With the first BMW X3 we really had to look for competitors

This is what we did with the first X3


Today, the street scene is littered with crossovers and other mish-mash of body styles. Twenty years ago we saw the first official images of the BMW X3, an X5 that was washed too hot at first glance. We look back at the arrival of the first X3 in 2003 and what AutoWeek did with the model.

In January 2003, BMW already showed the xActivity concept at the kick-off of the new car year, the show in Detroit. Shortly before that, spy plates surfaced with packed 3-series that stood strangely high on the legs, so mules for the first X3. Ultimately, BMW sprinkled with the term Sports Activity Vehicle at its introduction, a new segment seemed to be born. We saw quirky headlights and a typical kink in the fourth side window. As far as we’re concerned, the X3 couldn’t go wrong, but how did it fare against its competitors?

Difficult to find a suitable opponent for X3

To find out, we first had to find a suitable opponent, a task that turned out to be quite difficult. We drummed up an Alfa Romeo Crosswagon that gave the X3 quite a hard time. In fact, in his first confrontation, the German had to bite the dust quite a bit. We were pleased with its 2.0d diesel engine and spacious interior. The meager dashboard was a blemish on BMW’s image and also in terms of driving, the Italian passed the X3, which is also 14 grand cheaper. Who would have thought that?

X3 against Alfa 156 Q4 Crosswagon, remember that one?

Two years later, the SAV was allowed to compete against the Subaru Outback. The Japanese may be a different car in terms of concept, but it offered about the same possibilities as the BMW. The well-known German solidity almost killed the wayward Subaru, but the Outback’s overall picture was too complete to ignore. In addition, we were far from satisfied with the comfort in the raised 3-series. ‘What a letdown, that rock-hard suspension. On cobbled roads and tarmac that is not too tight, the X3 is extremely annoying.’ Ouch! And that with an additional cost of 13 mille compared to the Subaru.

Again too loud

Three months later we removed the Land Rover Freelander from its UK stable. On paper, the two were quite evenly matched, but the truth seemed far from this. ‘In search of a suitable photo location, we bravely steered the Beemer up a country lane, where the X3 struggled. Not much later it was stuck in the snow up to its bottom plate. If you liked to drive next to the asphalt, the Land Rover was the better choice. Again, the German ergonomics and thoughtfulness satisfied us, but we stumbled for the umpteenth time over its ‘irritatingly hard chassis’.

Again against Japanese competitors

We took a look at the Mazda CX-7 and Nissan Murano to see which soft roader was really the best. Unfortunately for BMW, the X3 was not. That honor went to the quirky CX-7 that was no less than €30,000 cheaper than the German. The BMW turned out to be the most dynamic of the bunch, but its limited added value compared to its substantial additional price did not make it the winner of the test. He finished second, ahead of the Murano.

At the end of 2008 we were finally able to put the BMW X3 against European competitors who tapped from the same barrel. Mercedes-Benz had launched the GLK class and Volvo had launched the first XC60, which, in contrast to the first X3 and the GLK, did catch on. The X3 again failed to win a test, although victory went to the Mercedes GLK class. And then it went hard. Another month later, the BMW X3, as a pioneer, was once again allowed to show its skills in the new SUV arena, because the Audi Q5 had joined. Together with a Land Rover Freelander (again!) the first Q5 clamped down on the first X3. Result? This sentence in the judgment says it all: the Q5 perfectly meets the SUV requirements of the new millennium. And now the Freelander left the X3 behind. So he came last in all tests!

Now the BMW showroom is bursting with X models

Did BMW fail with the X3? No, far from it. The X3 did quite well in the sales stats and paved the way for the arrival of the smaller X1 and all those X models you now find in the BMW showroom. Not that the first X3 has become a sales hit, but BMW can afford more since the X3 when it comes to strange body styles. What do we think of the rather bizarre XM, for example? No, the X3 was not the best starting shot for the deluge of hodgepodge, but certainly a loud one that echoed through the development centers of other brands as well.

As a logged-in user, you can download all the comparative tests we link above as a PDF for free. Look here for all the tests we made with all generations of X3.


– Thanks for information from Autoweek.nl

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