Years built: 2003 to 2010
Bodystyles: Five-door crossover
What is it?
Everyone wants a posh German 4x4 these days, right? Well it sure seems so, and the good news for those who fancy one of these, but are buying on a budget, is that first generation BMW X3s are now becoming seriously affordable. It helps that BMW stole something of a march on its Teutonic rivals by getting the X3 onto the market in 2003, well ahead of Audi’s Q5 and the Mercedes GLC, so there are now lots around and they’re getting temptingly cheap. Just don’t go thinking that it’s a proper off-roader…
Which one should I buy?
The first-generation X3, known to BMW production code nerds as the E83, was based on the contemporary 3 Series chassis, so if you think about it as a taller, four-wheel drive 3 Series Touring estate, you’re on the right track. It was a hugely controversial car at the time, not because it was BMW doing an SUV (the bigger X5 already had its feet well under the table by then) but because of the styling. BMW was going through its Chris Bangle styling period at that time, and Bangle, as chief designer, gave the X3 a very polarising look, with jarring surface changes and a certain lack of elegance. Time has softened some of the effect, but it helps if you go for a post-2007 car which received a minor facelift.
Post-2007 cars also received a big boost to cabin quality, which was a major bugbear of early X3s. That facelift also brought with it options such as adaptive headlights and a panoramic sunroof.
Don’t go buying an X3 thinking that it’s hugely practical though. Space in the back isn’t bad, but the boot is nowhere near as big as it should have been, and in reality a lower, more affordable 3 Series Touring is probably just as practical. A 5 Series Touring even more so.
Neither of those will have four-wheel drive, of course, which came as standard on the X3 (a rear wheel drive model didn’t come along until the new version in 2010) and which makes it a very practical car for those regularly tackling country roads. It’s not a proper off-roader though, and anyone who tries to venture too far into the greenery will soon find out that the X3 lacks ground clearance and axle articulation. Stick to tarmac.
Engine choices are down to the familiar 2.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine and 3.0-litre straight-six diesel or petrol engines. Obviously the 2.0-litre is far cheaper to run, but the bigger engines have greater reliability and some serious performance, so don’t count them out altogether.
How much should I spend? Circa €7,000 will get you a 20008-2009 X3.
Here’s one we found:
2008 BMW X3 2.0d SE, 277,000km, two owners, €6.450 from an independent dealer.
What goes wrong?
Obviously, the 2.0-litre N47 diesel engine is the big worry here, with its reputation for eating timing chains. Most of the troublesome engines have, at this stage, been replaced or repaired, but it’s still something to keep in mind and the best protection is to make sure that the car has a full (preferably BMW dealer) service history and that you keep it serviced afterwards.
Other issues include problems with aftermarket tow-bars, which can interfere with the car’s electronics, and squeaky, rattly tailgates.
Early models can suffer from fragile turbos, (listen for a graunchy sound from the top of the engine, or watch for blue smoke from the back), and the diesel particulate filter needs replacing at 130,000km intervals.
Watch too for slipping automatic gearboxes, whining differentials, faulty sunroofs, and keep an eye on the tracking as it’s easy for the X3 to slip or get knocked out of alignment.
It is worth buying your X3 from a BMW main dealer as, although it will work out more expensive, they do offer a full two-year used car warranty which gives you some serious peace of mind. And don’t forget that, much though we all love our 4x4s now, a 3 or 5 Series Touring offers the same practicality with lower running costs.
And when you’ve found your perfect BMW X3 don’t forget to get it history checked by motorcheck.ie.