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It's a 'sport/activity' vehicle if you please

January 23, 2004|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

Call it athletic. Call it versatile. But please, BMW respectfully asks, just don't call the new X3 something it's not.

The German automaker has never been one to travel the path of the common automaker, which is why, in a sport-utility segment that's bursting at the seams, BMW is offering its very own interpretation of what buyers really want in all-weather transportation.

For 2004, it's something called the X3. And, in this case, X marks the spot for sport/activity.

In an automotive world dominated by utilitarian vehicles labeled either cute, sporty, or cute and sporty, leave it to an industry leader such as BMW to want to define itself based on what its vehicles do and not what they look like.

Of course, this is not unfamiliar turf. When it was first rolled out, the larger X5 was always a "sport activity vehicle," BMW claimed. No matter what pigeon hole people would try to stuff it into, the X5 is a luxury ride that's successful because it led the way in delivering many things to many people: the performance of a sedan; a ride height that sat above the crowd; a rugged look and all-weather capability.

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Due out in February, the new X3 is the product of a similar line of thinking, even if it is a bit smaller and relies on a different platform than the X5.

In simple terms, the X3 is based on the 3-Series cars, the most popular in BMW's lineup. Therefore, the X3 has a low center of gravity, plenty of technology and the kind of styling you would come to expect from something with a BMW emblem affixed to the grille.

The X3 has 3.4 more inches of overall length and wheelbase than the 3-Series wagon, but is about 4 inches shorter than the X5 and has 1-inch less wheelbase.

One thing is certain. From any angle, it has to be called traditional. Styling is typically BMW, the same approach used by designer Chris Bangle in the remake of the 5- and 7-Series. The front resembles the look of an X5, while from the side there will be no mistaking the X3 as anything other than a BMW.

Two versions of the X3 - based on engine size - will be offered. The 2.5i has a 2.5-liter, 184-horsepower inline-six cylinder engine. The 3.0i comes with a 225-horsepower six-cylinder. Both will be available with a six-speed manual gearbox or five-speed Steptronic automatic transmission that allows the driver to manually shift through the gears without the need for a clutch.

And because it's a BMW, you know it has to be loaded down with technology. For example, the X3 features xDrive, an all-wheel-drive system that's so good, according to BMW, it will reroute power to any wheel, usually before any grip is lost.

The system also works with a standard traction control and Hill Descent Control, which keeps the X3 from freight-training down steep inclines.

BMW also says the X3 will offer the same handling and agility as a 3-Series sedan, which would immediately place it ahead of just about anything else on or off the road.

Among its optional features will be a two-piece panorama roof that covers most of the X3's top. As well, you'll be able to specify a sports package that offers a stiffer suspension, bigger wheels and heavily bolstered seats. A navigation screen that pops out of the top of the dash is optional.

Pricing is expected to begin at $29,500. For that kind of money, defining its demographic should be easy, even if the X3 itself escapes simple definition and categorization.

All you really need concern yourself with is that it's a practical vehicle that offers the benefits of the X5 in a smaller 3-Series package.

Versatile. Athletic. Sporty.

But, please, just don't call it a sport-utility vehicle.

© 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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