Comparison Test: 2018 BMW X3 vs Audi Q5 vs Volvo XC60
When there is a BMW in a car comparison, it usually happens to be the best driver's car in that lot. But without mincing words or beating around the bush, I'm going to call the F25 BMW X3 a bit of a dud in the previous class of midsize luxury crossovers. From the way it looked to the way it performed, it wasn't a car that a BMW purist or a driving enthusiast would fantasize about. That allowed the Audi Q5 to be a better all-rounder and that reflected in the sheer number of years for which the car soldiered on without having to worry too much about the sales charts. The new Q5 builds further on the attributes that made the original a hit, but in our recent comparison, it lost (albeit by a single point) to the Volvo XC60. The latter not only looks gorgeous, it is also quite nice to drive in its own way. But there is now an all-new X3 that could make a difference to that verdict. More importantly, is the new X3 the best driver's car of this pack? Let's find out.
2018 is an exciting time for anyone shopping for a luxury compact crossover as the entire line-up is now made up of all-new offerings. Which of the latest is the greatest?
The new X3 may not look remarkable and that is because BMW has made their design theme far too common across their range. Compare it in isolation to the X3 family tree through, and you will agree with me that BMW has finally made the X3 look handsome. The face has a more butch stance and the enlarged grille, though polarizing, plays a big role to this effect.
The BMW X3 is the latest entrant in the segment and finally, it looks handsome!
Look at the X3 from its side and rear three-quarters and the leaner body and chiselled lines will attract you further. The lighting elements look elegant and seem to find their roots in BMW's sportier model lines.
The new X3 is leaner and in turn, sportier to look at
The rear three quarter is the best angle for the new X3. The taillights with their 3D detailing look great and contribute further towards that sporty stance to the new X3
The Phytonic Blue is the only 'colour' you can specify, for the remainder of the X3's palette is grayscale. I would have liked more vibrant options if I was buying. That said, even in white, the X3 manages to look quite athletic and that should work in its favour.
Its German compatriot, the Audi Q5, suffers from the shortcomings of an evolutionary design. While the simplicity continues to work in its favour in certain markets, to me, this design theme seems too long in the tooth now. To its credit, it is a handsome design and the sharp creases, flared arches and upright profiles for the front and rear, give it more SUV-like proportions compared to its competitors and there are many who are sold on that facet alone.
The Audi Q5 looks handsome and the upright, butch single-frame grille is easily one of the best looking elements of its face
The upright profile of the tail gives the Q5 an SUV-ish character, while the prominent crease that runs from the bonnet to the taillights adds a hint of sophistication to the side profile
The Volvo XC60 has a remarkable poise and the design looks futuristic compared to its rivals
But those looking for exclusivity and flair will easily fall for the Volvo XC60. Though it is the longest and widest car of the trio, the marginally short height and pinched window line give the XC60 proportions that tilt more towards a crossover body style than SUV. It has simple facial features and subtle lines, but the XC60's stylish and sophisticated lighting elements draw attention away from all the simplicity and give it a premium poise.
The sophisticated lighting elements set the XC60 apart from the class
BMW's cabins are usually a lesson in design for those who want to build driver-focussed layouts in everyday cars. There is no sensory overload with cluttered switches, busy displays or complex infotainment systems. The dashboard is nicely tilted towards the driver and all controls are intuitive and fall easily at hand. All these attributes are seen in the new X3 too. Despite its high ride height and a bid to give the driver a commanding view of the road, the cabin nicely wraps around the driver with leather upholstery, soft-touch plastics and poplar grain wood and makes the driver feel like they are a part of the drivetrain and not riding atop it.
The Audi Q5 feels equally plush in its comfort and materials, but the cabin appears commonplace now - with other Volkswagen group cars adopting a similar design. The workmanship is hard to find fault with and the bright colours and large glass areas impart an airy feel that makes the Q5's cabin a very pleasant place to be in. It also has generously sized seating which adds to the overall comfort.
The Audi Q5's cabin has a premium feel to it and comes equipped with more features and equipment than before
The new Multi Media Interface (MMI) is easier to use than before
In comparison to the Germans, the Volvo XC60's cabin feels tight and cosy, courtesy of the high profile for the dashboard and the centre console; the dark colours used for the trim and upholstery, and the pinched window-line. That said, it isn't cramped on space and offers the most comfortable seating of this trio. The front seats also get a massage function which is a big plus and can make you feel shortchanged in the X3, which doesn't even get adjustable lumbar support. Like its exterior design, even the cabin of the XC60 has a premium edge over its rivals. This fine attention to detail and a longer list of features helps it score more points than the Germans.
The cabin of the XC60 draws inspiration from the XC90, but has enough distinction to stand out
But we are focusing on the driving fun and before we put power down to the road, let us acknowledge the safety tech that these cars come with. Apart from traction control, anti-lock brakes, hill assist and airbags on all sides and corners, which are common to the three cars, the XC60 trumps the X3 and Q5 with radar-based technologies that assist the driver in evasive braking or steering maneuvers, in autonomously maintaining the lane or by adapting the cruise control as per the behavior of other vehicles around.
Ride and Handling
The BMW X3's trump card is the ride and handling department. The X3 now employs lighter suspension components that comprise coil springs and adaptive dampers. The car sets new benchmarks for the segment by maintaining a flat ride through corners and boasting of easier turn-ins. The X3 has shed close to 55kg and the xDrive system is more rear-biased now. That, along with the electronic differential give the car its impressive cornering manners. There is no hint of understeer even when pushing the car hard and the trademark, communicative BMW steering is the icing on the cake. Press the Sport Mode switch on the console and the dampers go so stiff that the X3 starts skipping and tracking over imperfections in the road. But exploit the Sport Mode around the twisties and the grin keeps getting wider. Move to the Comfort mode and the X3 handles most undulations and sharp bumps quite well.
The Audi Q5 had left my colleagues impressed when we reviewed it earlier this year. But drive it behind the new X3 and you will immediately notice that it is visually and practically squishier compared to its compatriot. The flip side is a marginally comfier ride than the Bimmer. The Q5 also gets the quattro AWD which gives it impressive grip, but it feels slightly more understeer-y when you compare it to the rear-biased dynamics of the X3. The fly in the ointment is the overly assisted steering - come to terms with it, and the Q5 is quite impressive to drive!
The Audi Q5 employs coil spring multi-link suspension with adaptive dampers. The car has the best braking performance of this test too, coming to a standstill from 100kmph in 39.2m
Speaking of understeer though, the XC60 displays this characteristic the most, especially when pushing the car around tight bends. The grip from the Haldex AWD in this regard is more safety biased than performance. The AWD systems on all the three cars handle mild off-road scenarios like dirt, sand or snowy paths, rocky trails and shallow water crossings quite well. But the XC60 edges ahead with its ability to lift the body by 40mm to crawl over bumpier surfaces. This is courtesy of the air suspension, which may not impart racetrack-ready dynamics, but make the XC60 the comfiest ride of this test.
The X3 is powered by BMW's trusty 2.0l B47 four-cylinder diesel engine. I love the refinement of this motor and even closer to 4,000rpm, it doesn't sound too clattery. But, the engine also tends to lose breath around this. It has a healthy low and midrange torque spread which ensures easy overtakes and relaxed highway cruising. But the amazing driving dynamics of the X3 make it so forgiving and easy to go fast in, that it begs for a more powerful engine. X3 xDrive30d or M40i? Yes, please!
The X3's 2.0l four-cylinder turbo-diesel puts out 190PS at 4,000rpm and 400Nm at 1,750rpm, which helps it go from naught to 100kmph in 8.2s
The weakness of BMW's 2.0l oiler is highlighted further when you experience what the Q5's similarly specced TDI engine can manage. It is not only the quickest of this test in outright and in-gear acceleration but is also the most eager to put its power down to the road - which is surprising, considering that the Q5 is the heaviest car of the lot. The eagerness of the drivetrain is also courtesy of the lovely DSG transmission which displays significantly different characters as you cycle through the driving modes. This drivetrain, with the X3's handling package, would be the ideal driver's car for the segment.
The Audi Q5 was the quickest of this test hitting 100kmph from standstill in 7.86s
Talk about benchmarking! The Audi Q5's 2.0l four-cylinder diesel has an identical output to that of the X3 - 190PS @ 3,800rpm and 400Nm @ 1,750rpm
The fun of driving may be different for different people, though. It's not always about being on the edge of the power and going all out through corners. Some like it laid back, and want the drivetrain to be responsive but not aggressive. Which is what the XC60 is all about. It's D5 engine is the most powerful in this test, but the gearbox puts the power down in a manner that does not overwhelm the driver. That is pretty much the character to the XC60's package too - laid back and to the point. If that is what you seek, the Volvo XC60 could be the car for you.
Despite its leisurely nature, the XC60's D5 motor sprints from 0-100kmph in 7.96s, thanks to its class leading output - 235PS at 4,250rpm and 480Nm at 1,750rpm
Let us sum it all up. Like our previous test with the luxury compact crossovers, this one too comes to a very close finish with hardly a point separating the contenders. All things considered, the Volvo XC60 still remains the ideal crossover to buy in this category - it has all the bells and whistles that you expect from a premium car of today, has a desirable design and is priced very competitively for the kind of kit it offers.
The X3 ties with the Q5 as both the cars fall short of the XC60 by a point. But to answer the bigger question we started this test with - the BMW X3 is the ideal driver's car in this segment now. Period. It is far superior to the other two in terms of driving dynamics and puts the power down to the road in a manner that will excite the enthusiast in you. It does it all so well, that a sprightlier engine and bit more kit is all it needs now to be the crossover of choice in this segment. Get the xDrive30d already, BMW!
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