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 Range Rover Evoque and the Ford Edge to the Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC is vying for a share of an increasing market, while now the bigger and more capable second-generation 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. In 2014, the X3 was facelifted with a range of new engines along with some exterior changes dominating the update.

The X3 range is limited to twin-turbocharged four-cylinder and six-cylinder diesel engines in the UK. All of the current generation X3 come with four-wheel drive, the pre-facelifted model offered a rear-drive-only sDrive18d. 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 2.0-litre four-pot unit, which produces 187bhp.

All versions are offered in a choice of three spec levels – SE, xLine 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.

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

Top 5 Family SUVs

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Explore the BMW range

Driven this week

  • Maserati Levante S GranSport
    First Drive
    20 October 2017
    Get ready to trade in your diesels: Maserati’s luxury SUV finally gets the engine it’s always needed
  • Jaguar XF Sportbrake TDV6
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The handsome Jaguar XF Sportbrake exhibits all the hallmarks that makes the saloon great, and with the silky smooth diesel V6 makes it a compelling choice
  • Volkswagen T-Roc TDI
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    Volkswagen's new compact crossover has the looks, the engineering and the build quality to be a resounding success, but not with this diesel engine
  • BMW M550i
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The all-paw M550i is a fast, effortless mile-muncher, but there's a reason why it won't be sold in the UK
  • Volvo V90
    First Drive
    19 October 2017
    The Volvo V90 is a big estate ploughing its own furrow. We’re about to see if it is refreshing or misguided