Launched in 2004 from the gates of the Graz factory, the BMW X3 E83 set out to redefine the sector of off-road cars that never leave the tarmac. Here’s what you need to know about this X5 Lite, in today’s article.

 BMW made an interesting/bold move in 2004 when it launched the BMW X3 E83. Launched around the same time as the VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne, Audi Q7 and the first modern Range Rover, the BMW X3 E83 entered a territory dominated only by the hard-working Toyota Rav4 XA20, a territory where the Nissan Qashqai would come in two years and usher in the era of crossover cars.

Why buy a BMW X3 E83?

The BMW X3 E83’s biggest competitor is the BMW X5 E53 itself, one of the first urban behemoths. You’d think the BMW X3 was smaller than the X5, and you’d be right. But not by much. The differences in size are much smaller than you’d imagine. That means the BMW X3 is a slightly smaller X5, much cheaper to buy and much cheaper to maintain. The BMW X3 E83 came with 2-litre engines, much cheaper on tax, but also with smaller and cheaper wheels that also house smaller and cheaper tyres. Very important aspect.

 And compared to the rest of the cars, how does it compare?

If you compare it to other off-road cars, it doesn’t compare. The 4×4 system is taken straight from the 3-series, a system made for grip at speed, not for carrying half a pig on the Ben Nevis. If you compare it to city cars, it doesn’t compare because it’s too tall and lacks agility.


Why buy an BMW X3 then?

Status. The BMW X3 E83 is a status car and that’s it. It doesn’t excel off the tarmac, it doesn’t excel on the tarmac, it doesn’t excel in luxury, but it does excel in the looks department. It has the right badge, it has decent reliability and it certainly has more presence than a school inspector coming to inspect your high school. Plus it gives you that raised driving position that helps you drive and see the peasants in traffic, and it also gives you that false sense safety in case of an crash. It’s not very good at avoiding accidents, but it’s pretty good handling it when an crash happens.



BMW X3 E83 Engines


  • 2.0 petrol N46 of 148 horsepower  – A modest 4-cylinder petrol that carries this status on wheels without fuss or issues. Sometimes it drowns it’s sorrows in engine oil, when it remembers it has to haul this almost-not-quite-X5.
  • 2.5 petrol M54 of 181 horsepower  – We’re already talking about something else, this engine being one of BMW’s last inline-6 legends. Yes, it chuggs oil and the seals wear out, but these minor inconveniences pale in comparison to the noise and performance of this monolith.
  • 2.5 xDrive25i N52 of 215 horsepower – Here to retire the old M54, the N52 engine is even better than its predecessor. Which is very odd for a BMW. An absolutely fantastic 6-cylinder engine.
  • 3.0 M54 and 3.0 xDrive30i of 228 and 268 horsepower – Premium engines for a not-so-premium tractor Lite. Same engines as the 2.5, just upgraded to 3 litres. If you want to be among the fastest behemoths on the road, these two engines will surprise your liver, your tank, the police and the peasants from traffic.



2.0d / xDrive20d M47 of 148 horsepower  – The ancient M47 that’s hauled everything from the 1 Series to the 5 Series. A hard-working, agricultural engine that needs special dedication to break down. The only real issue is with the swirl valves, which break, fall into the intake manifold and out of the glovebox comes N Sync singing “Bye-bye bye”

2.0d / xDrive20d and xDrive18d of 148 and 174 horsepower – Coming in 2007 to retire the old M47, the new N47 is one of the engines that ruined BMW’s reputation. An equivalent to the Peugeot 1.6 TDCI in terms of disastruos reliability, the N47 engine has serious timing chain stretcher issues, and the timing is located behind the engine. In other words, to change the timing you have to take the engine out and sing “Always look on the bright side of life” while looking at the repair estimate. Furthermore, the turbo on the N47 has serious issues if you turn off the engine immediately after parking. The engine shuts down, the turbo is still hot, it gets no oil cooling and in time i will break down. So, for your X3’s turbo sake, don’t turn off the engine as soon as you park. 

3.0d / xDrive30d of 201, 215 and 282 horsepower – The mammoth M57 that effortlessly hauled behemoths like the X5, Range Rover and BMW 7 Series also arrives on the BMW X3 E83. It suffers from the same swirl flap issue as the 2-litre M47 version. Otherwise, you can get billions of miles out of this engine.


BMW X3 E83 General Issues

  • I’m going to skim the issues list like a student the night before the exams sessions starts and go ahead and talk about the electronics part. The BMW X3 E83 comes equipped with a fair bit of technology so check out all the buttons and all the functions. Any issue can cost from the equivalent of four packs of cigarettes to the equivalent of four kidneys. In particular, the parking sensors are targeted.
  • The automatic gearbox was still advertised as maintenance-free. However, automatic gearboxes have not proven to be so indestructible, so oil changes every 60,000 km are recommended. Theoretically, the automatic transmission is “sealed for life”, but that’s because a dead automatic gearbox usually writes off the entire car. But if you’re smarter than the people who take for granted what the satire sites write, take it and change the oil.
  • Then comes the big issue with the BMW X3 E83. Even though many cars will never leave the pavement and will only be used home – kindergarten – work – kindergarten – mall – home, they still come with a 4×4 system. Very important to check underneath for dents because you never know if the car has been taken out on the field. The second issue is that the tyres must be identical in manufacturer, size and wear. If they’re not identical it will give the transfer case a concussion and you’ll be in a lot of trouble. Also, if the tyres are not identical you can conclude that the owner has not given much care and attention to the car.


BMW X3 E83 Verdict

If the BMW X5 is too big for you, if you don’t want the running costs of an X5 or if the X5 has the wrong status symbol for you, then a BMW X3 E83 does the job honourably. A car you buy just to let people know that life is treating you well, no matter what your real financial state is. Beware though that maintenance won’t be cheap because it’s a BMW and will come with BMW brand prices. But if you don’t know anything about cars, don’t want to know anything about cars and want an imposing car, the BMW X3 E83 is a decent car for the job.

What engine do you recommend? For thrills on relatively little money, the 2.5 petrol 6 cylinder is the most balanced choice. If you don’t care about the engine, then the old 2.0d M47 with 148 hp is a workhorse with a proven track record. If you want X5 performance and money doesn’t matter, the fantastic 3.0d M57 has Sergio Oliva calibre muscles.