Compact SUV; Built in Austria
  • 4-door wagon
  • longitudinal front-engine/all-wheel drive
Good condition price range: $10,500 – $29,000*

2004 BMW X3

2004 BMW X3

2004 BMW X3

  • Acceleration
  • Cargo room
  • Seat comfort
  • Steering/handling
  • Fuel economy

Base prices nudged the new X3 into premium-SUV territory. Adding desirable options anchored it there: A 2.5i with automatic transmission and Premium Package listed for about $35,500. A loaded 3.0i could approach $48,000. Comparatively strong resale value has kept secondhand prices on the high side, too. Like BMW’s 3-Series cars, the X3 gives up outright size to most like-priced competitors, but delivers sporty performance and solid quality.


BMW’s first compact sport-utility vehicle was an all-wheel-drive wagon based on the platform used by the German company’s sporty 3-Series cars. Although the X3 was about 3 inches longer in wheelbase and body length than the 3-Series station wagon, its taller body and SUV-style 8.0 inches of ground clearance made it 9.5 inches taller overall. Its 71 cubic feet of cargo room ranked among the most of any compact SUV, and beat BMW’s larger X5 SUV by 16.6 cubic feet.

Passenger space virtually matched the more costly X5’s, but the X3 weighed some 600 pounds less. Despite 8-inch ground clearance, the X3 was intended for only light-duty off-road duties. BMW’s new xDrive AWD system was designed largely to enhance on-road handling.

The X3 borrowed its inline six-cylinder powertrains from the 3-Series: The X3 2.5i had a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter, while the X3 3.0i held a 225-horsepower 3.0-liter. Both teamed with a six-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic, with manual shift gate.

Each X3 seated five and had a liftgate without separate-opening glass. Like the AWD system available in 3-Series cars, the X3’s did not include low-range gearing. However, its hill descent control could automatically limit steep downhill speeds to a crawl.

Antilock all-disc brakes and BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control traction/antiskid control were standard. Front side airbags and front/rear head-protecting tubular side airbags also were standard; rear torso side airbags were optional.

The X3 2.5i arrived at dealerships early in 2004, several months after the 3.0i. The 3.0i came with 17-inch wheels, but could be equipped with 18-inch all-weather tires, or, as part of a Sport Package, with summer performance tread. The Sport option also included a firmer suspension and sport front seats.

Other 3.0i standard features included power front seats and a tilt/telescoping steering column. Options included a navigation system, xenon headlamps, front- and rear-obstacle detection, leather and wood interior trim, and BMW’s Panorama dual sunroof with a sliding front panel and glass rear skylight. With the X3, BMW competed against the Acura MDX, Lexus RX, Cadillac SRX, Mazda Tribute, Audi A4 Avant, and Mercedes-Benz C-Class 4Matic wagon.

Yearly Updates

2005 X3
Little changed for the X3 in the 2005 model year.
2006 X3
Only the X3 3.0i wagon remained into 2006, as the base 2.5i model was dropped.
2007 X3
More power and a subtle restyle marked this compact SUV for 2007. For ’07 the 3.0i was rebadged 3.0si for a new engine with 260 hp, 35 hp more than the outgoing 3.0i. The available automatic transmission now had 6 speeds vs. 5. The available Sport Package included firmer suspension and 18-inch wheels, with 19s available separately. Appearance changes involved new bumpers and lights, along with cabin-trim revisions.
2008 X3
The 2008 BMW X3 continued unchanged from 2007.
2009 X3
The 2009 BMW X3 was largely unchanged.
2010 X3
The 2010 BMW X3 was largely unchanged for what would be its final model year in its current design. Note that X3 was slated to be redesigned for 2010, but this will happen for model-year 2011.


longitudinal front-engine/all-wheel drive

Two inline six-cylinder engines and two transmissions have been available in X3s: a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter or 225-horsepower 3.0-liter, mated to either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Only the 3.0-liter model continued into the 2006 model year. For ’07 the 3.0i is rebadged 3.0si for a new engine with 260 hp, 35 hp more than the outgoing 3.0i. The available automatic transmission now has 6 speeds vs. 5.

dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 2.5/152
Engine HP 184
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 175
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed manual
5-speed automatic
dohc I6
Engine Size (liters/cubic inches) 3.0/182
Engine HP 225-260
Engine Torque (lb-ft) 214-225
Avail. Trans. EPA MPG (city/hwy) MPG avg. as tested
6-speed manual
5-speed automatic
6-speed automatic

Road Test

The 3.0i engine delivers smooth, ample acceleration. BMW claimed 0-60 mph in 7.6 seconds with manual transmission, 7.9 with automatic. A test 2.5i with automatic took exactly a second longer. Not all testers have been impressed with passing power or automatic-transmission downshifts. Manual-transmission “throws” are long but friction-free. With automatic transmission, a 2.5i averaged 19.1 mpg, and a 3.0i averaged 17.7 mpg, both in a city/highway mix–in accord with SUVs of similar power and weight. All X3s require premium fuel.

Ride comfort is a plus in standard form. The base X3 suspension follows BMW’s pattern: firm but not punishing on bumps, and confidently stable at higher speeds, even on wavy surfaces. The taut Sport Package suspension with low-profile 18-inch tires triggers abrupt vertical motions on bumps and rides too harshly for us to recommend.

Arguably the most agile SUV of them all, the X3 behaves much like a BMW 3-Series car, but with SUV ride height and AWD assistance. That means accurate, natural-feeling steering, augmented by confidence-inspiring control in turns. BMW’s xDrive delivers rear-drive feel and minimizes noseplow or fishtailing, even on dry pavement. Low-speed maneuverability is enhanced by a tight turn radius. On the down side, X3’s raised center of gravity detracts from sport-sedan feel with some body lean and sway in quick directional changes–most noticed with the base suspension.

Noise is an issue, as the engine note becomes an annoying drone on long drives. Wind rush is prominent in some side gusts; even at 40 mph, it roars intrusively around an air deflector that rises when the sunroof opens. Performance-tread tires sing and whistle, even on unblemished pavement.

The sporty interior draws its main gauge cluster from BMW’s Z4 sports car. Controls are arrayed logically and marked clearly, though quite spread out across the central dashboard stack. The navigation screen flips open at eye level, but adjusting can distract from driving. The system itself is relatively simple to program, and does not incorporate non-navigation features. Interior materials are mostly solid, but intentionally not opulent, to encourage hard use by active owners.

Good front head room is accompanied by long footwells for stretch-out space, but the front passenger’s knees are crowded by the low-slung dashboard bottom. Supportive seats offer set-and-forget comfort, plus fine bolstering in fast turns. Despite modest ride height, broad door sills force legs to stretch uncomfortably to clear protruding lower-body trim. The tilt/telescope steering wheel may not adjust low enough to suit all drivers. Each X3 is short on small-items storage space, and anything taller than a 12-ounce can in the center-console cupholder interferes with the driver’s elbow during manual-transmission shifting.

Rear-seat head clearance is fine for tall riders, even with intrusion from the Panorama sunroof housing. There’s no surplus of foot space, though, and 6-footers find their knees squeezed with front seats moved more than halfway back. Chair-height seats are firm and nicely contoured.

An X3 provides floor space like a compact station wagon, but at SUV height. Rear seatbacks fold without removing headrests or flipping lower cushion, though they don’t rest fully flat. Interior storage nets and clever cargo-floor rails (if installed) are handy.


Model Tested: 2005 BMW X3 3.0i w/auto., Prem. Pkg.

Ratings values are on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the best. With the exception of Value, these numbers reflect how the vehicle compares against the universe of vehicles, not just against rivals in its class.


Acceleration - 6
Fuel Economy - 4
Ride Quality - 5
Steering/Handling - 6
Quietness - 6


Controls/Materials - 6
Room/Comfort Front - 7
Room/Comfort Rear - 5
Cargo Room - 7


Value - 5

Total: 57


4-door wagon
Wheelbase (in.) Length (in.) Width (in.) Height (in.) Weight (lbs)
110.1 179.7 73.0 66.0
Cargo Volume (cu/ft) Payload Capacity (cu/ft) Fuel Capacity (gal.) Seating Capacity
71.0 17.7 5
Headroom Legroom
Front Rear Front Rear
39.3 39.4 40.2 35.8
Safety Ratings

Model Tested: N/A


(5 is the highest rating)

Front Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Front Passenger Injury - N/A

Side Impact Test

Driver Injury - N/A
Rear Passenger Injury - N/A


(A score of 100 is average. Lower is better)

Collision N/A
Injury N/A
Theft N/A

Trouble Spots

Engine noise
Description: Engine may ping under light load, idle too high or stumble on acceleration until warm requiring ECM reprogramming. (2005-07)
Engine stalling
Description: The engine may run rough or miss (the check engine light may also come on) due to problems with the original ignition coils and the carmaker is replacing them with Bosch coils. (2004 and prior)
Engine temperature
Description: Engine may lose power at high altitudes (over 5,000 ft.) during hot weather due to vapor lock inside the fuel pump. (2004)
Description: The sunroof may not close in hot weather or after being parked in direct sunlight because the channels expand and get tight and the anti-trap sensors stop the motor. (2003-04)
Transmission leak
Description: Transmission fluid may leak from the selector shaft seal and often appears to be coming from the pan gasket. (2007)
Description: Automatic headlights may not go off when exiting a tunnel or parking garage due to miscommunication between rain sensor and headlight module. (2005-06)
Description: Battery can die after parked for 3-4 days most likely due to problem in general module (body control module). (2004)
Description: The battery may die overnight if the key is left in the ignition on vehicles with electronic immobilizer system. (2004-06)
Information stickers/paperwork
Description: When the outside temperature drops below freezing (32F) the telematics control unit may malfunction and emergency “SOS” calls will not go through. The battery may also be drained. To make sure the recall was performed, look for the sticker on the door frame. (2004)
Electrical problem
Description: The transmission may intermittently revert to fail-safe mode due to multiplexing problem requiring reprogramming. (2005-06)
Electrical problem
Description: The instrument panel backlighting may occasionally go out briefly then come back on due to a problem with the light switching center. (2003-06)
Description: The universal garage door opener in the vehicle may not accept a code from a different (new transmitter or new owner) if the batteries in the transmitter are low. (2004-07)
Description: The hydraulic valve adjusters (lifters) may tick when the 3.0L 6-cylinder engine is first started due to oil drainback and may take up to 30 minutes of driving to quiet down. (2004-07)

Recall History

Description: The airbag occupant-detection mat under the front passenger seat may fail, and will illuminate the airbag warning and passenger airbag “on/off” lamps. In the event of a crash, the passenger side airbags, with the exception of the head protection system, will not deploy. Dealers will rework the front passenger seat sensor mat so that external force application to the seat does not cause a crack to the mat.

Equipment Lists

Equipment lists are only viewable on larger screen sizes.


Used-car pricing varies widely depending on local market conditions. Therefore, we recommend visiting websites that list used cars for sale to get a better idea of what a specific model is selling for in your area.