WHEN it was first launched 15 years ago the BMW X3 had very little opposition and as a result sold very well even although that first generation car was not really very good.
The second generation model was much better but since then the premium SUV/Crossover sector has expanded at a great rate with models from Jaguar, Volvo, Mercedes, Audi and Range Rover all fighting for sales.
So late last year BMW introduced an all-new X3 into the market in a move designed to keep its rivals in check.
With one in three of every BMW's sold being X models the designers had to get things right and so this latest version brings new levels of refinement, style and ride quality as well as a host of extra technology.
As you would expect the American built X3 is available in a variety of engines but unlike some of its rivals it does not offer seven seats.
All the engines are linked to an excellent eight-speed automatic gearbox and the car shares its platform with the latest 5 Series saloon. This means it hasxDrivefour-wheel-drive as standard and two-wheel-drive is not being offered.
Larger but lighter than the car it replaces, the new model is much more striking than its predecessor but in typical BMW fashion the new design is an evolution of the old so it is instantly recognised as an X3 - just better looking.
I have just spent a couple of weeks with the 2.0-litre diesel M Sport model which is the top trim car. It offers a stylish body kit to give the X3 a sporty look, 19-inch alloys in different designs, a sportier cabin with a special steering wheel, sports seats and an upgraded infotainment system which has a clear 10-inch touchscreen.
The cabin is spacious and can easily take five adults and all the materials and finishes are first class. The instruments and controls are typical BMW and they are all where they should be and easy to read and use.
The M Sport model is very well equipped and has all the toys you would need but most owners will still dip into the options list to personalise their vehicles.
A pleasure to drive the X3 offers nicely weighted accurate steering, capable handling for a large vehicle and a very comfortable ride with the suspension coping with even the worst of our roads.
The high driving position offers excellent visibility and the X3 is a great choice for long distance driving. It is also a competent off-roaderalthough it has not been designed to tackle the real rough stuff like a Land Rover but itsxDrive4x4 system will cope with bad weather conditions and some tough terrain.
The 2.0-litre diesel is a great performer and ideally suited to the X3. It has a top speed of 132mph and can sprint to 60mph in 8.0 seconds. It is also economical for a vehicle of this size and I actually bettered the claimed combined 38.7mpg. There are some driving modes to play with but frankly I didn't notice much of a difference and just opted for the comfort setting.
Many of the latest safety features are included in the X3 package but some features such as active cruise control, lane departure assistance and cross traffic alerts cost extra as part of the company's PersonalCoPilotcollection.