New BMW X3 vs new Volvo XC60: The X factor

Both the X3 and the XC60 have received recent updates, but which one has the upper hand?

By: | Updated: March 21, 2016 12:33 PM

What’s new?

The X3 and the XC60 are two of the best mid-size luxury SUVs on sale. Both have the right blend of size, appeal and ability. Both have plenty of character too, and in order to keep them competitive, they have been thoroughly updated. The big enough exterior dimensions ensure there’s a generous amount of cabin space for accommodating the family along with sufficient boot space to hold a full weekend’s luggage. And they aren’t large enough to be a chore in traffic or navigate into tight parking spaces. Both are proper all-rounders with genuine all-road ability.

They not only get generous ground clearance but also come equipped with four-wheel drive which makes them capable of tackling varied terrain. To top it off, they are impressive to look at, can munch miles all day long and keep you cocooned in luxury. So which one is better? Well, both have been winners in the past, so this is going to be a close one.

How do they drive?

The X3’s new 190bhp diesel engine is smoother and punchier than the earlier one. BMW has put a lot of effort into making the new engine smoother-running and that has clearly paid off. There is a hint of clatter only at start up, and as soon as you accelerate, the motor smoothens up beautifully. In addition, the mid-range is nice and punchy. Keep the engine here and you can exploit the generous hit of torque it makes from 2000rpm to 4000rpm. Like all BMW engines, this motor does not shy away from spinning fast either and the eight-speed gearbox feels really quick and nice too. It feels a bit strained when you pull it hard and there is a bit more diesel growl too, but what’s nice is that the X3 keeps on going the harder you pull it. Just how quick 2.0-litre diesel SUVs are today can, however, only be realised when you see the 0-100kph time of 8.7 seconds; which is faster than what a large capacity petrol sedan would have managed just a few years ago. There’s no real let-up after that either.

The Volvo gets an even more powerful engine that makes 215bhp. It has an additional cylinder as against the BMW and so, logically, should be faster. The problem is it’s heavier at 1,921 kg versus 1,715 kg and has only a six-speed gearbox. So, while performance is still very strong, with a 0-100kph time of 8.8 seconds, it is still edged out by the less powerful BMW. Where the BMW is also ahead is in the area of refinement. While the BMW unit is smooth and slick, the Volvo still sounds and feels like a gravelly old-school diesel motor. Moreover, the six-speed gearbox is a bit slow to react. Still, the Volvo cruises smoothly enough and there is more than enough oomph for those sudden bursts of acceleration.

What’s also pretty acceptable is ride quality. There is a bit of a hard edge here, but bump absorption is generally good, and because the car is well built, the manner in which it muscles its way over poor roads is pretty confidence inspiring. Driving it in a relaxed manner is pretty nice too, with the calm steering helping no end here. Drive faster and the slow steering and body roll make it feel like you are forcing it to go fast.

The more agile and faster steering BMW is clearly the nicer SUV to drive here. The steering is a bit light and it rolls a tad, but it is always more than willing to turn into a corner and the grip from the tyres is very good too. So, progressing through corners is almost sedan-like, and carrying speed through corners is easy. The BMW rides better too. There’s compliance and suppleness missing from the Volvo, while the X3 tackles our roads without getting its feathers ruffled. So, though the Volvo does a commendable job, the BMW rides and handles better.

On the inside

The X3’s dashboard sports a wide centre console, utilises soft-touch materials and feels well-built. The dials and indicator stalks are made from high-grade materials and feel plush to operate. All controls are clearly labelled, which makes them simple to understand and operate. This is especially true of the iDrive infotainment system. You just need to twist a rotary dial on the centre console to navigate through the different on-screen options and simply push it in order to select one. There are some really nice chrome highlights and the quality of the plastics, like the buttons, switches and the dashboard itself, is good. Even the door carts are well executed. The wood trim, however, does look a bit unnatural and the design of the dash is a bit too conservative.

The XC60, too, bowls you over with its top-notch cabin ambience. It gets Volvo’s customisable TFT display instrument cluster which can be adjusted to any of the three modes, namely Performance, Eco and Elegance, with each offering its own theme for colours and layout. What’s also nice about the Volvo is that ‘floating’ centre console. The big swatches of chrome work well with the wood and the cabin also has a built-to-last feel. The XC60’s standard infotainment system, however, isn’t as impressive as the one on the X3. The air-con controls aren’t simple to operate while the steering feels a bit oversized. The centre console has too many small buttons which are confusing to use.

Both SUVs offer a good amount of adjustment for the steering wheel and the front seat, which makes it easy to find a comfortable driving position. The X3’s front seats are well-bolstered and offer a good amount of support. However, the XC60’s seats are larger and more comfortable, especially on longer journeys. But they aren’t as effective as the X3’s at keeping you securely in place while driving around tight bends and twisty roads. Also, the X3’s rear seat base is a bit low-set which compromises thigh support. In comparison, the Volvo’s rear passengers won’t have that much to complain about.

Buying & owning

The top X3 xLine trim retails for R52.9 lakh while the top XC60 D5 Summum trim costs R52.72 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi). Both the X3 and the XC60 are sold in India with a standard two-year/unlimited km warranty. Our research revealed that Volvo dealers are offering a discount of R5 lakh on the XC60 while BMW dealers are offering up to R3 lakh off on the X3.

Equipment & safety

Being luxury SUVs, both the X3 and the XC60 come equipped with a lot more kit than just the basic necessities. Both SUVs get a panoramic sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, electrically adjustable wing mirrors (the XC60’s are heated as well), leather upholstery, foldable rear-seat backrest and a multi-mode screen.

On the safety front too there are a few similarities, with both getting eight airbags, ABS with Brake Assist, Hill Descent Control and Dynamic Stability Control along with Dynamic Traction Control. Both get an electronic parking brake with auto hold function. The X3 comes equipped with Cornering Brake Control along with front and rear parking sensors but misses out on a rear-view camera which is present on the XC60.

Our verdict

Competing against the updated BMW X3 was always going to be an uphill task for Volvo’s XC60. But it does a fine job of matching it in key areas such as equipment, safety, comfort and exterior design. And the Volvo even betters it in some areas.

The XC60’s cabin, however, is not as good and the engine lacks the refinement of the BMW unit. For the self-driven, the X3 sets the standards high because it’s equally suited at tackling rough roads as well as providing ample thrills around corners.

Yes, the BMW coming out on top wasn’t much of a surprise. What was surprising is that the margin of victory was pretty slim, which says a lot about the Volvo. Yes, the X3 is more expensive but it also is a great all-rounder and the best car in its class.


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