3rd Place: 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i, by Steven Bochenek

2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i
2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i
2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i. Click image to enlarge

Placing third for the BMW X3 is appropriate not just because of this crossover’s name. Of 31 categories judged, the only two the X3 xDrive28i won were Warranty and Ease of Front Entry (which was a three-way tie).  Does it get any more SUV middle-of-the-road than that?

And maybe the middle’s where you want to be. After all, crossovers are by definition a compromise, the modern design equivalents of ‘80s malls. How? They’re designed to be enjoyed primarily from the inside, and outward looks become an afterthought, if thought of at all. (When’s the last time you heard the phrase “as pretty as a plaza” or as “graceful as a ute”?)

The point? There’s a sameness of look that transmogrifies the utility in SUV to utilitarian. But for that signature BMW grille, the X3 tends to this sameness. Try this simple test. Tomorrow, well after you’ve read this article, return and quickly look at the introductory photo. Which vehicles leap out first? Not the X3, and that explains why it was fourth in Exterior Styling. It placed last for Exterior Accents like wheels and lights. Even those elongated headlight casings, a unique X-Line design feature, weren’t enough to impress.

Inside, at first, the comparison story doesn’t change much. It also placed last for Interior Styling and the Quality of Materials. The door handles lacked refinement. And the ubiquitous beige of this tester earned the scorn of co-reviewers for its blandness.

A recovering child of the ‘70s, I’m no champion of beige – nor of the X3’s leatherette, whose very name evokes visions of family dinners at Denny’s – but in winter, which this was, the brighter colour lightened the interior and soaked up the daylight streaming through the panorama sunroof. Mind, it also highlighted the panel gaps and mismatched colours between the various upholsteries and plastics.

(That sunroof is part of the $3,600 Premium Package that includes the aforementioned X-Line, auto-dimming mirrors, park distance control, and bi-xenon headlights.)

Driving, however, the X3’s story did improve somewhat. The steering was a bit light but laser accurate.

When someone says four cylinders, you may not get excited but when they preface that with BMW TwinPower turbo, it gets your attention. It unleashes a peppy 240 ponies and 250 lb-ft of torque from 1,250 to 4,800 rpm. Hello! Suddenly we’re a beige catapult.

2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i
2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i. Click image to enlarge

The X3 was responsive in Sport and Comfort modes, inertia-defiant in corners, and a thrilling few minutes’ drive. Its problem was that several other testers were, too. So it placed in the middle of a highly competitive group.

How competitive? Consider Braking Feel: placing last, it was just 0.34 points behind first — like Canadian racers in the Olympics. In Emotional Appeal it was close to first too, though scoring fourth.

It also placed last for Ease of Parking, but all the others had rear-view cameras. On this clear day, free of slush or mud, BMW’s radar icon graph, courtesy of the Premium Package, couldn’t compete.

While it’s a satisfying drive and appropriately placed ahead of the Infiniti EX and Acura RDX, the X3 simply couldn’t stand out against its fellow German competitors.

Pricing: 2013 BMW X3 xDrive28i
Base price (xDrive28i): $42,450
Options: Premium Package – $3,600; Technology Package – $2,200; BMW Apps Package – $300; Cargo pass-through – $200; Sirius satellite radio tuner – $450; Metallic paint – $800
Freight: $2,095
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $52,195

Observed fuel consumption: 12.3 L/100 km

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