2011 BMW X3: First Look, U.S. Version

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Earlier this summer, BMW gave us a first look at the 2011 X3 luxury crossover vehicle. Now that our first drive in the newest German ute is coming in a few weeks, BMW's released the U.S. specifications for the vehicle, in advance of its world premiere at the 2010 Paris Auto Show.

The American version maintains all of the sleeker look seen in photos released in July. There's a much more dynamic shape at hand, with the sheetmetal gaining a few creases and curves that call to mind BMW's brand-defining 3-Series sedans. The contours are more pronounced; there's an upswept crease across its flanks; and in back, the X3 now has LED taillamps to call attention to its more pert rear end.

Inside the X3 grows more luxurious than the current car, which has steadily improved in the first generation from the original drab plastic interior. The dash arcs to envelop controls and angles them at the driver, adding to the more sedan-like air surrounding the new SUV. BMW says it's paid special attention to upgrading the interior materials, too.

In the U.S., BMW will offer the 2011 X3 with a choice of two six-cylinder engines. The base X3 xDrive28i is normally aspirated, and churns out 240 horsepower and 230 pound-feet of torque, which the automaker says should be good for a 0-60 mph cruise of 6.7 seconds--faster than the prior edition and its similar engine.

The powerful alternative is the single-turbo version of the same engine, which is shared with other BMW vehicles. With turbocharging, the engine spins out 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration drops to 5.5 seconds to 60 mph, and top speed hits a limited 150 mph--numbers that approach those of the 3-Series sedan, not to mention a few generations of M3 derivatives.

The sole transmission this time around is an eight-speed automatic. There's no manual option, but the automatic splits its effort to help with the improved performance. Lower gears give it the grunt at take-off and in urban settings, while the higher gears are staged for better fuel economy--which BMW hasn't announced yet. The torque converter locks up at lower engine speeds, an effect which impressed us in the larger X5 crossover with the same powertrain.

The X3's suspension has been revamped with a MacPherson strut and multi-link rear paired with electronic controls to allow drivers to tailor driving feel. Electronic shocks can be adjusted through a Driving Dynamics Control switch located near the gearshift lever; Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes are offered, and they adjust not only the dampers, but the throttle, transmission and steering feel according to the selected mode. The unchanged xDrive system splits power delivery 40/60 percent, but can push 100 percent of available power to either end of the vehicle when traction control calls for it. Lastly, a Performance Control system holds a 20/80 torque split in heavy cornering, and offers a version of torque vectoring to the rear wheels, by applying brakes to the inside rear rotor, which tightens the cornering radius.

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