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2004 Crossover Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

2004 BMW X3

BMW's new X3 that debuted as a 2004, fills a company gap in the crossover category that automakers have been rushing to fill. In a name fitting for a brand new sibling, the company has dubbed it a "sports activity vehicle," perhaps to suggest its capability just demonstrated by winning the top two spots in the grueling, 5,000 mile Alcan Winter Rally through Canada and Alaska. That's activity on the grandest scale.

A new, full-time all-wheel xDrive system continuously redistributes torque to wheels. It mates with a dynamic stability system (DSC) to keep this taller, high-riding (yet, says BMW, low center of gravity) sport utility under control, even when weather can be treacherous. There's an optional five-speed automatic Steptronic transmission, with available manual mode, or a standard six-speed manual. Either go with the 2.5 liter (184 HP) or 3.0 liter (225 HP) inline sixes, supported by BMW's notoriously sturdy suspension system.

The X3's midsize delivers a surprising amount of interior room, enough for a unique interior rack stand that can hold two bicycles.

And the X3 falls a full decade below its older, off-roading sibling in price, topping out in the $40,000 range, as it aims at a younger, more sophisticated entry-level luxury buyer. BMW uses lots of online lures such as interactive internet games in the process. And the array of console accessory gadgets, including a puzzling nav system, that takes more time than expected to figure out? They seem fitted for upcoming Gen Y folks, more likely to be wizards at taming such high technology.

Ah, for the rest of us... Thank goodness they still print owners' manuals.