BMW X3 2004 – 2012

2007 BMW X3

2007 BMW X3

It’s not just we Aussies and the Yanks that love their SUVs, Europeans have really been getting into them in recent years; and the big name German marques have quickly cottoned onto the boom in these handy vehicles.

BMW began its SUV range with the X5 and has gradually worked its way down in size with new models X3 and finally the X1. The reduction in size was caused by the realisation by car makers that most SUV buyers aren’t interested in exploring the wilds of their respective countries, rather they want a capacious station wagon with a driving position that’s higher than cars’.

Note that BMW would like us to call its vehicles SAVs, standing for Sports Activity Vehicle, but no-one seems particularly interested in that acronym so we will stick with SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle).

The midsize BMW X3 is the subject of this week’s article as it’s proving very popular in recent times.

2011 BMW X3

2011 BMW X3

In Australia around one third of all BMW sales are in SUVs. The biggest seller is the X5, but the X3, introduced here in July 2004, is holding its own in the sales race. Interestingly, the second generation X3, sold from March 2011, is significantly larger than the original and is within a few centimetres of the first-generation X5 in many dimensions.

If you’re looking for a family car the gen-two BMW X3 has ample legroom for those in the rear seat and three children will find they have good shoulder room.

Boot space is good and the luggage areas are well shaped and easy to load in all X3 models.

As there’s almost no demand for a BMW that can go off road, the suspension guys have gone for handling and comfort ahead of traction on unsealed surfaces. Clever electronics, further enhanced on the gen-two X3, do give it more grip in harsh going than you might expect.

2004 BMW X3

2004 BMW X3

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 lag before things start to really motor well, but once the engines are past that stage they are beautifully responsive.

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. If you’re keen on DIY gearshifting you may find a few manuals have been privately imported. Be sure a private import meets all areas of Australian regulations.

Automatic transmissions began with five forward speeds in 2004, this increased to six in 2006, then eight in the all-new model of 2011. There are manual overrides that give you a fair bit of control as BMW has long been an expert in sporting automatics.

BMW is long established in Australia and has a well organised dealer network. The concentration is on major metro areas but there are quite a few in country cities and even 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.

Similarly, insurance costs aren’t low, but you generally seem to get value for money.

Do it yourself work on an SUV like this should be left to minor items only. These are complex cars with a multitude of electronic items and should be left to BMW dealers. There are some ex-BMW mechanics in private practise and owners speak very highly of them, however, they may not have access to the very latest information on changes to the X3.

The BMW X3 is generally trouble free, but it makes sense to buy a used one with a full service history. The car will have been in contact by way of the internet with the technical departments in the German head office each time it was serviced at an official dealership.

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.

Budget on spending from $15,000 to $22,000 for a 2004 BMW X3 2.5i; $19,000 to $26,000 for a 2005 3.0i; $23,000 to $31,000 for a 2005 3.0d; $28,000 to $38,000 for a 2008 xDrive 20d Lifestyle; $35,000 to $47,000 for a 2008 xDrive 30d Lifestyle; and $47,000 to $64,000 for a 2012 xDrive 28i.

Cars aimed at those who really like to drive may have been thrashed. Blindingly obvious? Yes, but too few buyers take this into account when falling in love with a potential new car.

About Ewan Kennedy

Ewan Kennedy, a long-time car enthusiast, was Technical Research Librarian with the NRMA from 1970 until 1985. He worked part-time as a freelance motoring journalist from 1977 until 1985, when he took a full-time position as Technical Editor with Modern Motor magazine. Late in 1987 he left to set up a full-time business as a freelance motoring journalist. Ewan is an associate member of the Society of Automotive Engineers - International. An economy driving expert, he set the Guinness World Record for the greatest distance travelled in a standard road vehicle on a single fuel fill. He lists his hobbies as stage acting, travelling, boating and reading.
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