BMW was one of the early prestige companies to spot the surge in interest in SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles). Realising that most SUV buyers aren’t interested in exploring off-road trails but wanted a tall station wagon BMW calls its vehicles SAVs, (Sports Activity Vehicle). Having said that the X3 with BMW’s xDrive system has good traction on muddy and icy surfaces.
As there’s almost no demand for a BMW X model that can go off road, the suspension engineers have gone for handling and comfort ahead of traction on unsealed surfaces. However, clever electronics, further enhanced on the gen-two and gen-three BMW X3s, give it more grip in harsh going than you might expect.
Having said all that, the handling and overall feel in normal driving is what attracts people to BMW X3. While not quite in the 3 Series class it’s pretty impressive.
The BMW X3, was introduced in Australia in July 2004 and sold well from the start. It received a mild facelift, improved interiors and significant mechanical upgrades, particularly in the turbo-diesel engines, in November 2006. These are probably the oldest ones to aim for if your budget can come up some more folding stuff.
The second generation X3, sold from March 2011, is significantly larger than the model it replaced. Indeed it’s within a few centimetres of the first-generation X5. Gen-two has good legroom for those in the rear seat and three children have good shoulder room.
The latest X3, an upgrade of the 2011 version, was introduced in July 2014. It’s biggest feature in today’s connected world is the use of the highly sophisticated BMW Connected Drive system.
Boot space is good and the luggage areas are well shaped and easy to load in all X3 models.
Four and six-cylinder engines are offered in petrol and diesel format. BMW has long been a specialist in turbocharged engines and both the petrol and diesel units work well. There’s the usual turbo lag, but on the whole it’s less with each new model. Once the turbocharger is up to speed the engines are beautifully responsive, making them feel ‘very BMW’ and much loved by keen drivers.
Though the diesels are the more economical we do have a preference for turbo-petrol engines as they just love to rev way up in the scale, whereas the diesels give up in the high 4000s.
Even better are the naturally aspirated straights sixes – one of our all time favourite powerplants. These are offered in 2.5 and 3.0-litre capacity.
Six-speed manual gearboxes were offered in the early days, but were never popular and disappeared from the new-car price list during 2008.
Automatic transmissions had five speeds in 2004, six in 2006, then eight in the all-new 2011. There are manual overrides that give you a fair bit of control, but increasingly we find that the transmissions’ computer tech people have come up with units that almost seem to read our minds.
BMW is long established in Australia and has a well organised dealer network. As you would expect they are chiefly in the major metropolitan areas but there is an increasing number in country cities and large country towns.
Spare parts are relatively expensive, but no more so than others in this class of SUV. We seldom here any real complaints about availability.
Home handyperson work should be left to minor items only. These are complex cars with a multitude of electronic items and should be serviced by BMW dealers. However, there are some ex-BMW mechanics in private practise and owners speak highly of them, however, they may not have access to the very latest information on changes to the X3.
Insurance costs aren’t low, but it’s worth shopping around. As always, we caution you to make sure you’re doing an accurate comparison. And warn that a longterm relationship with one company can be very handy if a doubtful claim incident arises.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The BMW X3 is generally trouble free, but it makes sense to buy a used one with a full service history.
The use of incorrect tyres can cause problems with the transfer case due to incorrect rolling radii. Make a note of the details of tyres then contact BMW for a list of recommended tyres.
If you suspect one has been off the beaten track – a rare event – examine the bumper corners, doors sills and undertray for damage – or choose an X3 that hasn’t beaten about the bush.
Make sure a petrol engine starts almost instantly, or a diesel within a couple of seconds. Slow starting can indicate real problems.
An inspection of the interior, including the luggage area will reveal that a car has been used as a workhorse for carting kids or other heavy-duty stuff.
CAR BUYING TIP
Take any used car for a lengthy test drive before committing your hard-earned to it. A quick run around the block is just not good enough.