BMW X3 is classy, effortless and sparkling

Peter Atkinson
The third-generation BMW X3 has finally delivered on the model's promise

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Chances are you'll nail it.

Particularly if you are BMW - one of the world's truly great carmakers.

Because even the mighty Bavarian brand gets things wrong occasionally.

Mind you, their "failures" would probably please many other carmakers. Like BMW's mid-sized SUV - the X3.

When the model first emerged way back in 2003 - yes, 15 years ago - it created quite a stir. Much of it positive, but not exclusively so.

Many critics rounded on the car that was billed as a smaller, city-friendly version of the game-changing X5 that had turned the SUV market on its ear.

The X3 was criticised for being a bit ungainly to look at - too long in the snout, not robust enough at the rear. Others complained about its ride - which to be honest was pretty harsh - even by BMW's famously sporty standards. It was as if they'd taken a normal BMW suspension and stiffened it to withstand the rigours of off-road driving. Not that many X3s venture too far off road.

Perhaps some of the criticism stemmed from the fact that the vehicle was co-designed, and built, by a BMW partner company, called Magna Steyr, in Austria. Hence the suspicion about its legitimacy to wear the famous propeller badge at all.

Still, the original X3 sold in excess of 600,000 units during its seven-year reign, so it was hardly a disaster.

The second-generation, launched in 2011, was better - in appearance and function - but still had its shortcomings. Specifically an interior that, while better than its predecessor, still left a bit to be desired for those buying a luxury brand.

So when BMW recently launched its all-new, third-generation X3 late last year there was still a bit to prove. Or improve.

Well, just like happened for Goldilocks, this time the X3 is juuuust right. And this time instead of the Austrians, it's an Aussie who can take some of the credit.

Australian-born designer Calvin Luk has penned the new X3's lines and has built upon the handsome good looks of the second-generation model.

BMW engineers have also refined and redesigned the car to an impressive degree - delivering an X3 that, dare we say it, is a more than worthy sibling to the still-great X5.

We drove the new gen-three X3 in close to its ultimate form - the six-cylinder turbo-diesel variant known as the X-drive3.0d.

Ironically, it's a bigger, heavier engine than found in most variants of this model - and one that's drawn criticism in the past for adding unnecessary weight to the X3. But not on this occasion.

With 195 kilowatts and a gargantuan 620Nm on tap, the X3 delivers effortless, sparkling performance with none of the vices previously found with this package. Rather than feeling bloated, it feels beautifully poised and balanced, responsive and yet still relatively light on its feet. It will rip to the speed limit in a very respectable 5.8 seconds while barely raising a sweat.

Having been a little underwhelmed by previous X3 models, this one was quite a revelation.

BMW claims reduced weight and an improvement in occupant safety as key advances, along with a revised platform that delivers improved passenger space and flexibility.

The other area of major improvement in this latest X3 is inside the cockpit, where it feels, well, just like a BMW should. That's not always been the case with this model.

BMW's cabin architecture has been something of a sticking point for a while now - particularly in models like the 3-Series volume-selling sedan - but it's clear the folk back in Bavaria are getting the message loud and clear.

The latest X3 blends a minimalist design with some classy surfaces and finishes, bolstered by cutting edge technology.

There's a reason that's so good - it's been borrowed from the bigger, more expensive 5-Series sedan to push the X3 into market leadership for gizmos.

It will offer for the first time a version of BMW's "Personal Co-Pilot" semi-autonomous driving capability - allowing the car to steer itself for periods of up to 30 seconds.

That system is informed by onboard alerts including lane control, cross-traffic alerts, active cruise control and a lane-keeping assistant.

Most impressive is the technology inside the cabin, including a newly-upgraded i-Drive cockpit management system that blends in navigation and infotainment - all accessed via a central screen of up to 10 inches in diameter - depending on the model chosen.

Traditional instruments have been replaced by a vivid, highly functional 12-inch virtual instrument display, customisable by the driver. There's also a bigger head-up display to give the driver instant information such as speed and navigation inputs, projected into their line of vision.

A Connected Onboard function allows drivers to share their trip status with friends or family via an online connection, which can also be used to research and to pre-load planned routes to the car via a laptop or computer.

The X3 will be offered in a total of five main model variants - including three four-cylinder engines (two petrol and one diesel), plus turbo-charged petrol and diesel sixes. All models will use a very smooth eight-speed automatic transmission.

The range has grown by two models since the launch - at one end by the arrival of a new entry-level, two-wheel-drive model (from $65,900) and, most recently, by the first high-performance iteration of the X3, to be known as the X3M40i.

With its 265kW and 500Nm it will bring an impressive halo model to the X3 range - perhaps acknowledgement that the model has truly come of age in this latest generation.

Which only comes as further proof that good things come to those who wait.

BMW X3 X-Drive 30d

HOW BIG? Impressively so for a mid-sizer - it offers comfortable accommodation for two adults and three teenage children, plus a flat, easily accessed cargo space.

HOW FAST? Seriously quick in the form we drove it - with an endless well of pulling power from the smooth and quiet 3-litre turbo-diesel.

HOW THIRSTY? Official fuel consumption is 6L/100km for the model tested here. The smaller four-cylinder turbo-diesel is the most frugal - but only just at 5.7L/100km.

HOW MUCH? A new entry-level turbo petrol, with two-wheel-drive only, drops the starting price to $65,900. The model tested here starts at $83,900 plus onroad costs.