Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Review of the X3 3.0

Originally uploaded by arc8ect.
Okay, I admit I’ve been remiss in posting my driving impressions of the BMW X3 3.0 that I had for close to a month. Part of the reason for my tardiness has to do with my blood boiling over the reason I had the X3 for close to a month. I took the M5 in for some tires and an oil service. They wound up keeping it for over four weeks and I wasn’t even granted the X3 until after they had the M5 for a week. But that is another story altogether.

I’m not an SUV guy. I have an M5 and Z4 for a reason. I like cars; small fast ones. The SUV world doesn’t resonate with me although there are certain circumstances where they are the most appropriate vehicle choice for some. Although I cannot personally think of any type of outdoor activity or location I would want to go that my M5 couldn’t handle I am a Florida boy and don’t have to deal with things such as snow. Suffice it to say that I am biased against SUVs and they could shade my analysis of the X3. Consider yourself warned.

First things first. This blog is named Bangled Bimmer and we therefore start with the aesthetics of the vehicle. Controversial as always, the X3 embraces all the design cues of the Bangle era. There is flame surfacing everywhere and asymmetry is employed wherever they think they can get away with it. In person the vehicle is striking but not beautiful. The flame surfacing give the carriage work an aura of muscular tautness (insert Goldmember quote) that the pre-Bangle bimmers didn’t have. Granted, it’s more of a Navratilova tautness as opposed to the Kournikova variety, but this is one characteristic of flame surfacing that I think is quite successful. Especially when directly compared to their immediate predecessor the new bimmers look much more physically fit. This is more pronounced in the new 3 series when viewed side by side with an E46. The new 3 is larger than the old but appears more lithe then my beloved E46. See, I’m not an SUV guy. I try to write about the X3 and immediately digress into discussions about the new 3 series. Anyway, the X3 is not a knockout, nor is it an ugo. Considering the only SUV I find truly attractive is the Land Rover aesthetics would not be my top priority in vehicle selection.

Moving into the driver’s seat you are immediately at home if you’re a bimmerphile. Everything, almost, is where you expect it to be. The materials, teutonic plastic and all, are exactly what you expect. Not ones to leave well enough alone there have been a few enhancements in the layout. Being based on the 3 series one would expect the window lifts to be located on or near the center console. Nope. BMW has moved them to the arm rest, probably once and for all. Also, the hazard light actuator and central locking button have migrated from just above the gear selector to smack dab between the air vents up top. This takes some getting used to if you’ve owned several BMWs over the years, but the new location makes much more sense than the previous one. It’s front and center where it is easily visible yet out of reach of the hands of little ones seated in the back.

Where you’d expect the buttons for the heated seats to be located you’ll find the DTS button, tire pressure indicator, and descent control button. The descent control is a cute little feature which worked as advertised but I doubt most X3 owners will need it. To the left of the steering wheel is the light switch. It activates the new xenon lights that turn in the direction the vehicle does. A bit disconcerting at first, especially if you didn’t know the vehicle was so equipped, the steering lights are a wonderful and useful addition. There is a new setting all the way to the left which sets the lights to come on automatically. This is a luxury feature many other marques have included for years. It’s nice to have but not an absolute deal braking must have feature. BMW has managed to include it in a way that is simple and not intrusive. Better, yet, it is something you can turn off without having to wonder how. I think the way they added this feature is within the BMW tradition of having only the technology needed to keep the driver focused on the road and not merely adding features for the sake of having features. I appreciated that level of thought.

Another design feature that I appreciated the in-door map pockets. They were made of an elastic mesh with a superband waistband at the top. It was able to accommodate Gatorade bottles and other miscellaneous items that would have been too big if it was just solid plastic. Also, the elastic was able to hold these items in place making them truly useful. I have no idea if the elastic will wear out before your lease term does, but I’m sure it’s covered by the warranty.

Once being known as the manufacturer that didn’t offer cup holders BMW has now entered the fray full force. The passenger side has a Z4 style cup holder located just under the air vent. This location ensures that your beverage will remain properly cooled (or heated, as the case may be) since placing anything in it will block the air vent entirely. While the location is convenient and the mechanism is able to secure drinks of varying sizes, I can’t help think that this is just another swipe at those that would deign to drink while in their BMW. The armrest between front seats concealed the cup holder for the driver. It worked well, although the beige plastic was a bit on the cheapy looking side. The story of the armrest was more about the gentle arc at the top. The arc must have been derived from the radius starting at where your elbow is to your wrist as it rotates toward your body. Pretty clever, although I can hardly see any advantage to this arc save to add an out of the ordinary anthropocentric detail for its own sake.

Rounding out the interior appointments takes us to the rear seats. They are comfortable, seem to have plenty of room, and fold down not quite completely flat. While the storage area is plenty big, having the seats fold down flat would have allowed the cargo are to be more flexible in what it can accommodate. The storage area in the rear has a cargo cover that is easily removed and replaced. It fit anything I was looking to put back there so no complaints.

Now for the good part, driving the thing. The X3 has a reputation for having a stiff ride. This variant was not equipped with the sport suspension but certainly delivered a stiff ride, relatively speaking. It wasn’t the bone jarring, kidney pounding ride of the sport suspension equipped Z4, nor was it the silky glide of the elegant M5. I found it to be just right, as good a compromise as can be had with today’s technology. Any softer and any confidence you had in the vehicle’s cornering ability would be shattered. You’d be stuck driving it like a land yacht. If that’s what you’re looking for then get a Lexus. If that’s what you’re looking to avoid, then drive the X3. It won’t disappoint.

Going off road the suspension goes through a transparent metamorphosis. It soaks up the bumps and dips with, wait for it, aplomb. You don’t have to turn any knobs, switch any levers, or anything. Just hit the dirt and keep on going. It was shocking considering the X3s road performance. I must admit I was impressed. I would search out dirt roads just to see if I had been fooled by a particularly compliant dirt road. Nope, they got it down. My job takes me onto various job sites and being able to have the handling performance of a BMW with the ability to go off road comfortably got me thinking about adding an X3 to my collection.

The engine is the magnificent 3.0 inline six mated to a five-speed steptronic transmission. They had no manual variant available, go figure. The engine was buttery smooth, quick on the take up, and an overall delight. Again, if you’re a propeller head this will feel like home. It could benefit from a CAI and free-flow exhaust, however. But, then again, what BMW can’t? The tranny is the same type as the one I mistakenly got in the Z4. While it’s nice on occasion to have an automatic in traffic, that’s the only time. The upshifts and downshifts do not happen with the immediacy you’d like and you find yourself keeping it in D instead of futzing with it. BMW does include a sport shift mode which is accessed by sliding the gear selector to the steptronic side. The SD comes up on the dash and you’ll notice much better throttle response and gear holding. This was a saving grace for an automatic transmission that would otherwise make you long for a stick. I just kept it in SD and didn’t bother going up and down the gears with the stick.

Around town or on extended road trips the X3 proudly lives up to its heritage. If the suspension is too stiff for you then you shouldn’t be looking at a BMW in the first place. The full time 4WD was nice to have when it rained, it was truly confidence inspiring. Especially if you’re someone who drives a very capable car on a regular basis and are wary of having to change your driving style when jumping into an SUV. Overall, if I was forced into a situation where I needed an SUV I would take a serious look at the X3. You do not have to give up performance and excellent handling characteristics for the sake of extra room and ground clearance. Add to this the benefit of a familiar driving environment and you don’t need to compromise when purchasing a vehicle that is basically a compromise. The good news is that BMW made an SUV for BMW enthusiasts probably at the expense of expanding their market. If you’re in the market you’d be making a mistake if you don’t check this one out.

Friday, July 01, 2005


Originally uploaded by arc8ect.
What do you do when your M5 is in the shop? Get a loaner. The M5 had some catalytic converter and oxygen sensor issues that came to light when they were performing an oil service. Of course, I had them perform the oil service because she was flat-bedded to the dealership thanks to a flat tire and was about due, anyway. More on that in another post.

I am glad the X3 was given as a loaner. I was intrigued by this vehicle and wanted to test one out. This provides a perfect opportunity and keeps me out of a Neon, which was the preferred loaner of choice down in the Fort Lauderdale area. Nothing quite like arriving in an M5 or Z4 and then retreating in a Neon. What are those folks thinking?

More pics to follow as well as driving impressions.

Friday, June 24, 2005


Okay, so BMW buys Sauber. They get a wind tunnel, a team that's been making strides, an outpost in Switzerland, and what else? Oh, yeah. A past champion past his prime. I must admit to being a former JV fan, however he is consistlently outpaced by his teammates. Okay, okay, I'll stop griping about poor Jacques.

BMW wants more control over their F1 fortunes. Mario Ts comments about the engine being only part of the equation are right on. Most of the top teams have secured relationships with their engine supplier. I don't see Ferrari switching to Cosworth powerplants any time soon, Cosworth's trumpeted reliability not withstanding. McLaren seems to be married to Mercedes and doing quite well, thank you very much. Renault? Come on, they're in the championship lead even though they haven't scored points in the last two grands prix. If BMW wants to compete with these teams, plus the surging Toyota, they need to do something. Considering the top teams and the surging teams, save McLaren, all have strong factory ties perhaps BMW is following a proven path to success. I certainly hope that is the case.

Now if they can only convince Damon Hill to set up the car for JV...

Monday, June 20, 2005

Ferrari Wins, America Loses

What in the wide world of sports was that all about? Sure, there are rules in F1. Sure, the teams running on Michelin tires could've driven slower around the banked turn. But the one set of tyres rule is dumb, in my opinion. It's dangerous, leads to boring racing (which the FIA was trying to prevent with the latest round of rules changes, BTW), and doesn't lead to any advancement in technology that could trickle down to passenger vehicles. I haven't had the need to drive around a banked curve at 300+ clicks for hours on end in quite some time.

My take is that this is more posturing from the manufacturers in their bid for a breakaway series. If the teams that boycotted the race are severely punished on the 29th expect them to decry the FIA. This may very well lead to all manner of musk spraying by the affected parties and perhaps even some withdrawals.

I used to be a big fan of the Indianapolis 500. While my father is a NASCAR man through and through I have always been entrhalled by the open wheel race cars. Every year I'd be glued to the set for the running of the TRUE 500 mile race. Every year until they destroyed the event by splitting the field into two. The infamous schism that led to the IRL. It has never been the same, hotties behind the wheel not withstanding. Now, not to be outdone by their American counterparts, the F1 is set upon doing the exact same thing. Considering it was so successful for Champ and Indy car I can see why the FIA and manufacturers are eager to emulate them. NOT.

This stinks.

Saturday, June 18, 2005


Originally uploaded by arc8ect.
Interesting qualifcation day at the USGP. Jarno takes the maiden pole position for team Toyota. Of course pit strategies play a lot into whether or not a team goes for the pole. Excepting some attrition, however, back markers will stay in the back and front runners out front. It should be an exciting race. This is turning out to be a fun and eventful F1 season, even if it winds up being its last.


Saturday, June 11, 2005

Formula 1

Originally uploaded by arc8ect.
This is a shot of my E39 M5, another E39 M5 and an E36 M3 at the BMW Corral at the 2004 Indianapolis Grand Prix. Doesn't look like I'm going to make it back up this year, but it was an absolute blast. Great fun is to be had at the corral. If you're heading to Indy next week do yourself a favor and stop on by.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

E46 328i Dinan S

My first BMW was an E46 328i. I acquired her in December of '98 as a '99 model. I was one of the first out there riding around in the newly styled 3er. The first thing I noticed after a shakedown cruise from south to central Florida was a lack of driver fatigue. My GS-R, although comfy, wore me out after a ride of that length due to road noise - which leads to louder radio settings - and hard seats. Great for a short sprint, but not for touring. I also noticed the BMW was a tad twitchy. The twitchiness was due to the brand new rubber on the car, after a couple thousand miles it disappeared entirely.

After the first three years I decided she, I named her Steffi long before Andre was in the picture, needed a little more pep. Not wishin to void the warranty I called the fine folks at Dinan to give her the 'S' treatment. She was fitted with a front stress bar, cold air intake, modified engine software, and free flow exhaust. The difference in the mid-range was astounding, it was almost as if she was supercharged. Then tragedy struck. Some nimrod clipped my rear quarter. Then another fool decides to kick in my dirver side rear door panel. Finally, the warranty had run its course right after the windows started to fall from their seals. All told, I'd have to pump a heckuva lot of cash into Steffi to bring her back to mint condition. What to do. I traded her in for a Z4. Although the Z4 is an absolute blast and I love having a convertible, if I had it to do over again I would have kept Steffi. I still miss her. I never thought I'd ever say that about a car. She left quite an impression