2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i
2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2011 BMW X3

As “that car guy” to my friends and family, I’ve grown accustomed to being asked what kind of vehicle they should buy next time they’re in the market for one. These are usually pretty casual conversations that result in the prospective buyer going out and purchasing something nothing at all like what I suggest.

Occasionally, though, I get questions from drivers who are very serious about getting a car that meets a specific set of criteria. The latest of these came from my wife’s parents, and in this case, the “want” list was quite tight: it must be fun to drive, reasonably roomy and it should preferably be German, and if at all possible, a BMW.

Doesn’t get a lot more specific than that. Last year, I’d have suggested a 5 Series Touring (station wagon) in a heartbeat, but BMW’s steady move away from traditional wagons (the 3 Series Touring is the only one left for North American buyers) and toward “wagodans” like the 5 Series Gran Turismo has left long-time Bimmerphiles like my in-laws (who think the 5 Series GT is too ugly for words) with little choice: beyond the brand’s sedans, the most “traditional” vehicles in BMW’s line-up are its X3 and X5 “sport activity vehicles,” or, as they’re known outside of the company’s boardrooms and focus groups, crossovers or SUVs.

2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i
2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i
2011 BMW X3 xDrive35i. Click image to enlarge

That is how my in-laws came to own a 2011 X3, after years of my father-in-law, who loves the 1994 525i sedan they already own, insisting he would never own an SUV or crossover.

The thing is, while the X3 is a crossover, it doesn’t drive like one. BMW, of course, has been very careful to imbue this second-generation X3 with the same driving dynamics as its cars, improving upon the original X3.

There’s the firm ride, which does an admirable job of keeping things comfortable on all but the worst surfaces. That suspension also contributes to handling that makes the X3 almost as “tossable” and balanced in aggressive cornering as a 3 or 5 Series. Forget wanting to ban the X3 from the BMW line-up for being an SUV; consider, instead, rejecting it as an SUV because it’s far too much fun to drive to fit the ungainly stereotype most vehicles in that category have earned.

The X3 comes standard with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system, widely regarded as one of the best in luxury segment, despite not becoming popular until well after Audi’s better-known Quattro system. Rather than provide off-road readiness, the xDrive is designed to maximize performance on paved surfaces. In normal driving, 60 per cent of the engine’s torque goes to the rear wheels, but that front/rear balance is infinitely variable, with a centre differential automatically apportioning power between the front and rear axles as road conditions dictate.

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