The recombinant xylose-utilizing Saccharomyces cerevisiae TMB 3399 was constructed by chromosomal integration of the genes encoding d-xylose reductase (XR), xylitol dehydrogenase (XDH), and xylulokinase (XK). S. cerevisiae TMB 3399 was subjected to chemical mutagenesis with ethyl methanesulfonate and, after enrichment, 33 mutants were selected for improved growth on d-xylose and carbon dioxide formation in Durham tubes. The best-performing mutant was called S. cerevisiae TMB 3400. The novel, recombinant S. cerevisiae strains were compared with Pichia stipitis CBS 6054 through cultivation under aerobic, oxygen-limited, and anaerobic conditions in a defined mineral medium using only d-xylose as carbon and energy source. The mutation led to a more than five-fold increase in maximum specific growth rate, from 0.0255 h−1 for S. cerevisiae TMB 3399 to 0.14 h−1 for S. cerevisiae TMB 3400, whereas P. stipitis grew at a maximum specific growth rate of 0.44 h−1. All yeast strains formed ethanol only under oxygen-limited and anaerobic conditions. The ethanol yields and maximum specific ethanol productivities during oxygen limitation were 0.21, 0.25, and 0.30 g ethanol g xylose−1 and 0.001, 0.10, and 0.16 g ethanol g biomass−1 h−1 for S. cerevisiae TMB 3399, TMB 3400, and P. stipitis CBS 6054, respectively. The xylitol yield under oxygen-limited and anaerobic conditions was two-fold higher for S. cerevisiae TMB 3399 than for TMB 3400, but the glycerol yield was higher for TMB 3400. The specific activity, in U mg protein−1, was higher for XDH than for XR in both S. cerevisiae TMB 3399 and TMB 3400, while P. stipitis CBS 6054 showed the opposite relation. S. cerevisiae TMB 3400 displayed higher specific XR, XDH and XK activities than TMB 3399. Hence, we have demonstrated that a combination of metabolic engineering and random mutagenesis was successful to generate a superior, xylose-utilizing S. cerevisiae, and uncovered distinctive physiological properties of the mutant.