Motoring media and enthusiasts alike didn't exactly endear themselves to the first iteration of the BMW X3, due to a very harsh ride, a lack of power and a spartan interior. With that in mind, Munich (BMW's head office) became determined to better the said sport activity vehicle (SAV). But has it really improved to attract buyers?

The color-keyed front spoiler that now sits below a redesigned bumper assembly improves the overall exterior look, with LED tail lamps at the back. A bigger kidney grille reflects BMW's pride in the latest X3 and front foglights are now integrated into the bodywork's main section.

Although the inside is still very much BMW (e.g., black leatherette throughout the cabin, silver accents, driver-centric feel), upgrades abound. For example, the shotgun seat gets a cupholder, found under the rightmost aircon (a/c) vent. The creature comforts rival its bigger X5 sibling, such as a bigger dual level center console, bright interior lighting for all three sections, one-touch power assist for the front and rear windows, and a removable tonneau cover for two tier loading at the rearmost area.

Speaking of loading, this test unit X3's (specifically, a P 3.49 million 2.0d variant) large dimensions are great for five or six average Filipinos, plus an LG Gold series home air conditioner within its box and four to five large DHL Jumbo boxes at the rear. The rear backrests fold flat to swallow long cargo, but the rear wheel wells eat up a lot space, so width may be at a premium if you're a frequent hauler. The only negative when it comes to storage is the bin above the middle a/c vents; you pull (not push) on the tab below it to pop open the said compartment's lid, deterring storage in a hurry or attempts at storage while driving on the highway.

The 2.0d's inline-four diesel is decent in the city and beastly when the right pedal is pressed. Although downshifting takes nearly three-fourths effort on the gas, there's little need for the six-speed's manual mode due to the quick torque delivery, as observed in the early powerband entry (1800-1900 rpm) and turbo activation (2500 rpm onwards). Power does taper off dramatically at the top end, with the speedometer needle moving at a snail's pace by 180 kph onwards and a paltry 201 kph tested top speed as further evidence. On the other hand, the fuel consumption (10.52 km/l, four days mixed driving) is surprising for 1825 kg of SAV. And although few will ever take their X3 off road, BMWs all-wheel-drive (AWD) SAV runt superficially looks fairly adept; its fording depth, ground clearance and angles of ramp and departure are not much different from its bigger X5 sibling.

The front suspension was set up to offer livelier handling balance and the light steering has a snappy ratio that makes lane changes simple, despite a tall ride height. The small turning circle (11.7 meters) helps in doing three-point turns in tight areas. Drive it hard over swooping country roads and you'll feel the benefits of these changes. Imagine it halfway between an X5 and a 3-Series Touring car and you shouldn't be too far off the mark. Although most small SAVs with AWD understeer with a vengeance on hard turns, the X3 - and its Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 XSE 235 55R17 99H rubber - manages to stick to the tarmac until 80-85 kph, thanks to BMWs xDrive system. xDrive gives power to the axle that most needs it, and works in conjunction with ESP (stability control) and DSC (traction control) to calculate yaw rate, steering angle and speed and adjusts accordingly, thus keeping constant grip.

The safety systems, as with any BMW vehicle, are topnotch. The four disc setup grips at the slightest tap of the middle pedal, the exterior lighting is bright and the parking sensors are a great help when shooting into tight mall parking slots. The latter is sensitive at one foot and below, though. Also, the side mirrors only have one lane of latitude sight and you have to get the parking brake lever at almost 35 degrees to get decent bite.

Overall the BMW X3 now bills itself as a step forward from its precursor, making potential buyers strongly consider this SAV first before checking out its X5 brethren.