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2006 BMW X3

by Martha Hindes

BMW X3 Interior

BMW's dominating, self-named "Sports Activity Vehicle" X3 came roaring out the gate by winning a grueling Northern wilderness race. Now, in its third year as an '06, this five-seater shows no signs of slowing down. With handling reputation solidly intact, BMW turns attention to the kinds of refinements meant to seal a sweet buyer's deal. Among them: Chrome vertical grille slats and side trim that add visual punch. Some exterior trims, such as wheel arches and front and rear bumper areas, are color keyed. The Sport Package gets a new sport steering wheel, plus optional 18-inch wheels in differentiated sizes for front and rear tires.

With that said, there's a lot of X3 that simply didn't need changing. Say "BMW," and "driver's car" is almost an automatic response. The 3.0-liter six cylinder powerplant on this Austrian-built import mates with BMW's full-time advanced "xDrive" AWD for legendary BMW road control. Hill descent and dynamic stability controls keep it on the road when surfaces get dicey. Speed sensitive steering aids parking. And blast off comes from the precise ZF ("zed eff") six speed manual or optional STEPTRONIC five-speed automatic with manual mode. Mileage isn't great at 17/25 manual or 16/23 automatic. But that's not the main reason for going BMW.

Front foglamps, rain-sensing wipers and adaptive brake lights add exterior appeal. So do heated mirrors and heated windshield washer jets. Maple Sycamore Dark wood adds class to the interior, along with optional Birch Grain Light or aluminum finish trim. The industry standard Bluetooth cell phone interface keeps people in easy touch.

While smaller than the heftier X5 SUV, the X3 still can tow. A trailer-hitch kit, skid plates, running boards, roof racks and a two-bicycle cargo carrier are among BMW center-installed accessories. So are Sirius satellite radio, iPod adapter and six-disc CD changer. Those can push up the price for the amenity minded. But $37.5 K gets a lot of vehicle for starters.