Volvo XC90 D5 R-Design vs BMW X5 xDrive30d comparison review

This month’s newcomer takes on the class benchmark

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The contenders

The fourth-generation BMW X5 squares off here against the incumbent large-luxo SUV champ, Volvo’s XC90. Both nameplates are represented in AWD diesel form, with an extra dash of sportiness via M Sport and R-Design styling packages. With a retail of $101,900 the Volvo establishes an early lead against the X5 xDrive30d and its $112,990 sticker, but it’s the elder statesman of this twin-test, having launched way back in 2015.

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The Swede oozes charisma and has long been a Wheels fave, but the BMW is now longer, broader and taller than before. The new G05-series X5 also rocks significant under-the-skin changes, all courtesy of its new CLAR architecture that also underpins the G11 7 Series and G30 5 Series. After the fairly lukewarm effort that was the F15 X5 that preceded it, BMW’s new family size SUV looks like it has the right ingredients to bring the X5 nameplate back into fighting form.

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Equipment and value

The X5 is already at a price disadvantage, but compensates with impressive standard-equipment inclusions. A huge glass sunroof, LED headlamps, a massive 12.3-inch screen with one of the most sophisticated infotainment set-ups around, a head-up display, leather upholstery and a bevy of electronic driver aids should see most buyers wanting for little, although it’s easy to inflate the price tag even further, with our tester wearing an extra $13,870 in options.

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The Swede isn’t exactly lacking, either. On top of the usual luxuries it has semi-autonomous driver aids of its own, plus quad-zone climate control (not standard on the X5), a pano sunroof and seven seats by default – a feature that costs around $7000 extra on the X5 as it’s bundled with air suspension. Assigning a victor is tricky. The X5 has greater showroom sizzle, but logically, the Volvo is $11K cheaper, has similar equipment levels, and more seats, which is why it takes the win.

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Space and comfort

It’s a tough call, here. Both the X5 and the XC90 flaunt a premium cabin ambience, yet each has its own distinct flavour. The X5 is like a modern nightclub, with colour-shifting ambient lighting, opulent leather upholstery and that massive widescreen commanding your attention, while the optional harman/kardon stereo ($1300) of our tester took the club vibe even further. It’s spacious, too, with the X5’s second row offering more legroom than before, but it’s worth noting that a third row is a cost option for the X5 30d.

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The XC90, meanwhile, is like a country retreat. Its leather is softer, the application of chrome highlights more restrained, and its portrait-oriented screen is a subtler but wonderfully intuitive part of the interior. The Volvo is also a more accommodating thing for those in the back, with integrated sunblinds in each rear door, quad-zone climate control and a seven-seat configuration as standard. Its boot is also enormous, making it the more comfortable and practical choice.

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How they drive

The previous-gen X5 was a disappointment from behind the wheel – largely due to dull, lifeless steering and tepid dynamics – but the new car has much more to give, even in entry-level diesel form. Its diesel inline six is especially refined for starters, making the slightly grumbly XC90’s diesel four sound truck-like by comparison. The BMW is also properly gym-toned, easily shifting its 2.1-tonne mass to highway speeds without raising a sweat. But what really impresses is the blend of comfort and handling of the X5 on the optional adaptive air suspension. It’s a box that’s well worth the extra $2300 outlay, taming lumpy tarmac with ease while still being taut enough for a spirited blat.

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The XC90 also feels surprisingly light on its feet, but its steering lacks the engagement factor of the BMW’s more satisfying feel, and the X5’s refinement is superior. The XC90 holds a slight edge in fuel consumption, but it does feel a smidge lethargic next to the turbine-like X5. Advantage BMW.

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The victor

Arriving at a verdict is difficult, particularly if your budget can easily accommodate the BMW and a third row isn’t a hard requirement. The XC90 is a beautiful example of how to do an SUV right, and we’ve been big fans for years, but the G05 X5 is a return to form for BMW and hugely appealing in its own right. For refinement, technology, handling, engine and five-up comfort, the win goes to the X5, but only by the slimmest of margins.


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