, using a multi-plate clutch to vary rear-to-front torque split: from fully 100 percent committed to the rear, down to 40 percent sent forward to assist with traction when needed.
During our test drive, the BMW X3 xDrive35i demonstrated some of the best poise and isolation we've ever experienced in an SUV on gravel roads. Its suspension system, which uses a double-joint spring-strut mechanism at the front and a multi-link system at the rear, makes it the best-handling X3 to date.
The automatic stop/start system is invasive, however, and makes an obvious shudder when the engine turns off or starts up again. The driver can switch it off, but it resets back to on every time the car is started.
All 2014 BMW X3 models are equipped with BMW's Driving Dynamics Control, which allows drivers to select from four driving modes that range from sporty to thrifty. The system adjusts the suspension as well as the level of steering assist. A mode dubbed Eco Pro can reduce fuel usage by up to 20 percent, according to BMW, by optimizing engine, transmission, brakes, climate control and electrical settings. A special display on the iDrive screen shows where the vehicle is saving energy and coaches drivers on how to be most efficient.
Fuel economy estimates for the 2014 BMW X3 are 21/28 mpg City/Highway with the 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 in the xDrive28i, according to the EPA; and 19/26 mpg City/Highway with the 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 used in the xDrive35i. Premium fuel is required with both engines.
When it comes to small luxury crossovers, the 2014 BMW X3 beats most competitors on cargo space, including the Mercedes-Benz GLK350. The X3 is perhaps the best choice in the segment for those looking for practicality without compromising sporty driving dynamics, but those attributes don't come cheap. Price-wise, the X3 reaches into larger SUV territory, overlapping with more practical people movers like the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 350. From a size standpoint, the BMW X3 competes with the Acura RDX, Audi Q5, and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class.