The BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 medium SUVs are great Jacks of all trades, offering comfort, safety, practicality and driveability in one neat package. Their 2.0-litre diesel versions add economy to that list of virtues, and while they lack the oomph of bigger-engined variants of their respective ranges, they’re still enjoyable for everything from the daily drive to interstate touring.
The BMW X3 xDrive20d is the smaller of two diesel powertrains in the X5 family, and generates 140kW of power and 400Nm of torque. Our test car features the M Sport Package which adds sporty embellishments both inside and out, as well as adaptive suspension.
We drove it head to head with the Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design, whose turbodiesel unit pumps out 173kW/480Nm. Volvo has a less-powerful diesel variant, the XC60 D4, which produces the same 140kW/400Nm output as the BMW, however it’s significantly cheaper which means the XC60 D5 R-Design is a much better match for the BMW when it comes to styling, equipment and price.
So how does BMW stack up against its similarly equipped Swedish rival, which has a Wheels Car of the Year trophy in its cabinet?
HOW AFFORABLE ARE THEY?
Priced at $69,900 the xDrive20d is similarly equipped to the entry-level sDrive20i, with its torquey diesel engine and all-wheel-drive system attracting a $3000 premium. It’s $15,000 cheaper than the more powerful xDrive30d diesel, which gains a host of additional features on top of the power boost, many of which are available to the xDrive20d as extra-cost options.
Much of these found their way in to the xDrive20d we tested, which sent its retail price soaring to $88,650.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine has a frugal official combined fuel consumption rating of 5.7L/100km.
BMWs don’t have a set servicing schedule based on kilometres or time. Instead they work on ‘condition based servicing’ which lets the car’s systems decide when a service is required based on oil levels and wear and tear on individual components. Drivers are alerted that a service is due via a dashboard notification.
BMW owners can take out a prepaid Inclusive Service package which covers basic service costs, including filter replacements and fluid top-ups for the first five years or $80,000km. This costs $1495 for the X3. There’s also a $4400 Service Plus package that includes the replacement of brake pads and discs, wiper blade rubbers and clutch and disc plates.
The D5 is only available in the sporty R-Design spec that tops the XC60 range, with a corresponding heftier price. If you want the most powerful diesel, you’ll have to fork out for the more generous features that it’s supplied with as standard. The retail price starts at $75,990 before options, which is considerably more than the D4 in entry-level Momentum, and Inscription spec which start at $61,990 and $68,990 respectively.
The XC60 D5 R-Design we tested starts at $75,990 had a few optional extras including the $2500 Lifestyle Pack with heated front seats, panoramic sunroof, and tinted rear glass, along with powered front seat side bolstering ($450) and Crystal White Pearl premium paint ($1900) – only one colour, Ice White, doesn’t attract a premium. All this brought the retail price up to $80,840, which still represents good value against similarly equipped and performing rivals such as the BMW X3 xDrive20d and Jaguar F-Pace 20d R Sport. AWD.
The D5 powertrain is economical, with official combined fuel consumption rated at just 5.6L/100km, which is excellent for an almost 2.0-tonne luxury SUV. Our real-world driving saw that stretch to a still-respectable 7.5L/100km according to the trip computer.
The XC60 requires servicing every 15,000km. There is no capped servicing, with pricing varying between dealer networks. Hourly labour costs apply, with each service taking between 1.5 and 2.1 hours.
WHAT FEATURES DO THEY HAVE?
The X3 xDrive20d comes with a broad list of features that you’d expect from a $70,000 SUV, including automatic tailgate, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors, head-up display, speed-limit info, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, digital radio (DAB+), six-speaker sound system, satellite navigation, parking assistant that automatically steers the X3 into a parking spot, sports seats and Connected Drive with real-time traffic info, intelligent emergency call and BMW apps.
All the optional features in the xDrive20d disguised the fact that the standard equipment list is missing quite a few features found in sub-$50k mainstream SUVs, such as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, seat warmers, panoramic sunroof, multi-element LED lighting, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, and lane-keeping assist.
The vehicle we tested had almost $10,000 worth of optional extras, including:
- M-Sport Package that added sporty exterior embellishments, adaptive suspension, LED fog-lights and leather sports steering wheel with paddle shifters ($4550)
- Metallic paint ($1950)
- ‘Vernasca’ leather upholstery with decorative stitching ($2500)
- Panorama sunroof ($3000)
- Ambient interior lighting ($700)
- Driver Assist Plus, with active cruise control with stop and go function, front cross traffic alert, lane keeping assist, and side collision warning ($2800)
- Innovations Package, which includes a 12.3-inch touchscreen, 3D surround view parking camera, adaptive LED headlights, and multifunction digital instrument display ($3250).
The R-Design spec brings a scrolling list of standard features to the Volvo XC60 D5 starting with active safety suite that includes autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assistance, driver alert, and adjustable speed limiter and cross traffic alert.
Step inside and you’ll find a 12.3-inch portrait orientated touchscreen, Nubuck leather upholstery, metal mesh décor inlays, power adjustable front seats with cushion extensions, three-spoke R-Design leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, four-zone climate control, and ambient lighting.
You also get front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree reversing camera, rain-sensing windscreen wipers with integrated washers, LED active bending head-lights that help you see into corners, LED daytime running lights, puddle lights, high-pressure headlight washers, hands-free powered tailgate, keyless entry and plenty of sporty R-Design interior and exterior embellishments.
HOW PRACTICAL ARE THEY?
The BMW X3 is a five-seater medium SUV.
At 4.71m long, it’s 54mm longer than the previous model and is actually bigger than the original X5 large SUV. There’s plenty of rear legroom and its 1.89m width ensures there’s a heap of elbow room up front, and comfortable seating for three adults in the second row.
It can swallow 550 litres of luggage behind the back seats, which is the same as the previous model, which extends to 1600 litres with the 40:20:40 split-folding backrests folded down.
The Volvo XC60 is a five-seater medium SUV.
Measuring 1.66m long and 1.90m wide, it’s deceptively big with its gangly 1.9m height and 21.6cm ground clearance making it look narrow – which you realise it isn’t the case when trying to park, though the 360-degree parking camera does make things easier.
Inside there’s plenty of leg and shoulder room, and the boot space is 505 litres, which is average for medium SUV, but there’s a wide opening that helps fit bulky loads. Fold the rear seats flat and capacity expands to 1432 litres.
The Volvo XC60 D5 weighs in at 1918kg and has a decent braked towing capacity of 2400kg.
HOW SAFE ARE THEY?
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the BMW X3 five stars for safety, its maximum, in November 2017.
The X3 xDrive20d is equipped with seven airbags: two directly in front of the driver and passenger; one on the outer side of each front occupant to protect the upper body; driver’s knee airbag, and two airbags on each side to protect the heads and chests of front and outer-rear occupants.
It also comes standard with BMW’s Driving Assistant which includes a camera-based autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring.
The second-generation Volvo XC60 took the Swedish brand’s excellent reputation for safety a step further when the European New Car Assessment Program (EuroNCAP) awarded it the highest crash rating in 2017. It excelled with “almost-perfect 98 percent” for the way it protected adults in a simulated crash. The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) also gave the Volvo XC60 the maximum five-star safety rating in October 2017.
It has seven airbags: two in front of the driver and front passenger; side airbags to protect front occupants from side impacts; a driver’s knee airbag; and head-protecting curtain airbags down each side that protect even the third-row passengers. There are also ISOFIX child seat anchors for the outward rear seats.
Among the active safety aids on every XC60, there’s autonomous emergency braking that detects other vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and even large animals. As well as stopping, the system will help try and steer around the object ahead of the vehicle.
Driver fatigue alert, lane-keeping assistance, blind Spot information, and cross traffic alert are also standard, as is rear collision warning that detects if you’re about to be rear-ended and tensions your seatbelts and applies the brakes after impact.
HOW COMFORTABLE ARE THEY?
The cabin quality is excellent even before you start ticking option boxes. Buttons and controls are intuitively placed, easy to use and pleasant to touch thanks to their metallic coating.
The driving position is good and comfortable over long distances, and the instrument panel is neat and clearly presented - as is the head-up display.
The cabin is practical and spacious with plenty of headroom across both rows, even with the optional panoramic sunroof.
The rear compartment offers good legroom even behind taller drivers and comfortably seats three adults. The rear seat is low, which helps with headroom but hampers forward vision, though the low rear window line nevertheless affords good side vision even for kids. Rear seat passengers have their own air-conditioning vents and controls and a 12-volt socket to charge their devices.
The ride in the standard X3 is taut to the point of being jarring on all but newly laid roads. Our test car was fitted with adaptive suspension that comes with the optional M-Sport Package, which takes the edge off sharp bumps and eases the body’s vertical motion.
Cabin noise is refined with barely perceptible engine noise – an achievement for a diesel - with the din from 19-inch tyres only becoming noticeable beyond 80km/h.
The XC60 is very comfortable, with a quiet, roomy and uncluttered cabin that looks more premium than many pricier German rivals. Front seats provide excellent support on long trips. The driver is treated to a comfortable seating position, forward vision, and pleasant touch points including the leather gear shifter and steering wheel, with the latter featuring intuitively laid out controls for phone, audio and cruise control.
The control and infotainment system has multiple layers and modes via the swipe-and-push 12.3-inch portrait touchscreen. It’s is a little confusing at first, but once you’re accustomed you’ll find it is a decent mix of functionality and design. Most vehicle and climate control settings can only be operated via the screen. While, this has reduced clutter around the dashboard and centre console, it can prove troublesome on rougher roads where you’ll be wishing there were more physical buttons.
Second-row seating is also very comfortable but legroom is limited for taller people who’ll find their shins touching the front seats. The low window line and good forward vision helps children feel less hemmed in.
The rear has its own digital climate dual-zone control display with air vents situated on the door pillar, and there’s a 12v socket for charging devices or powering auxiliary equipment.
The cabin refinement is undermined a little by standard steel suspension springs that, along with the big 21-inch wheels, lead to a ride that’s firmer than you’d expect, or want, from a luxury SUV.
WHAT ARE THEY LIKE TO DRIVE?
The BMW X3 xDrive20d’s 140kW/400Nm turbodiesel engine is no bolter, but provides enough thrust for urban and highway driving, It has adequate power reserves to keep up with most traffic when asked to climb hills, though there can be a moment’s hesitation when you put the foot down.
The eight-speed automatic gearbox does a good job keeping up with pedal inputs, and if you feel like contributing to the shifting you can flick the gear shifter into manual mode (or use paddle shifters if you have the M-Sport Package fitted).
With the adaptive dampers the ride feels composed even on rougher surfaces. It rides particularly well in Comfort mode, and while switching to Sport makes for a firmer ride, it still absorbs bumps well with minimal jarring.
The steering has a nice fluid feel to it in Comfort mode, but in Sport mode it’s unexpectedly more inconsistent meaning you lose feedback on sharper turns. Fortunately you can tailor the driving settings to come to a compromise between Sport’s sharper handling and Comfort’s direct steering.
The xDrive20d is also handy on rougher tracks, with effective all-wheel-drive and a hill-descent control system as standard.
Apart from the raised driving position, the Volvo doesn’t make you feel like you’re behind the wheel of an SUV.
Apart from some inevitable turbo lag, the twin-turbo D5 has plenty of shove, with excellent acceleration, particularly in the Dynamic driving mode. It sits comfortably at higher speeds, with plenty of power in reserve to make quick overtaking a doddle.
Editor's Letter: In Defence of the SUV
The steering can feel a little disconnected though. It’s accurate and consistently-geared but doesn’t offer much in the way of feedback which can sap confidence a little when entering tighter corners.
You also feel every pothole with the standard steel suspension, not helped by the wagon-wheel 21-inch rims with skinny rubber. The ride is choppy on country backroads, but reasonably composed on freeways or around town. If there’s one option box you should tick on any XC60 it’s the Active Chassis with Air Suspension, which offers a far more complaint ride and adapts to different road and driving conditions.
The XC60’s all-wheel drive helps it maintain drive on snowy or otherwise slippery sealed roads, on gravel roads and reasonably intact tracks. That said, if you were to get a flat tyre while off the beaten track, you would have to struggle home on the skinny space-saver spare.
There’s a reason the Volvo XC60 has a bevy of trophies to its name. It does almost everything well and has managed to steal the title of “luxury SUV benchmark” away from BMW and its German compatriots.
Furthermore, the Volvo XC60 D5 R-Design is one of the stand-out variants in the range, ticking most premium SUV boxes including elegance, safety, build quality, economy and performance. The ride and handling sections of the scoresheet aren’t as impressive, but this can be ticked off by investing $2490 in the Active Suspension Air Suspension option that transforms this very good luxury SUV into a great one - and will still bring you about $5000 from the similarly optioned X3.
The BMW X3 Drive20d’s emphasis on comfort and family practicality is aimed squarely at the average luxury SUV buyer and hits the spot. It’s enjoyable to drive too, with enough power for everyday driving, and the optional adaptive dampers – available separately or as part of the M-Sport Package – bring an enhanced ride quality that approaches that of the best alternative premium SUVs.
Both are excellent premium SUVs, and while the Volvo has the edge in terms of all-round capability and value for money, there’s certainly not much to be lost with going for the BMW option, should your heart desire it more.