For the most part, I've found automotive navigation systems more of an amusement than a viable tool. I'll turn on the nav screen so the kids can watch as we approach the house, their school, whatever. For them, it's a video game that's very real. I was always good with a Thomas Guide and that was usually enough to get me where I needed to go.
Recently, I found myself 60 miles north of Las Vegas on a deserted stretch of Nevada pavement. According to my $12 map, the road did not exist; when the road split I was twice as lost. I'd literally forgotten the BMW X3 had a navigation system. The screen was folded neatly in the center of the dash and virtually invisible. As the desert temperature rose to triple digits, I pushed a few buttons and literally found myself.
BMW's navigation system is as close to magic as it comes. The very thought that the car is triangulated with multiple satellites flying miles overhead boggles the mind. In the X3, you are never lost. It doesn't matter where you are.
So this road I'm on that doesn't exist shows up on the BMW's screen. Moreover, it shows I need to hook a left at the fork to get back to the main highway. There's no way in hell I would have ever known that without benefit of BMW's nav system. While stopping for gas (average 20-27 mpg), I peered deeper into the nav menus. Within its memory was the name, address and phone number of my hotel. A sexy voice then told me exactly how to get there and how long it would take. Being the dyslexic slob I am, I ended up off course. Miss Computer gently urged me to make a u-turn. When I did not, she simply re-plotted the course.
Although navigation systems have been with us for years, BMW's highly detailed maps and easy interface make Luddites like me re-think using them. As a $1200 option, the nav system ain't cheap but it is very good. Given what I'll save in future map purchases, the system will pay for itself within a year or two. We will also most likely save money thanks to the BMW's electronic parking assist. It's already saved us from several parking garage catastrophes.
I've been a fan of BMW's awd 3 Series since the E30 325ix. I came across one just recently at the JGTC races and was compelled to snap a few pics (these suckers are really rare). I admired its sporty demeanor and additional awd utility. I always thought a lifted 325ix wagon would be cool. It appears as though my wish has been answered.
In a steel-clad nutshell, that's what the X3 is. Beneath the surface sits BMW's venerable 3 Series in all its fundamental goodness. By now, everyone and their mother knows this; the real question is what it means. The short answer is the X3 behaves like a basic AWD sport sedan, only it can hold a lot more stuff. Wanna drift through that corner? Go wild. The X3 can handle it. Wanna drive through the sand? No worries. Of the new breed of smaller SUVs, BMW's X3 makes the most sense. It's neither too big nor too small. Additionally, it feels like a proper BMW and its build quality should make the crew from Munich proud.
I don't know what the hell tech-ed Chen was saying about the X3's shape and color because it is a fine looking vehicle. And if I see one more BMW in silver, black or flat red, I'm gonna scream. Our X3's metallic rust paint is very unique and makes the car easy to find in a crowded lot.BMW would be pleased to know we are using the X3 exactly as it was intended. No one ever feels like they are "stuck" in the X3 for the weekend. It's both fun to drive and very utilitarian, especially when the rear seats are folded down. We managed to stuff a 12-foot Liquid Amber tree in the X3, gently lowering it through the X3's massive moon roof. Afterwards, we played hooky and went to the beach, 8-foot long boards in tow.
Since the X3 came aboard, we seem to be missing a lot more work. While the X3 may not be the "ultimate driving machine" it certainly is the "ultimate party machine." Favorable endorsements don't get any better than that.
Total Mileage: 5902
This month's fuel economy: 25 mpg
Thumbs up: Gigantic moon roof, big rear hatch, fun factor
Thumbs down: Church pew-like rear seating