BMW's new mid-sized X3 models have recently gone on sale and, given that SUVs account for almost half of New Zealand's total sales, the range is vital to the German marque's continued success.

The three-model range starts with entry-level X3 20d, priced from $92,850. The top-of-the-range X3 M40i costs from $119,850. The biggest-selling model is expected to be the mid-range X3 30i, selling from $99,850.

BMW New Zealand recently launched the new models with a drive from Auckland to the Jack Nicklaus-designed Kinloch golf course near Taupo, and a day-long off-roading session at Poronui Station, near the Taupo to Napier highway.

BMW says the X3 was the first premium mid-sized SUV on the market when it was introduced in 2004. It was the model that launched the mid-sized SAV (sports activity vehicle) market segment, and more than 1.5 million X3s have been registered worldwide since.

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With the popularity of SUVs continuing to rise, BMW has decided to give its X model ranges a more distinct look. The new models look sharper and more contemporary than the previous generation.

The X3 M40i model has a six-cylinder petrol engine that puts out 265kW of power and 500Nm of torque. It is the first M model available in the X3 range, and the company says it takes 4.8 seconds to go from 0 to 100km/h.

The mid-range X3 30i is powered by a second petrol engine that puts out 195kW, and 400Nm of torque, and is said to reach 0-100km/h in 6.3 seconds.

The X3 20d model's diesel engine puts out 149kW of power and 400Nm of torque, covering 0-100km/h in eight seconds.

All models have an eight-speed Steptronic transmission. They also have the latest generation of Active Cruise Control and the Driving Assistant Plus safety package, which includes steering and lane control assistant, Lane Change Assistant and Lane Keeping Assistant with side collision protection.

The optional Voice Assistant lets the driver use everyday language to turn requests into the appropriate actions. While the optional Head-Up Display is larger, it doesn't intrude or impede vision and displays important driving-related information onto the windscreen, in front of the drive and BMW says it's unrivalled in its segment for graphics, resolution and display options.

Inside the X3 there is more head, leg and shoulder room than in previous X3 models. There is new, softer "Vernasca" leather upholstery, and the option of a full-length of the cabin sunroof.

There is wireless charging of Samsung smartphones and BMW offers a cover to allow i-Phone smartphones to be recharged wirelessly.

The entry-level model sits on 19-inch alloy wheels, although 20-inch and 21-inch alloy wheels are also available.

BMW's X model SUVs have earned a reputation for robust performance. This was revealed off-roading on the higher reaches of the sprawling 6575ha Poronui Station handling rough tracks and steep banks with ease. The brake assist function holds the X3 steady, quickly building confidence in the technology.

They are extremely comfortable and practical luxury SUVs that can cope easily, whether negotiating rough or smooth roads or rough tracks. Although many will spend most of their life on tarmac, they're ready to run off the beaten track.

Review & Photos by Tony Verdon