The new face lifted BMW X3 is essentially a jacked up 3-Series station wagon with BMWs xDrive all-wheel-drive system. Bear in mind, not even the latest 3-Series even – just like how BMW dipped into the E39 parts bin when designing most of the previous generation X5, the BMW X3 takes most of its stuff from the E46 BMW 330xi.

Read my full test drive review after the jump.

The recent facelift also seems to have come too late, while in reality it is actually on time, as the X3 was only launched in late 2003. While BMWs entire range has been updated, the X3 feels old inside. Yes, it has BMWs new chrome-trimmed shifter design with a nice grip. Yes, the same very nicely done aluminium bits are there. But the meter panel is of the old design with old school-looking needles – thick with some 3D effects which seem not to be in tune with the rest of the interior.

The little LCD in the middle of the two gauges is well, not there. Instead, there is a little LED panel showing what gear position you are in, and thats about it. The steering column stalks are not of the new soft touch type, theyre of an older design. There is no little electronic fob you insert into a slot and a push start button to press the ignition on the X3 is the old school twist-key-in-hole-on-steering-column design.

If youre accustomed to how modern BMWs feel like, this feels old. Its not that these bits and pieces of the interior dont function well – they do! Just that you’ll expect something, well… newer. The X3 seems to be stuck somewhere in between the past and the present in terms of BMW interior design language.

For RM319,000, the specs you get arent very impressive. Considering you can buy one of them lovely new decked out BMW 325i Sports for only RM306,800, the heightened sitting position and all-wheel-drive cant be that much of a premium? There is no rear air conditioning, for one. There is no dual zone climate control. No sunroof. No GPS. The wheels also look tiny for whats supposed to be a sports model – the sole X3 sold by BMW Malaysia has a 2.5si badge on it. I can only assume the letter “s” means sports, otherwise it would mean 2.5i wouldnt it?

What it also has are supportive sports seats which offer electrically powered adjustment for both the front seats. Your way is lit with really bright Xenon headlamps. The BMW Business CD entertainment system sounds very good, so Im glad at least premium audio is part of the whole package. Fans of radio station breakfast shows will also be pleased to know that like all BMWs, it has excellent radio reception. I mean, really, you should really compare the radio reception of a BMW compared to other cars. The BMW radio antenna gets really clear and crisp reception, almost passable for an audio CD.

Someone who buys an SUV also would expect more comfort – one word that you could use to define the X3s ride is “busy”. Instead of gliding along, it would be more appropriate to say you have a combination of wafting and jittering along, of which the latter happens on all but the smoothest of highways. I asked my friend Shannon Teoh from NST who so happens to do most of his driving in a more upmarket part of the Klang Valley on what he thought of the ride and he had no complaints about it. There you go, the difference between civilization and everything else.

Its firm and you feel every surface condition transmitted from the road. On the other hand, its saving grace is how well it handles, considering its tallness and all. You start to believe the ride quality is unbelievably acceptable considering its aptitude in tackling corners. This is exactly what I discovered the next day once I had become more accustomed to how the X3 felt, and dared to do more with it than just waft along in straight lines.

The 218 horsepower 2.5 litre N54 straight-six engine is very rev happy and goes up to its redline without much effort, while retaining plenty of low end torque sufficient for a SUV. What BMW does with their normally aspirated engines is pure magic. Theyre truly experts at this. Of course, it does feel a little weighed down in this car compared to the 325i, because of the additional weight of xDrive.

Speaking of xDrive, the all-wheel-drive system found in this compact ute deserves some mention. It works somewhat differently from normal all-wheel-drive systems which react to changes in traction. xDrive actually tries to predict the required power that needs to go to either the front or rear axle using data from Dynamic Stability Control sensors, thus in effect reacting much faster than other systems.

Interior space is also sufficient, and what they say about the X3 having more interior room than the old X5 is true. Theres really no complaints here – large boot, sufficient rear passenger legroom, however I must once again complain about the lack of a rear blower.

Despite its size, parking the BMW X3 was surprisingly easy as it has some nifty features to make it easier for you to park. The left wing mirror automatically tilts downwards for you to watch where the rear left corner of the vehicle is heading, ensuring you get to park as close to the side curb as possible when doing parallel parking. There are also sensors for both front and rear, and each sensor provides a different beep tone so you know whether the X3 is too close to something else at the front or the rear.

Seeing what an improvement BMW made with the new E70 X5 over the old X5, it would be better if you take a chance and wait for the new full model change BMW X3 to be released if you want to get a BMW compact luxury SUV. Its not that the X3 is a bad car, its good, but you cant help but feel it is the definition of what good was 3 years ago, even though the mechanicals have been updated to the latest editions, like the straight-six engine for instance.

Buying anything luxury is always an emotional decision, as something cheaper in the 150K range would more than suffice. Constantly feeling you paid top dollar for something that feels like it belongs to a previous generation might bother you. But if it doesnt, this updated first generation X3 is not a bad choice. Then again, if youre really that appreciative of engineering, youre likely be in the market for something more of a drivers car, so youll most likely buy a BMW sedan anyway instead of an SUV.

Anyway, Im still very curious to find out how an X3 3.0sd feels like. This top of the line variant has BMWs award winning 3.0 litre twin turbodiesel engine. However, no chance of it making its way to local shores because of our diesel which only recently got upgraded to Euro II, while the engine needs at least Euro IV. Too bad for us.