This is the second generation of BMW's mid-sized SUV, replacing a car that has been an undoubted sales success (close to 615,000 worldwide since 2004).
It has never been held in such high regard by us, however, due to its harsh ride, cramped rear quarters and some below-par materials in the cabin.
This new model aims to rectify all of its predecessor"s flaws, sacrificing some sportiness for the sake of becoming a more well rounded and versatile vehicle.
With the smaller X1 having already been added to BMW’s range of X models, the new X3 gets the chance to grow in size on a completely redeveloped platform - not by a lot, but enough to make all the difference inside.
Overall, it’s 83mm longer than before at 4648mm and 28mm wider at 1881mm, while 15mm has been added to the wheelbase (now 2810mm) and the tracks are a significant 92mm wider. Yet despite the expansion, it weighs 25kg less than its predecessor.
The shape is still recognisable as an X3, but the wider tracks give the car a more planted, less upright stance, while the sharp edges have been replaced by smoother, more contoured lines that, to our eyes, are much more successful than those of the awkward-looking original X3.
The new model gets a host of hi-tech features such as three-mode Dynamic Drive Control with electronically controlled dampers, an optional eight-speed automatic gearbox with a stop-start function, optional Performance Control (which enhances agility in corners by modulating the brakes and power delivery at the rear wheels) and a reversing camera with top view, a la Infiniti.
Only one X3 model will be offered in the UK at launch: the four-cylinder diesel xDrive20d SE, which comes in at £30,490 – £115 cheaper than its predecessor.
Six-cylinder diesel and M Sport variants will follow next spring, but there are no plans to bring the xDrive35i – the only petrol model at launch – to the UK.
Significantly, production of the X3 has switched from Magna Steyr in Austria to BMW’s Spartanburg plant in South Carolina, which is where the X5 and X6 are already made.
What’s it like?
The first thing you notice is the transformed interior.
The new cabin is much more what you’d expect of a premium car maker like BMW, with quality materials (a match for the 3-series), a generous standard spec and an ultra-clean layout.
The increase in the car’s size has resulted in usefully more cabin space than before, especially in the rear, where there’s now enough leg, shoulder and elbow room for two 6ft-plus adults to sit in comfort.
Getting in and out of the rear doors is much easier than it used to be, too, while the luggage bay is now the biggest in the class (with a capacity of 550-1600 litres) and the rear seats split 40/20/40 and fold almost flat, making the X3 a lot more practical than it was before.
BMW’s 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine is as impressive in practice as it is on paper.
In the new X3 it produces 181bhp and 280lb ft of torque – increases of four and nine per cent respectively over its predecessor.
Not only is it gutsy and refined, but it’s also the most efficient unit in its class, with combined economy of 50.4mpg and CO2 emissions of 149g/km in manual form – respectively 14 per cent and 15 per cent better than the old X3.
The eight-speed auto version has identical performance and economy figures and actually produces slightly less CO2 (147g/km).
The introduction of Dynamic Drive Control and electronically controlled dampers means X3 occupants no longer have to live with a stiff ride.
The new X3 may be a little less agile than the outgoing one, but its ride is relatively supple, even in the sportier settings, which tighten up body control sufficiently for the X3 to still handle with a great deal of composure.
The new electric power steering, though short on feel, is pleasingly meaty in weight, too.
The only real problem from the driver’s point of view is that the manual shift is quite obstructive; the new auto will be the more appealing option for many.
Should I buy one?
With all of the flaws rectified, the new X3 is a big improvement on its predecessor and in most quantifiable ways is now a front-runner in this class, easily capable of going head to head with the likes of the Audi Q5 and Land Rover Freelander SD4.
It’s taken seven years, but the X3 is now a car we can heartily recommend.