I didn't build my own 2011 BMW X3 via the automaker's new custom order process, and television cameras didn't herald its arrival as they did when home maven Martha Stewart received her new X3.
But the second-generation of BMW's smallish X3 crossover sport utility vehicle impressed just the same with its strong turbo power, standout road composure and quiet and upscale interior.
I even managed to best the federal government's combined city/highway fuel mileage rating during an X3 test drive, managing 22.1 miles per gallon during comfortable driving in the city, on mountainous roads and on multi-lane highways. I just wish the required fuel for the turbocharged X3 xDrive35i test vehicle hadn't been premium gasoline. At $4.32 a gallon, this gasoline cost me nearly $50 for just over 10 gallons.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the 2011 X3 isn't cheap, either, at $37,625. This is for the non-turbo, 240-horsepower X3 xDrive28i model and includes BMW's all-wheel drive system called xDrive as standard equipment. The test model was the uplevel X3 xDrive35i with turbocharged, 300-horspower six cylinder and had a starting retail price of $41,925.
Competitors include the 268-horsepower, 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 that starts at $36,375 without all-wheel drive and the 2011 Audi Q5 that starts at $36,075 with 211-horsepower turbocharged four cylinder and all-wheel drive.
This is the first model year that the X3 is built in the United States, not Europe. BMW expanded its factory in Spartanburg, S.C., and started rolling X3s off the line last fall. The facility also builds X5 and X6 models.
The X3 revamp is welcome, given that the first-generation X3 didn't have a rich-looking interior and wasn't seen as up to snuff as a BMW should be. While I still think there are too many swirls and creases in the sheet metal on the new X3, I can't argue with the vehicle's performance and comfortable ride.
Steering, which is electrically assisted, had a bit of an artificial feel and didn't convey much of the road surface to the driver as I would have liked. But the X3 moved confidently around corners and through sweeping curves. It maintained its composure _ and kept its body tightly in control _ on off-camber, downhill runs, and passengers felt secure throughout these maneuvers.
And, while the X3 is only 15.25 feet long from bumper to bumper, which is shorter than a Honda Accord, it's no lightweight. The test model with turbo six cylinder weighed some 4,200 pounds.
The solidity of the vehicle was apparent each time a door closed with a firm thud. And the ride inside was quite quiet. I only heard the turbo's strong engine sounds when I was accelerating hard and fast.
BMW's xDrive all-wheel drive system is standard on all 2011 X3s, and it doesn't need any help from the driver. In normal driving, the system gives a rear-drive bias of 60 percent of the power to the back wheels and 40 percent up front.
But the power shift can go all the way to 100 percent to the back if needed.
Each version of X3 has a 3-liter, inline, dual overhead cam, six-cylinder engine under the hood. The base, X3 xDrive28i has a 3-liter, naturally aspirated unit that maxes out at 240 horsepower and 221 foot-pounds of torque starting at 2,750 rpm.
The 3-liter, inline six in the test X3 xDrive35i came with BMW's TwinPower Turbo and cranked out 300 horsepower, with a maximum 300 foot-pounds of torque coming on at a low 1,300 rpm and available to 5,000 rpm.
BMW boasts that the 0-to-60-mile-per-hour time with the turbo is 5.5 seconds.
In the test X3, the power was ready all the time, helping me scoot past slower cars quickly. Yet, the engine easily managed congested city traffic, too, where I modulated speeds via the throttle and without having to touch the brake pedal all the time.
Keep in mind the 2011 X3s have a new, eight-speed, automatic transmission. Its gearing is excellent, and drivers can work the forward gear selections to match their driving styles and terrain.
This transmission also helps give the new X3 better fuel mileage than last year's X3.
Too bad, though, that the X3 badging _ xDrive28i and xDrive35i _ doesn't give a clue to the size of the engine under the hood.
At 5 feet 4, I had to nudge myself up onto the driver seat cushion a bit as I got inside. In part, this was because I put the seat up a ways to see better over the hood, and the X3 also provides 8.4 inches of ground clearance underneath. I liked how I could see through and around cars and even many pickup trucks.
Seats had decent support, including adjustable thigh bolsters, that helped leave me feeling fresh even after a 3-plus-hour trip. But rear-seat riders sit a bit low.
Cargo space in back is flat and decently wide, but rear seatbacks don't rest completely flat when they are folded down.
There's more than a little hump in the middle of the rear-seat floor that someone sitting in the middle has to contend with.
Standard safety equipment included front, side and head protection air bags, electronic stability control and automatic brake drying and brake fade compensation that works to ensure sufficient braking is available at all times.
Note that BMW offers free "birth" videos of custom-ordered X3s going down the assembly line. Buyers also can do what Martha Stewart did _ go to the Spartanburg plant to pick up their X3s. Be sure to pack your cameras.