The launch of the new BMW X3 marks the end of a year filled with high-profile premium SUVs. We’ve seen the Audi Q5, Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Volvo XC60 all making waves in the segment in 2017, but it was the latter that impressed the most, and it’s one of the key cars for the new X3 to beat.
It’s the oldest model of the three here, but it’s still very practical, comfortable and, due to the way it drives, a serious contender in this class. So to take home a win the new X3 will need to bring together practicality, interior quality, a comfortable ride and engaging handling.
That’s quite a feat to achieve, but with the new BMW 5 Series taking a commanding victory in its own class as well this year, the X3, which shares similar tech, could do the same. Can it deliver? Read on as we give our definitive verdict…
|Model||BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport Auto|
|Engine||2.0-litre 4cyl diesel, 187bhp|
|Annual road tax||£450|
BMW has sold more than 1.5 million X3s since it first went on sale in 2003, but the previous second-generation model was starting to feel old. The new car is a step forward, and we’re testing the xDrive20d in M Sport trim, which starts at £41,380.
The previous X3 was always a top choice in this class when it came to driving dynamics, and that hasn’t changed with this new model. The advanced new architecture means the new BMW offers a class-leading ride and handling balance.
In comfort mode it’s supple enough that there’s only a small difference between it and the XC60, but it’s more compliant than the Volvo and deals with mid-corner bumps with more composure.
The X3’s steering isn’t as quick as the Jaguar’s, and it doesn’t quite match the F-Pace’s agile handling, but it’s so close behind and is also more comfortable, so for most buyers the BMW is the better choice.
Then there’s the performance: the BMW’s power figures match its rivals here, but in our tests at the track it was significantly quicker. From 0-60mph, it was a second faster than the XC60 and 1.4 seconds faster than the F-Pace, taking just 8.0 seconds.
It’s a similar story with the in-gear figures: from 30-50mph in fourth the BMW recorded a time of 3.4 seconds, easily beating the Jaguar’s 4.6 seconds and the Volvo’s 3.7 seconds. It seems quicker in the real world as well, since the gearbox is well matched to the engine, with nicely spaced ratios.
This helps boost refinement further, an area where the X3 excels because its powertrain is easily the quietest of the three models on the move.
Testers’ notes: “The X3’s xDrive system gives reassurance when driving in slippery conditions, but the sporty calibration means the set-up helps boost the BMW’s agility, too.”
|Model||Volvo XC60 D4 R-Design Auto|
|Engine||2.0-litre 4cyl diesel, 187bhp|
|Annual road tax||£140|
The Volvo XC60 is a key rival for the X3 to beat, as it impressed us enough in 2017 to claim the Auto Express Best Premium SUV title. Here we’re testing the 2.0-litre diesel D4 model in R-Design trim, which costs £39,705.
The BMW and Jaguar deliver sweet handling, but the Volvo feels much more set up for comfort, although it doesn’t do away with agility. The adaptive dampers on our car meant it was able to soak up bumps on rough roads fairly well.
In the stiffer setting it does feel harsher than either of its rivals, but the default mode is a nice balance between agility, composure and comfort. However, the R-Design model’s larger 19-inch wheels do impact this and lower trim levels we’ve tried with smaller wheels are more compliant.
The steering is lighter in the Scandinavian SUV than its rivals, but it’s well weighted in the XC60 and it’s enough to give confidence in placing the car. It does lag behind its rivals a little when it comes to dynamic ability and enjoyment.
However, in this class it’s not such an issue, because owners will be more interested in ride comfort; so it’s a shame that the XC60 feels a little harsher than the X3 on rougher roads.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine is no smoother than its rivals here, although none of our trio’s engines is particularly characterful to use. They do all offer decent performance, though, and in our tests the 187bhp Volvo fared pretty well against its rivals.
At the track it managed 30-70mph in 8.3 seconds, a lot faster than the Jaguar’s 9.4-second time, but behind the X3’s 8.1 seconds. The driving position is comfortable in the Volvo, although the seats in the BMW and Jaguar are actually even more supportive, plus you get leather as standard on those cars. There’s a good level of comfort on long journeys as a result.
However, while the transmission is smooth and upshifts early, if you rev the motor hard it’s as loud as the F-Pace’s engine and not particularly pleasant to listen to. The Swedish model’s engine is certainly not as hushed as the X3’s more refined motor.
Testers’ notes: “The XC60’s interior is a real step up from its predecessor. It’s not as sporty as the X3, but it’s a match for quality. Both feel better built and more luxurious than the Jaguar.”
|Model||Jaguar F-Pace 2.0d 180 R-Sport AWD Auto|
|Engine||2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 178bhp|
|Annual road tax||£450|
The Jaguar F-Pace won our 2016 Car of the Year award thanks to its impressive mix of sharp looks, comfort, refinement and agility. We’re testing the 2.0-litre diesel AWD model in R-Sport guise, which costs from £41,330.
Although the Jaguar’s engine is the least powerful here – the 2.0-litre diesel has 178bhp, while both rivals have 187bhp – it’s actually a winner when it comes to torque. The motor has a maximum of 430Nm, which beats the BMW and Volvo by 30Nm, and it’s available as low as 1,750rpm, which means it feels almost as punchy from behind the wheel as its rivals.
However, the engine is coarse and doesn’t feel as responsive as the excellent unit in the BMW. At 70mph the F-Pace is the noisiest car here, too, and if you put your foot down the drone from the engine is even more apparent. The gearbox shifts smoothly when you need it to, although it’s not as intuitive as the BMW’s transmission.
With lots of grip and good body control, the F-Pace is fun to drive; it’s hard to believe a high-riding SUV can handle as well as this. It remains composed even on bumpy roads, and comfort doesn’t take too much of a hit to deliver those fun dynamics.
It’s a shame it doesn’t have the performance to match its rivals given that the driving experience is so good otherwise. At the track the Jag was slower than the Volvo and BMW in most key performance tests, including 0-60mph and 30-70mph, although it did manage to beat its rivals from 50-70mph in seventh gear.
In that test it took 8.8 seconds, a tenth faster than the BMW and half a second faster than the XC60. It’s the F-Pace’s heavier kerbweight that dulls the car’s performance, which is why the Jaguar’s handling is all the more impressive.
Testers’ notes: “The Jag is available with rear-wheel drive at a lower cost, but its rivals are four-wheel drive only. Think about where you’ll use the car before opting for the extra driven wheels.”
First place: BMW X3
With a class this competitive, it’s a narrow win for the BMW X3. It’s even more comfortable than the Volvo and nearly as good to drive as the F-Pace. It’s also the fastest and the most refined SUV here, while it offers lots of practicality, the highest quality cabin and plenty of technology. It might be pricier than its rivals, but the difference is small enough for the BMW to secure the win.
Second place: Volvo XC60
The XC60 is still a top choice in the premium SUV class, but just loses out to the X3 here. The XC60 is comfortable and good to drive, but just doesn’t have the BMW’s breadth of ability. It does have a top-notch interior on its side, and it’s great value too, both in terms of list price and on PCP finance, which is why it finishes ahead of the sharper-to-drive F-Pace in this test.
Third place: Jaguar F-Pace
It’s clear how tight the race is when the Jaguar finishes in third place. Our 2016 Car of the Year is still the best car in this class to drive, and it has the biggest boot of the three. Its sharp looks and strong residual values are big plus points, too, but it falls behind its test rivals for interior quality, performance and value, because the Jaguar isn’t as well equipped as the XC60 or X3.
Other options in this category
Mercedes GLC 250d AMG Line
Engine: 2.1-litre 4cyl, 201bhp
If you’re after an SUV with ride comfort in mind, consider the Mercedes GLC. It glides over bumps in the road with ease, especially if you go for a model on air suspension. The 250d is also more powerful than its rivals here.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2 180hp Speciale
Engine: 2.2-litre 4cyl, 178bhp
On the flip side, focusing on driving thrills is the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. It’s an all-new model that’s great to drive, practical and stylish. It’s not as well finished as its rivals here, but offers something a little sportier.
|BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport Auto||Volvo XC60 D4 R-Design Auto||Jaguar F-Pace 2.0d 180 R-Sport AWD Auto|
|On the road price/total as tested||£41,380/£48,655||£39,705/£47,190||£41,330/£57,075|
|Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)||£21,807/52.7%||£21,000/52.9%||£23,112/53.9%|
|Annual tax liability std/higher rate||£2,385/£4,771||£2446/£4,892||£2,368/£4,735|
|Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)||£1,970/£3,284||£1,675/£2,792||£1,697/£2,828|
|Insurance group/quote/road tax||30/£821/£450||31/£722/£140||29/£730/£450|
|Cost of servicing||£399 (3 years)||£1,029 (3 years)||£699 (5 years)|
|Engine||4cyl in-line/1,995cc||4cyl in-line/1,969cc||4cyl in-line/1,999cc|
|Peak power/revs||187/4,000 bhp/rpm||187bhp/4,250rpm||178/4,000 bhp/rpm|
|Peak torque/revs||400/1,750 Nm/rpm||400Nm/1,750rpm||430/1,750 Nm/rpm|
|Transmission||8-speed auto/4WD||8-spd auto/4WD||8-spd auto/4wd|
|Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel||60 litres/£190||60 litres/£150||60 litres/£160|
|Boot capacity (seats up/down)||550/1,600 litres||505/1,432 litres||650/1,740 litres|
|Turning circle/drag coefficient||12.0 metres/0.29Cd||11.4 metres/0.32Cd||11.6 metres/0.34Cd|
|Basic warranty/recovery||3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs||3yrs (60,000)/3yrs||3yrs (unlimited)/3yrs|
|Service intervals/UK dealers||Variable/192||18,000 miles (1yr)/114||21,000 miles (2yrs)/84|
|Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos.||9th/21st||7th/16th||12th/13th|
|0-60/30-70mph||8.0/8.1 secs||9.0/8.3 secs||9.4/9.4 secs|
|30-50mph in 3rd/4th||3.0/3.4 secs||3.5/4.6 secs||3.4/3.7 secs|
|50-70mph in 5th/6th/7th/8th||4.8/6.3/8.9/15.4 secs||5.9/6.9/9.3/12.5 secs||5.7/7.1/8.8/15.8 secs|
|Top speed/rpm at 70mph||132mph/1,650rpm||127mph/1,900rpm||129mph/1,600rpm|
|Auto Express econ. (mpg/mpl)/range||33.5/7.4/442 miles||39.4/8.7/520 miles||37.9/8.3/513 miles|
|Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket||226/138g/km/29%||192/148g/km/31%||195/139g/km/29%|
|Auto box/stability/cruise control/AEB||Yes/yes/yes/£670||Yes/yes/yes/yes||Yes/yes/yes/yes|
|Climate control/leather/heated seats||Yes/yes/yes||Yes/yes (part)/yes||Yes/yes/yes|
|Met paint/LED lights/keyless entry & go||£670/yes/£450||£650/yes/£500||£705/£915/£840|