The first BMW X3 arrived in 2004 and shared mechanical components with the four-wheel-drive version of the E46 3-series. BMW subcontracted much of the development to Austrian company Magna Steyr, which also built the car. As the first mid-size SUV with a premium badge, it had strong early sales in the UK, with a peak of 7600 cars registered in 2006. But volumes slumped as more modern rivals entered the market and just 2000 found buyers here in 2009.The X3 was the first mid-size SUV to offer both the draw of a premium badge and unashamedly road-biased driving manners. Its sales success was in spite of a lack of critical acclaim.
But the second-generation X3 – known within BMW by its F25 design code – faces a far tougher test in a more crowded and competitive marketplace. Everything from the Land Rover Evoque to the Audi Q5 is vying for a share of an increasing market, while now the BMW X1 sits beneath the X3 in BMW’s SUV line-up.
BMW has sharpened the X3’s appeal accordingly. Not only is it bigger than the car it replaces, but it’s also claimed to be quicker, greener and even slightly cheaper once extra standard spec is factored in.
The X3 range is limited to four-cylinder and six-cylinder diesel engines in the UK. Most of them come with four-wheel drive, but more recently BMW has introduced a rear-drive-only sDrive18d, which uses a lower-powered version of the xDrive20d's 2.0-litre, four-pot diesel to yield even more spectacular fuel economy and CO2 figures. The 3.0-litre diesel, available in two states of tune in the xDrive30d and xDrive35d, offers even better performance and only marginally less impressive economy and emissions than the four-pot unit.
All versions are offered in a choice of two spec levels – SE and M Sport – while the four-cylinder models can be had with either a manual or automatic gearbox; the six-pot versions are automatic only.