You might call it a "cute 'ute," but BMW insists on describing its X models as "sport/activity vehicles." This contrived category has included only the larger X5 until now. The 3 Series-based X3 appears in September at the Frankfurt show with sales beginning early 2004.

BMW promises a low center of gravity, thanks in part to a front driveshaft that extends through the oil sump, offset by a "command" seating position. The X3 also features xDrive, which BMW describes as its new intelligent all-wheel-drive technology. xDrive is an infinitely adjustable and fully variable distribution of torque from front to rear, determined by drive conditions. Sensors tell it to feed the optimum drive force to any wheel to significantly cut understeer and oversteer, BMW says. The system combines with standard Dynamic Stability Control and optional Hill Descent Control, the latter of which bowed on the X5 and uses engine braking to ease down steep hills.

Styling is from the conservative wing of the Chris Bangle school, the truck's concave beltline contrasting with a convex body panel below it. The rear-quarter windows get the traditional BMW Hoffmeister kink, the nose gains a modern take on the kidney grille, and the tail, like all recent Bangle creations, will be the X3's most controversial feature. Inside, an optional navigation system has a flip-up screen.

BMW will offer two variants: the X3 2.5i, with a 2.5-liter/184-horsepower inline-six, and the X3 3.0i, with a 225-horse six. Either will be available with a six-speed manual gearbox or five-speed Steptronic automatic transmission.