Test Drive: 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

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2012 BMW X3

It is here: a day I believed could never actually happen.  The internal struggle to come to grips with the reality mocking me has yet to subside.  How can a self-proclaimed sports car purist, lover of wagons and a general detractor of the crossover vehicle segment become this enthralled with an SUV?  And one with an automatic transmission, no less! Is age softening me up? Or is this luxury crossover just that good?

The cause of all this soul-searching is the 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i, featuring the M Sport package.  Based on the BMW 3 Series platform, the X3 is more of a 3 Series wagon on stilts than a true all-terrain utility vehicle.  Only available with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, the X3 comes standard with a naturally aspirated inline-six engine similar to that in the 328xi Touring (wagon in BMW-speak).  However, the real trump card of the 2012 X3 is the availability of the N55 turbocharged 3.0-litre inline-six.

Test Drive: 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

BMW refers to this engine as a twin power turbo, due to the twin-scroll turbocharger.  Making 300 hp and 300 lb-ft of torque, the power build-up is so smooth and linear it is hard to tell that there is actually a turbocharger under the hood until you let off the gas and hear the satisfying hiss from the wastegate.  Even with 1,915 kg of weight to haul around, the AWD system, in concert with the eight-speed automatic, makes the most of the 300 hp and delivers a manufacturer claimed zero-to-100 km/h sprint in 5.8 seconds.  Curiously, the zero-to-60 mph (96.5 km/h) arrives in a disproportionate 5.5 seconds.  The discrepancy between these times may be due to a gear change between 96.5 km/h and 100 km/h.

It is not fair to say the X3 is sports car fast, but compared to its compact luxury-ute rivals, there is nothing that can keep up.  Every time the X3 is driven hard, there is a perfectly-orchestrated attack on your senses.  Grip the thick leather steering wheel, put the vehicle into sport-plus mode (more on what this does later) and move the shifter to manual mode.  Now hammer the throttle: WAAAAAAAAAA, SNAP, PSSHH! An eruption of noise assaults you front and rear as the gears snap by at alarming speeds.  The engine is loud and has a throaty growl that gets very addictive, very quickly.  Shifting gears around 4,000 rpm provides a nice crisp pop from the engine while shifts at redline have the straight-six turbo howling away.

Test Drive: 2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i car test drives reviews luxury cars bmw
2012 BMW X3 xDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

Truthfully, the engine is so flexible that eight forward speeds almost seem like overkill, especially when playing with the highly responsive wheel-mounted paddle shifters.  Upshifts are so quick with the eight-speed automatic that a double check of the spec sheet had to be made to ensure it was indeed not a dual-clutch transmission.  Downshifts, however, are on the lazier side and quickly remind you it is a traditional automatic.

When hustled around bends, it is easy to forget how heavy the BMW really is; it feels hundreds of pounds lighter than its actual 1,915 kg.  There is a smidgen of body roll in the X3, even in sport-plus mode, but the chassis does a good job of quelling any effects it may have on overall handling.  This high-riding wagon just grips hard in the corners and feels constantly connected to the road, which is saying something since the M Sport 19-inch wheels and summer tires had been swapped out for regular X3′s 18-inch wheels with winter rubber. The difference in actual tire size is negligible, with 245/50R18 replacing 245/45R19 so this may explain why the levels of grip were still superb.

About Mike

Mike Schlee is the former Social Editor at Autos.ca and autoTRADER.ca. He began his professional automotive writing career in 2011 and has always had a passion for all things automotive, working in the industry since 2000.