After several months away I got a chance to jump back into the BMW X3. Like a comfortable pair of shoes, it only took a few blocks of driving to stretch out and feel at home in it again. One of the reasons it feels so natural to get back into the groove is that the controls are placed in a logical manner and can be reached without your hands straying too far off the steering wheel or your eyes too long from the road.

Ingress and egress is just about perfect for my six-foot frame. I have to neither step up nor step down into the cabin. I just stick my right leg in and slide right onto the driver's seat. The leather seats are exceptionally comfortable thanks to the electronic adjustment controls. The lumbar support takes away any potential backaches I sometimes get in my regular ride if I'm on the road for extended miles at a time.

Spending extended time behind the wheel is a joy with the 3.0-liter straight six under foot. With ample torque down low it's easy to cruise the streets in a higher gear, and if the need arises just to give it some gas instead of downshifting to keep from running a red light or to pass another vehicle. With gas prices through the roof, cruising in a higher gear to keep the revs low, and gas consumption at a minimum is a good thing.

The stiffer springs and larger diameter sway bars that come as part of the Sport Package this X3 is equipped with help make for a very level ride. The 18-inch wheels and low profile, 50-series Dunlop SP Sport tires contribute to the X3 soaking up the bumps and road irregularities with minimal protest and minimal feedback through the chassis and steering wheel.

Some of my friends think I have a problem with buying too many CDs. I enjoy music of most types, though I'm not a big fan of country or hardcore rap, and like to have music in the background throughout my day. It's not my fault I know the owner of a local record shop who stocks what I like and feeds my habit. Well, maybe I do have a problem; I just don't care. There are worse ways to blow a paycheck.

Fortunately for me, the X3 is outfitted with the Premium Sound System with DSP (Digital Sound Processing). On the anniversary of what would have been Stevie Ray Vaughan's 51st birthday a local rock station played a few tracks of his. Like any proper fan I turned the volume up to what my mom would have called an inappropriate level. But hey, it was SRV and I'm a fan. Even at the elevated volume levels the highs were crisp and the bass hit solidly. The DSP is not preloaded with a "rock" setting but it was easy to fiddle with the six equalizer frequency settings to get the acoustics to just the right spot.

Late one night I was outside talking with a neighbor about the car and left the door open for about 20 minutes as we talked, plenty of time for the leather seats to take a chill. Turning the seat heater on in no time replaced the chill with a welcome warmth in the cool late night. But for me, I get a warm and fuzzy feeling every time I get behind the wheel of the X3. It's easy to figure out why its a staff favorite.

Quick Stats
Total Mileage: 15,923
Fuel Economy: 17.1 mpg
Thumbs Up: Stereo, climate control, torque, suspension
Thumbs Down: Cup holder in center console, speed dependent volume control

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