2013 BMW X3 35i vs. 2013 Lexus RX350

By Eve Pickman.

I’ll bet you are as confused as I am. Are the 2013 Lexus RX3350 and 2013 BMW X3 35i Crossovers or Sports Utility Vehicles, or a Sports Activity Vehicle, as in the case of the BMW? The language is used differently by every manufacturer out there, for the purposes of this conversation; I’m calling them both SUVs. Both are status vehicles and very, very different from each other. One is definitely more of a classic luxury vehicle – solid, heavy, understated. The other is more of a sport sedan, only with expanded cargo capacity and a higher seating position.

Powered by a 270-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine with a six-speed automatic transmission, the Lexus RX350 is available in both FWD and AWD configurations. With an EPA-estimated 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway, it offers 460 miles of highway travel between fill ups.

2013 Lexus RX 350

With a sporty sounding exhaust and performance sedan-like handling, the 300 horsepower BMW X3 35i is only available as an AWD vehicle. Its 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine with TwinPower Turbo technology is rated for 19-mpg city/26 mpg highway, thanks in part to the 8-speed Steptronic transmission and Auto Stop Start feature. Auto Stop Start is intended to help improve fuel economy by reducing fuel consumption while idling. A word of warning – it takes a bit to get used to. At first it feels like the BMW X3 is about to stall when you find yourself sitting at a light or in standstill traffic, though the engine does restart automatically once the brake pedal is released and gas pedal re-engaged. The good news is the Auto Start Stop function can turned off with the press of a button. It is worth mentioning that many manufactures are switching to this technology; you’ll feel right at home in the X3 if you are an early adopter and comfortable learning new tricks to manage fuel economy.

2013 BMW X3

While the bank-vault solid, Lexus RX350 is the larger vehicle; the BMW X3 edges it out in practicality department. The main difference appears in passenger legroom and cargo space. While the RX350 offers 99.7 cubic feet of passenger volume and the X3 only 90.1 cubic feet, there was clearly more usable cargo volume in the rear of the BMW. I easily loaded two Cocker Spaniel-sized dog crates into the Bimmer; I had to fold down part of Lexus’ 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat to load the same crates. Part of the difference can be attributed to the angle of the stylish rear hatch and glass on the Lexus; the extra interior volume shows up in legroom for both rows of passengers in the Lexus. And the BMW had lower lift over height, something to take into consideration if you are looking for utility in your SUV. Pups or people, pick your poison.

Refreshed for 2013, the outside of the Lexus RX350 features a new grille treatment, LED running lights, rear taillights and a standard power liftgate. Inside, the Lexus boasts a new steering wheel design and redesigned center console. The dash and trim non-wood trim bits inside the RX350 look cheap in places, the new ebony bird’s-eye maple wood trim helped cheer up an expansive sea of plastic. A leather interior is now optional, making the 10-way power front bucket seats with power lumbar and reclining rear 40/20/40 split one-touch fold-down seat with adjustable headrests that much more plush. Fabric seats are standard.

2013 Lexus RX 350

Outside, the X3 35i is all BMW, with adaptive and auto-leveling bi-xenon headlights, a panoramic sunroof, 18-inch wheels, a power liftgate and a rear spoiler. The interior of the BMW X3 is more sports sedan than family hauler until you get back to the rear cargo bay. Warm wood trim and leather seating surfaces are standard, with 8-way power adjustable front bucket seats with 2-way manual headrests, and driver-seat and mirror memory and 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats.

2013 BMW X3

BMW is no slouch in the safety department, BMW Assist eCall™ includes Emergency Request, a SOS button, Automatic Collision Notification, stolen vehicle recovery and road-side assistance is standards as are antilock disc brakes, automatic brake drying, especially useful on wet or snowy days, driver and front passenger side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active front-seat head restraints, stability control and hill descent control. Optional safety equipment includes front and rear parking sensors, rear- and top-view parking cameras and a lane-departure warning system.

Safety is front and center in the RX350; the 10 standard airbags include knee airbags and seat-mounted side-impact torso airbags for the front and outboard rear occupants. In addition to a side impact, a sensor can deploy side curtain airbags in the event of a rollover. Other standard safety features include active head restraints for the front seats, antilock brakes, an electronic stability system and Lexus Safety Connect with a year’s free subscription. The Connect portion of Enform offers safety services such as roadside assistance, stolen-car recovery and airbag deployment notification. Safety options include a blind spot warning system, lane departure warning, pre-collision warning and a head-up display that helps keep driver’s eyes on the road.

The controller for the Lexus infotainment system is different, as in I-did-not-care-for-it-different. Based on a mouse design, it reminded me more of an Ouija board than the wireless device sitting on my desk. It wasn’t highly intuitive like the current generation of BMW’s iDrive – and that is saying a lot.

2013 Lexus RX 350

Speaking of i-Drive, the BMW X3 35i has it. Either we’ve all gotten used to it or more manufactures are patterning their systems after i-Drive, it’s not as difficult to use as when it was first introduced on the BMW 7-Series. Screens are easy to scroll through; programming a navigation destination was not as daunting a process as it was on the Lexus RX 350.

2013 BMW X3

There’s not a significant dollar difference between the $41,060 base price of the AWD Lexus RX350 AWD (plus an additional $2,260 for the Premium Package with leather seat trim) and a comparably equipped BMW X3 35i with an MSRP of $44,700. If you enjoy lots of legroom, the Lexus RX350 is the one. If you are a reluctant SUV driver, who craves sport sedan performance and handling and needs the extra space SUVs offers, the BMW X3 35i is the way to go.

(Note: All vehicles provided by manufacturers for comparison test purposes. Photos provided by BMW and Lexus.)