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Interior Contributes to New X3’s Robust Sales

Ward’s editors heap praise on the cabin of BMW’s strong-selling CUV for its refinement, plush carpet, woven headliner, roomy second row and firm, comfortable seats.

The monthly sales report for March contains a news flash that resonates in the offices of luxury auto makers around the world: BMW’s X3 cross/utility vehicle is rocketing toward a stellar year.

The good news for Bavaria is less upbeat for its European rivals, particularly Audi, Mercedes and Volvo, which launched competitive vehicles in recent years that have overwhelmed a segment the first-generation X3 helped pioneer in 2004.

In a few short months, since arriving in showrooms in December, the all-new X3 has catapulted ahead of the Audi Q5, Mercedes GLK and Volvo XC60 in U.S. sales, according to Ward’s data.

The well-appointed interior of the new X3 can claim a significant share of the nascent success of the CUV, which earns a Ward’s 10 Best Interiors award for 2011.

In scoring the X3, Ward’s editors heap praise on the cabin for its refinement, plush carpet, woven headliner, roomy second row and firm, comfortable seats. The CUV is assembled at BMW’s newly expanded plant in Spartanburg, SC.

The black-and-cream color scheme is enhanced by tastefully applied brushed aluminum accents, then finished off with gorgeous Fineline Siena wood inserts on the doors, instrument panel and center console. The sense of contrast completes the passenger compartment.

BMW’s fourth-generation iDrive central controller, located to right of the gear shifter, has become familiar and more intuitive for drivers constantly learning to use new applications on their smart phones. Forgotten are the complaints from years ago that iDrive is too complicated.

“I think they’ve got iDrive figured out,” Ward’s editor David E. Zoia writes on his scoresheet. For the X3, the iDrive also integrates with a vehicle-information library that serves as a digital edition of the owner’s manual, visible on the 8.8-in. high-resolution trans-reflective screen.

Scads of information is easily accessible, from the size of the windshield wipers for replacement to the aspect ratio of the tires.

Simplifying searches are digital diagrams of the interior, exterior and engine bay, allowing the driver to select a highlighted component. Within a few clicks, for instance, the driver can read about the purpose of every airbag in the vehicle.

Further improving safety is a “top-view” system that stitches together live images captured by cameras placed on all four sides of the vehicle. Part of a $3,200 optional technology package, the feature shows the assembled image on the display screen, helping the driver negotiate tight parking spaces or spot small obstacles, such as a child’s tricycle.

Ward’s editors have not been bashful in suggesting BMW interiors are beginning to look alike.

In truth, that’s not a bad thing. Brand loyalty can be cemented if a driver always knows how to turn up the radio, where to find the switch for the fan and how to find directions to the opera. The familiarity from vehicle to vehicle can feel like a warm blanket.

Booming sales of the all-new X3 make the point nicely.

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