"Solid acceleration and handling, high-quality but expensive small SUV"4.0 starson by madman99
Pros: Panoramic moonroof, well-built tiptronic transmission, xDrive, sports sedan-like handling
Cons: Smallish trunk for an SUV, base engine woefully overmatched against vehicle weight, expensive for its size
Summary: I leased a new BMW X3 in March 2005 complete with premium package, tiptronic and the upgraded 3.0 liter engine (which I'd highly recommend). I purposefully avoided the sports suspension upgrade as I've heard rumors that the ride is unnecessarily harsh and am glad I did - the base suspension is wound firm enough for this type of vehicle (my basis for comparison is my '92 Nissan 300zx twin turbo). I also opted out of the factory-installed navigation system due to cost and instead installed a garmin GPS device in the same dash space which has turned out to be an excellent compromise in terms of cost and portablility.
This small SUV has outstanding road manners - sharp handling, good acceleration (with the 3.0L engine), solid road feel and great visibility front and rear. In short, it's what you'd expect from a BMW. The ride is the most car-like of any SUV I tested (including the Acura MDX which felt like a tank and almost rolled over in a highway off-ramp). I've recorded ~25mpg during long highway trips with the A/C running which is pretty good for a 4,000lb vehicle. Lastly, but not least important, handling in poor conditions is outstanding. I've driven this vehicle during heavy rains on highways and local roads on a few occassions and it is a rock-solid performer due to the very good Michelin's and xDrive - which you can barely feel engaging when needed. Stopping distances are very good and brake pedal feel and vehicle attitude during braking are also car-like.
However, there are a few drawbacks to this vehicle. It is one of the more expensive, if not most expensive, small SUV's on the market once you add a few basic options. Quality of interior materials (plastics, leather, switches) still lags that of the prior generation 3-series cars despite similar pricing. In town fuel economy is dismal - I've gotten as low as 12-15mpg in local travel.
You give up a bit interior room vs. the full-size SUV's and do not have optional third-row seating but for a couple or small family this vehicle provides a good compromise of space and performance, if at a slightly high price point. If you're looking for a small SUV and are a fan of BMW sedans or sports cars this will likely fit the bill quite nicely.