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BMW's X3 xDrive35i is an SUV that acts like a sports car

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Your life is about to change, and your sports car is terrified.

A Peg Perego Duette child stroller. The pair of Old English mastiffs you're dog-sitting indefinitely. A glee club. A metamorphosis of priorities has dropped one or more of these into your world, and suddenly your slick little two-seater won't work for you anymore.

So let me offer a suggestion: Check out BMW's redesigned 2011 X3 xDrive35i.

It's not necessarily the best all-around vehicle in the luxury compact SUV segment, which includes the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK and Acura RDX. But without question, this second-generation X3 is the fastest, sportiest and most fun to drive of its peers.

In short, the fun of owning an all-wheel-drive BMW X3 xDrive35i is inversely proportional to the fun of saying its name. The loaded example I tested has a sticker price of $53,015.

The bulk of the fun comes from this X3's engine. The 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder unit is a paragon of turbocharged goodness and puts out 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque. A variation of this engine is in numerous other BMWs — including the company's Z4 roadster and its full-size 740i sedan — so the power plant is certainly up to the challenge in the X3.

BMW says the X3 35i will scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds, which is creeping into sports car territory. Consider that the Lincoln MKX I recently reviewed, no slouch itself and a competitor to this BMW, needed 7.2 seconds to hit the same speed.

Helping the X3 35i's prodigious acceleration is the fact that its engine's maximum torque is available from 1,300-5,000 rpm. This wide range means that almost any time you mash the gas pedal, you can expect instant gratification.

Not only does the X3 35i move forward like a sports car, but it sounds like one too. The sharp engine note is a tenor fresh from adolescence, and it can be a bit intrusive for a luxury SUV when cruising about town.

Shift the eight-speed automatic transmission into its Sport mode, and you hear more of the engine. This is because in Sport, the tranny lets the engine get closer to its 7,000-rpm redline before changing gears.

Drivers can also shift the transmission manually using the gear shift knob, though pulling the lever back to upshift is counter to nearly every other setup I can think of. The X3 35i I tested took the manual shifting one step further with optional paddle shifters as part of the $1,250 Sport Activity package.

The transmission's eight speeds, the last two of which are in effect overdrive gears, help the X3 35i achieve an EPA rating of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. Over 500 miles of testing, I saw an average of 19 mpg.

Further sporty pretensions come in the form of BMW's Dynamic Damper Control. This electronic system, seen elsewhere in BMW's lineup, offers drivers three modes: Normal, Sport and Sport Plus.

Each setting progressively dials up throttle responsiveness, suspension firmness and steering input while incrementally delaying the point at which the stability control intervenes.

After a week with the X3 35i, I found keeping the system in Sport mode to be just the right fit. Normal mode kept the throttle too hesitant and slow to respond. Sport Plus was a peach during particularly aggressive driving but kept the suspension too firm for daily use.

Buyers looking to get into a BMW X3 without paying the 35i's $41,925 base price have the X3 28i as an option. This non-turbocharged version starts at $37,625 and has 240 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque from its inline six-cylinder engine. It shares the X3 35i's eight-speed transmission.

Both X3s are larger than their predecessor, gaining 3.4 inches of length, 1.1 inches of width and about half an inch in height. This larger package is wrapped in a shell that's unquestionably better looking and more upscale than the original X3.

The front shows off broader and more confident shoulders while the back looks like a BMW X5 that's been shrink-wrapped. More than a few X3 owners will delight in their new cars being mistaken for their larger and more luxurious cousin.

The X3 interior is best described as disciplined luxury; the inside of competitors such as the Infiniti EX35 or Volvo XC 60 are more sumptuous and inviting.

That's not to say the X3's cabin isn't comfortable or well-made. It just follows the X3's overall mantra of favoring sport over other facets.

In typical BMW fashion, the X3's dashboard is Teutonic simplicity at its best. Four analog gauges show drivers only what they must absolutely know. A small digital screen mounted too low at the bottom of the dashboard shows the trip computer, stereo information or directions from the optional navigation system.

At the top of the center console sits a gorgeous eight-inch screen that is the main display for the navigation system and backup camera, both of which are included in a $3,200 Technology package.

While as helpful as most navigation systems on the market, this one suffered from overly complicated menus and sub-menus. Also, the voice guidance seemed out of sync with what the display was showing. For best results, put the dear lady on mute.

Aside from a larger-than-normal blind spot, the rest of the cabin is superb. The seats are comfortable, there's plenty of headroom and legroom for all passengers, but cargo room is a little below average for this segment.

They say the true definition of compromise is when both parties are unhappy with the result. Clearly BMW didn't get the memo. Whether it's a lifestyle change or a spousal edict forcing you out of a sports car and into something more practical, consider the X3 xDrive35i.

Just make sure those mastiffs don't get carsick.

david.undercoffler@latimes.com

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