The History Of BMW X3

The BMW X3 is a compact crossover SUV (BMW advertises it as an SAV, or Sport Activity Vehicle) produced by the German automaker BMW. It is based on the BMW 3-Series E46 automobile platform. The X3 3.0i won the Canadian Car of the Year Best New Sport Utility Vehicle award for 2005.

Along the heels of a successful and ongoing production run of the BMW X5, BMW decided in the early millennium that it wanted to compete with the likes of the Land Rover Freelander and other small SUVs just as the X5 had previously done so well in its respective classes. Thus the X3 (internally known as E83), was born.

What thus emerged was a concept unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show in 2003. Dubbed the xActivity, BMW previewed to the public for the first time what a smaller SAV based on a 3 Series platform would look like. The concept had no windows, for the most part no roof, and a sleek futuristic interior. Only the basic shape of the car would emerge as the BMW X3.

Just as BMW used many parts from the E39 5 Series parts bin in the making of the X5, the same occurred in the X3's development, whereby BMW engineers reused 3 Series parts. In fact, complete sets of parts came straight out of the E46 330xi unchanged in the X3 (e.g. rear suspension).

Austrian automotive contractor Magna Steyr of Graz, Austria performed additional development work and has been contracted to manufacture all first-generation X3s.

Main article: BMW xDrive

When the BMW X3 premiered in late 2003, BMW announced that it would be using a new 4 wheel drive system to power it and its bigger brother - The (refreshed) X5. The two key things about xDrive are, first, it being one of the first technologies used to intervene before the driver was ever aware that the car could be unstable, and second, it being transparent (i.e. unknown) to the driver.

The BMW X3 was initially criticized for its harsh ride, an austere, minimalist interior that relied heavily on obviously plastic components, and limited off-road usage, through its heavily road-biased chassis set-up. Critics also felt the car was overpriced; a basic 2.5i, which lacked cruise control or automatic headlights and had vinyl upholstery, exceeded $30,000 in the U.S. (Vinyl has never been offered in other markets). BMW sought to rectify these complaints in 2005, with various upgrades (see below). The X3 also disappointed some BMW purists by not being assembled at a BMW factory; instead, the car's production was outsourced to Magna Steyr, based in Graz, Austria. However, Magna Steyr has won numerous awards for quality and has been the highest rated car assembly factory in Europe. It has also manufactured - amongst others - European market Chrysler/ Jeep products, the 4-Matic Mercedes E Class derivatives, and even Saab 9-3 convertibles.

The automotive press has provided mixed views of the X3. Jeremy Clarkson even said that the X3 was for people who are clinically insane after his road test of it. He also criticized it for its harsh ride, and pointed to the poor off-road ability. He got stuck multiple times because of deep mud and used summer tires. Automotive press generally liked xDrive capability, safe bottom for rough terrain and hill-descent control, but pointed to only real down side against typical off-road cars: missing gear reduction which allows to drive very slow on rough terrain without using clutch (on manual gearbox) or warming up gearbox (automatic gearbox).

The car-like handling, economical entry-level diesels and BMW-typical range of options allowed the X3 to establish itself in the rapidly expanding market for small-medium sized SUV's to the extent that it was market leader in Germany for 3 years, outselling even cheaper models such as Toyota's RAV4. Total worldwide sales in peak year have reached ca. 105.000 units per annum.

  • Bluetooth could actually be ordered straight from the factory (part of the Premium Package) and functioned without dealer intervention. (Although the BMW X3 was originally offered and promised with Bluetooth support in 2004, none of the cars that shipped from the factory actually had it installed. Few were able to get it to work with a little bit of tinkering from their dealer.)
  • The interior was upgraded with more consistent plastic panels. Also instead of having grey carpeting which was present on all 2004 X3s, the 2005 X3 came with carpeting that matched the leather ordered (with the exception of the Terracotta interior with black carpeting).
  • Slightly softer suspension.
  • Front fenders are one piece, as opposed to the two piece found on 2004 models.
  • A 2.0d engine became available in some markets - joining the 2.5i and 3.0i engines (found stateside) as well as the 3.0d engine sold elsewhere in the world.
  • An 'Open-Door' indicator was added on the 2004 models.
  • The new BMW R6 engines available across the rest of the BMW lineup were, as with the 2006 X5 and 2006 Z4, curiously absent from the 2006 X3. It is rumored that the X3 will not get the R6 until the all-new BMW X5 is released in 2007 which will include the R6 engine amongst other newer engines. The X3 will receive, however, redesigned monochromatic front and rear fascias to replace the flat black bumpers.
  • U.S. bound 2006 X3's were all equipped with a special version of the 'M' technik bodykit as standard. The difference being in that the U.S. cars had unpainted door sills and wheel arches. U.S. spec Sport Package 2006 X3's got the full 'M' bodykit (with painted front, side and rear plastic) available in the rest of the world as a BMW accessory.
  • 2.5i was removed for sale from the U.S. market as this market tended to go more for the 3.0i model.
  • The new changes to the 2007 BMW X3 are now listed on the BMWUSA home page. The 3.0si engine produces 260hp (193.9kW; 263.6PS) and 225lb·ft (305N·m) torque, at a lower engine speed (2500 rpm). The front and rear fascia are changed, more closely resembling the X5 SUV. New LED lights and interior upgrades have also been introduced. The Cold Weather package includes heated seats in the front and the rear. Adaptive headlamps and a panoramic sunroof are available, as well as upgraded dashboard components and leather seating.
  • The 2007 X3 with the automatic transmission has received owner compliants for poor shifting and lack of throttle response. Search the web for X3 and transmission to find compliants posted on several websites and also check the concerns filed with the NHTSA.
  • Outside the North American markets, diesel sales dominate the X3 model mix. In Europe, the range starts with a 2.0 litre 4 cylinder petrol, a 4cyl. turbodiesel (the most successful derivative) and continues with 6 cylinder turbo & bi-turbo diesels. The range topper is the sport diesel with 286bhp (213kW; 290PS). The X3 was in 2006 and 7 the best-selling AWD vehicle in the German market, an example of the reduced significance of off road capability in the segment. In the European markets, 'all-weather' capability has assumed far more significance than traditional wilderness hero Jeep/ Land-Rover sense of SUV in the expansion of the X3 and its rival's sales.

The X3 Cross Country, also known as the X3 CC is an X3 prepared for rally raid competition. It features a 2.9 liter, twin turbocharged diesel engine.

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More About BMW X3

2006-present BMW X3 3.0si (US)