Introduced in 2004, the BMW X3 undergoes only minor changes for 2005: there are new interior colour and finish combinations for the instrument panel and centre console, and new door sills. The suspension has been tuned slightly for a more comfortable ride, and the stereo system has been upgraded.

The X3 comes with a choice of engines, both inline six-cylinders borrowed from the 3 Series sedans: one is a 2.5-litre, the other a 3.0-litre. Both come with a six-speed manual transmission that can be optioned to a five-speed automatic at no extra charge. Both use BMW’s superb xDrive all-wheel-drive, a torque-management system that switches seamlessly from rear-wheel to all-wheel-drive when necessary. Unlike many AWD systems that distribute power when one set of wheels slips, xDrive is proactive, using information from the dynamic stability control and other sensors to determine the possibility of wheel slippage and the need to power up or brake a specific wheel, before any wheels actually start to lose traction. It also locks the differentials on take-off until the vehicle reaches 20 km/h for maximum traction.

Features on the 2.5i include four-wheel vented disc brakes, automatic headlamps, fog lights, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers with heated washer jets, tire pressure warning system, rear wiper, rear spoiler, leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, manual air conditioning, cruise control, eight-way manually adjustable heated seats, “leatherette” upholstery, power windows, and CD/MP3 player with eight speakers including two subwoofers.

The 3.0i adds Xenon headlamps, chrome grille bars, privacy glass, automatic air conditioning, eight-way power seats with driver memory, storage nets, luggage compartment parcel rails, illuminated vanity mirrors, reading and footwell lights, and reversible luggage compartment liner.

The X3 remains the odd man out in BMW’s line-up; although it’s got its brand cachet, it’s an expensive item in a crowded field of worthy midsize SUV rivals. Despite the slight softening of its suspension, it’s still extremely stiff. That makes it handle very well, but that’s not enough trade-off for a ride that’s comfortable only on glass-smooth roads. The interior contains far too much hard plastic for an upscale vehicle, and the engine-turned metal accents just look weird. The 2.5-litre is a bit underpowered for this heavy trucklet; the 3.0-litre is a preferable choice. All things considered, a Honda CR-V, Lexus RX 330 or a move up to the slightly bigger and much nicer BMW X5 might be even better.

The X3 is built in Steyr, Austria.

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