Mid-size SUVs are now the epi-centre of the battle for the luxury automotive dollar in Australia.
The new BMW X3and Volvo XC60are among the latest arrivals in the segment, both promising significant improvement over their predecessors.
These are five-door, five-seat SUVs that sit in a rough pricing range from $60,000 to $90,000 before on-road costs. For this comparison we’ve nabbed flagships housing very different drivetrain configurations that aim to deliver strong combinations of frugality and performance.
Why are we comparing them?
The third-generation X3 and second-generation XC60 are brand new, and pretty much all-new. They are two of the primary competitors in this segment up against the likes of the Audi Q5, Jaguar F-PACE, Land Rover Discovery Sport (and it’s non-identical technical sibling, the Range Rover Velar), and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class.
The X3 xDrive 30d comes powered by a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel inline six-cylinder engine that makes 195kW/620Nm, and officially averages 6.0L/100km, with the aid of idle stop-start.
The XC60 combines a turbocharged and supercharged 235kW/400Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and 65kW/240Nm electric motor for a combined output of 300kW/600Nm. With the assistance of plug-in recharging and a 40km emissions-free range, claimed fuel consumption is a gob-smacking 2.1L/100km.
Both distribute power and torque via an eight-speed automatic transmission and permanent all-wheel drive system.
While much about these two is similar – including their cab-back exterior style and key dimensions around 4.7m long and 1.9m wide – these vastly different drivetrains represent very different thinking. Arguably, it’s the future calling on the past, considering diesel is very much on the nose in Europe and plug-in petrol-electric hybrids are gaining momentum.
Who will they appeal to?
You won’t see too many X3s or XC60s out in the Simpson or towing caravans on a Grey Nomad escape. These high-rise wagons are destined for the urban jungle, specifically the more affluent parts where vehicles of this price are affordable.
The Volvo has the advantage of being 110mm wider across the rear seat to create more elbow room. The problem is a substantial transmission tunnel reduces the middle pew to a part-time proposition.
Both have boots that are substantial and can accommodate a family’s worth of luggage. Nice wide entry holes and tucked in wheel arches mean you can slide awkward loads like mountain bikes in without hassle once the rear seats are collapsed. The BMW alone has aluminium fastening rails in the floor.
Just watch out for the X3’s power tailgate though; it doesn’t rise that high and if you are 1.8m or taller, you risk clonking your head.
How much do they cost?
The X3 retails for $83,900 (plus on-road costs), while the XC60 T8 is priced at $92,990 (plus ORCs).
Standard equipment for both includes adaptive LED headlights, roof rails, head-up display, active cruise control, digital radio, sat-nav and leather trim.
Both vehicles come with autonomous emergency braking (AEB), a bundle of other driving assistants and a five-star ANCAP rating . The Swedes are also pushing the XC60’s semi-autonomous capability.
Differences? The BMW has six airbags and the Volvo seven. The Volvo had a standard panoramic sunroof ($2000 in the BMW) and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is not available with the BMW. Nor does the X3 have a spare tyre as it rolls on run-flats. An SUV without a spare tyre? I’m glad no-one will ever take this thing anywhere off-road.
The BMW gets tri-zone climate control while the Volvo gets dual-zone. One omission I have never encountered before is no AM band for the radio of the XC60. Digital’s fine if you live in the city, but out on the fringes it’s crap.
Our X3 came in the standard xLine trim, but you can pay extra for others like the M Sport package. R-Design trim is one of three offered across the XC60 range, but the only one T8 is available with. A $7500 Premium pack fitted to the Volvo included air suspension and adaptive dampers.
Metallic paint is a $1950 option for the BMW and $1900 for the Volvo.
The X3 comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Servicing is conditions-based and you can pay $1440 in advance for five years/80,000km worth of scheduled servicing. Roadside assist is standard for three years.
The XC60 comes with a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with 12 month/15,000km service intervals. Capped-price servicing is available for three (45,000km), four (60,000km) or five years (75,000km) at a cost of $2225, $3500 and $4230 respectively. Roadside assistance is offered for the duration of the warranty.
What do they do well? What could they do better?
The X3 is an orthodox modern-day BMW and an orthodox modern-day SUV. There are very few surprises here.
As transport it is pleasant enough. The cabin is open and airy and of an impressive quality. The big diesel offers a deep well of lag-free response combined with decent fuel economy – 8.0L/100km on our test loop – to make it the most compelling aspect of this technical package.
The least compelling? The driving experience is competent and largely forgettable in that familiar SUV way. Trying to turn a block of flats on wheels into something BMW-ish seems a pointless task really, especially when the ride is jittery on 20-inch wheels, even in the comfort setting of the optional adaptive dampers.
It shines in comparison to the XC60 though. It is said the lesser models in the range are better drives than this one. Let’s hope so, because the bump-telegraphing 21-inch wheels and, under-done suspension and ridiculously over-sensitive brake pedal makes progress sometimes frustrating in the T8.
The drivetrain doesn’t feel as all-encompassing as the BMW (even through it has a 0.5sec faster 0-100km/h claim) or as frugal, averaging 10.8L/100km on our test loop. Ouch. You can put at least some of that down to the Volvo’s 2105kg kerb weight, which is almost 300kg heavier than the Bimmer, and the fact our test loop didn’t offer a lot of opportunities for stop-start running where EVs really save fuel.
The XC60 makes its strongest impression before you get rolling. Volvo has tried very hard to break out of the Gemanic definition of interior luxury and design. Stuff like the Crystal Orrefors gear knob and vertical 9.3-inch touchscreen are striking, while the button count has been reduced dramatically. But are they practical changes? A lot of it seemed to be change for the sake of being different.
Which wins, and why?
While striving for something new and better is admirable, the Volvo has convincingly only ticked the new box. Maybe the best bit about the XC60 is its ambition and that alone deserves to be lauded.
The BMW is not inspiring and is not revolutionary. It won’t be remembered as being anything special, merely another pebble in a never-ending landslide of luxury SUVs.
But it does the staple jobs of driving, accommodating and interacting with its passengers better than the Volvo. Orthodoxy rules for now.
2018 BMW X3 xDrive30d pricing and specifications:
Price: $83,900 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel: 6.0L/100km (ADR Combined) | 8.0L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 159g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP
2018 Volvo XC60 T8 R-Line pricing and specifications:
Price: $92,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder twin-charged-petrol / electric
Output: 235kW/400Nm petrol | 65kW/240Nm electric
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel: 2.1L/100km (ADR Combined) | 10.8L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 49g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP
>> BMW X3 Local Launch Review
>> Volvo XC60 Local Launch Review