It’s going against start-ups and the establishment alike

One of the pioneers of the compact luxury SUV space has returned with a new look and new performance credentials. Yes, 14 years after breaking into the SUV landscape, the BMW X3 is back with a vengeance, armed with a new exterior, a redesigned interior, plenty of powertrain options to choose from. Most importantly the X3 shows confidence in its ability to stand toe-to-toe with notable rivals like the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes GLC-Class, as well as upstart hotshots like the Jaguar F-Pace and the Range Rover Evoque.

Despite tracing its roots back to 2003, the X3 remains one of the most popular entry-level premium SUVs in the market today. The model doesn’t reach that status without selling over 1.5 million units over the span of two generations. So expectations are high that the all-new X3 will be able to live up to its predecessors, maybe even exceed it if turns up aces in the minds of its customers. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to have an easy time at it anymore. Competitors are banging on the door, ready to stake their claim to the compact SUV title that the X3 has held at some points in its past. Now that the all-new model is out, it’s time to find out if BMW can reclaim its place atop the compact luxury SUV food chain.

Continue after the jump to read the full story.

How does it compare aestheticly?

2019 BMW X3 M High Resolution Exterior Wallpaper quality
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BMW did the X3 a solid by modernizing its appearance to fit into its overarching design philosophy

Looks are always subjective factors in determining its merits. Some people may like the Audi Q5 more than the BMW X3. Some people may have it the other way around. Others might even prefer something like the Jaguar F-Pace or the Volvo XC60 over the titans of the industry. The point here is that aesthetics are a matter of opinion, although it must be said that BMW did the X3 a solid by modernizing its appearance to fit into its overarching design philosophy. It has the larger kidney grille and the wider headlights that we’ve already seen on the new 5 Series. It even has bigger intakes now, somewhat similar to those found on the 4 Series. All this is to say that the X3 is no longer an aesthetic dinosaur like the last model was. Unfortunately, a lot of its competitors have made similar moves, as you can see by these beauties right here.

2017 Audi Q5
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2018 Volvo XC60 High Resolution Exterior
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Audi Q5 Volvo XC60
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe High Resolution Exterior
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2017 Jaguar F-Pace
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Mercedes-Benz GLC Jaguar F-Pace

note: photos of the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Volvo XC60, and the Jaguar F-Pace

The Audi Q5, for example, looks the sportiest of the lot, thanks in part to it boasting aggressive lines

The Audi Q5, for example, looks the sportiest of the lot, thanks in part to it boasting aggressive lines, a low hood line, and headlights that are far and away the most aggressive among these models. Then there’s the Mercedes GLC. I’m not a fan in general of its looks, but God have mercy, that diamond grille is arguably the best in the business now. Let’s not forget the Jag and the Volvo either. I think the F-Pace has the blandest look of them all, but it’s still distinctive enough to score some attention. As for the XC60, it’s a beauty through and through. I’ve always been a proponent of the belief that it only takes one notable design feature for a car’s look to pop out. The BMW X3 has a collective of neat upgrades, but none of them scream for attention quite like the XC60’s hammer-shaped LED headlamp design.

My (subjective) rankings:

  • Audi Q5
  • Volvo XC60
  • Mercedes GLC
  • BMW X3
  • Jaguar F-Pace

Great, so how do these SUVs compare inside?

2018 BMW X3 Interior High Resolution
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The BMW X3 has 28.7 cubic feet of cargo volume with the seats in their upright position

This is where things get a little bit trickier because there are tangible numbers – space – in the interior section of an SUV that should be used as a barometer on grading these models. First, let’s take a look at cargo room.

The BMW X3 has 28.7 cubic feet of cargo volume with the seats in their upright position. Flatten the rear seats and the volume increases to 62.7 cubic feet. Those are solid numbers that fall in the middle compared to other SUVs. The Q5, in particular, doesn’t stack up quite as well with cargo room amounting to just 21.5 cubic feet and 54.7 cubic feet, respectively. Then there’s the Volvo XC60, which fares exceptionally well in this regard, boasting a cargo room of 38.3 cubic feet when the seats are upright and an incredible 70.4 cubic feet when the seats are stowed. Check out the table below to see how the X3 compares to its competitors in this regard.

Model Cargo space (seats in place) Cargo space (Seats stowed)
Audi Q5 21.5 cu ft 54.7 cu ft
BMW X3 28.7 cu ft 62.7 cu ft
Jaguar F-Pace 23.3 cu ft 61.4 cu ft
Mercedes GLC 20.5 cu ft 56.5 cu ft
Volvo XC60 38.3 cu ft 70.4 cu ft

Notice how the Volvo XC60 somehow keeps showing up on the right side of the comparisons?

Okay, so how about the center stack?

This category is a little more subjective because it’s going to depend on how a customer wants certain things to be. Some prefer clean layouts while some prefer having a well’s worth of buttons to play around with it. Trust me, there are those who belong in the latter category. I may or may not be one of them.

2018 BMW X3 High Resolution Interior
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BMW X3

2017 Audi Q5 High Resolution Interior
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2017 Jaguar F-Pace
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Audi Q5 Jaguar F-Pace
2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe High Resolution Interior
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2018 Volvo XC60 High Resolution Interior
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Mercedes GLC Volvo XC60

note: interior photos of the interior of the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes GLC, and Volvo XC60

Somewhat curiously, the X3, Q5, and GLC all have remarkably similar interior layouts. All have floating infotainment displays with the Bimmer and Audi boasting 12.3-inch displays, much bigger than the 8.4-inch display on the GLC. The Mercedes SUV does feature those retro-looking, round air vents that tickle some customer’s fancy. Beyond that, the center console of all three SUVs don’t feature anything unique to stand out from the others.

2017 Jaguar F-Pace
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2018 Volvo XC60 High Resolution Interior
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If customers are looking for clean and functional center stacks, the F-Pace and the XC60, offer much better options

If customers are looking for clean and functional center stacks, the F-Pace and, you guessed it, the XC60, offer much better options. The F-Pace, in particular, doesn’t blow you away with its center stack layout, although I suppose that’s something that Jag intended to do in the first place. The space is proportionately used in such a way that there’s not too much of anything going on in a particular section. The horizontal layout also provides enough space to separate the buttons, minimizing the event of pushing the wrong button at any particular point in time.

The XC60 does things a little different, though, in that its center stack is presented vertically with the infotainment display dominating the space. Buttons are also minimal on the XC60 so those looking for a more streamlined functional experience will probably like this kind of setup.

Premium materials don’t really differ

2019 BMW X3 M High Resolution Interior
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Since we’re talking about five SUVs that are from five premium brands, we can at least be certain that all five automakers have premium materials in droves for their respective SUVs. Whether its fine leather, Alcantara, or even carbon fiber, each of these SUVs have them in some form or fashion. The only thing that could separate one from the rest is how much they’re willing to dress up their SUVs with these materials.

My (subjective) rankings:

  • Volvo XC60
  • BMW X3
  • Jaguar F-Pace
  • Mercedes GLC
  • Audi Q5

Who wins the power wars?

2016 BMW X4 M40i High Resolution Drivetrain
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SUVs are never created equal, and no more is that evident than in the power and performance department

SUVs are never created equal, and no more is that evident than in the power and performance department. It must be said, though, that points will be awarded for the number of engine options a specific SUV has. For the purpose of this discussion though, we’ll take a look at the range-topping, non-performance, non-hybrid division powertrains of these specific models.

The XC60, for example, has a five different power options to choose from. There’s the D4, D5, T5, T6, and T8 to pick from. The T8 is technically the most powerful of the lot with 407 horsepower on tap, but it is a hybrid so instead, let’s put the T6 and its 320-horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque numbers up against the BMW X3 and the other would-be contenders.

Speaking of the X3, BMW is offering the X3 with five different power options itself. The diesel contingent is made up of the xDrive20d and the xDrive 30d. Then there are the gas options, which features the xDrive 20i, the xDrive 30i, and the range-topping M40i and its power output of 360 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, impressive figures relative to what other SUVs have.

2017 Audi SQ5 High Resolution Drivetrain AutoShow
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2017 Mercedes-AMG GLC43 4MATIC High Resolution Drivetrain
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For the record, all the remaining SUVs in this comparison offer anywhere from four to five different power options, just like the XC60 and the X3. But like I said, we’re only taking the range-topping, non-hybrid, non-performance models in this comparison so those models will be the SQ5 for the Audi, the F-Pace S for the Jag, and well, the Merc-AMG GLC43 from Mercedes.

Model Power Torque 0 to 60 MPH Top Speed MPG (Highway) MPG (City)
Audi SQ5 360 horsepower 369 pound-feet 5.1 seconds 155 mph (electronically limited) 24 mpg 19 mpg
BMW X3 M40i 360 horsepower 369 pound-feet 5.0 seconds 155 mph (electronically limited) n/a n/a
Jaguar F-Pace S 380 horsepower 332 pound-feet 5.1 seconds 155 mph (electronically limited) 23 mpg 18 mpg
Mercedes-AMG GL43 362 horsepower 384 pound-feet 4.8 seconds 155 mph (electronically limited) 24 mpg 18 mpg
Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design 320 horsepower 295 pound-feet 6.8 seconds 120 mph 27 mpg 20 mpg

Based on these numbers, the Mercedes (with a little help from AMG) comes out on top. The X3 does well for itself too, edging out the SQ5 in acceleration times despite having the same power figures as the Audi. The XC60 falls down to earth in this regard, and it’s not surprising that it’s undone by being the only SUV of the five mentioned to feature a four-cylinder engine. Everyone else has an inline six-cylinder or a V-6 powering it.

On the flip side, having a four-cylinder engine also means that the XC60 is a lot more fuel efficient than its rivals, returning 24 mpg (highway) and 20 mpg (city). The BMW X3 M40i has yet to post its fuel returns figures, but the Audi SQ5, Jaguar F-Pace S, and Mercedes-AMG GLC43 all return largely similar numbers of 23 to 24 mpg (highway) and 18 to 19 mpg (city).

My subjective rankings

  • Mercedes GLC
  • Jaguar F-Pace
  • BMW X3
  • Audi Q5
  • Volvo XC60

How much damage will it cost to the wallet?

2018 BMW X3
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BMW has yet to release pricing for the new X3 so we’re going to exclude it from our rankings in this section. What we do know is that the there’s a clear delineation of among prices among the other SUVs, beginning with the XC60 T6 R-Design, which starts off at just $51,000. That’s a relative bargain compared to the $58,695 you’ll need to shell out for the Jaguar F-Pace. Not surprisingly, both the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 and the Audi SQ5 are priced right next to each other at $54,900 and $55,275, respectively. Given these numbers, I do expect the X3 M40i to be in the $55,000-range as well.

Model Price
Audi SQ5 $55,275
BMW X3 M40i $55,000 (estimate)
Jaguar F-Pace S $58,695
Mercedes-AMG GLC43 $54,900
Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design $51,000

My subjective rankings

  • Volvo XC60
  • Mercedes-AMG GL43
  • Audi SQ5
  • Jaguar F-Pace S
  • (not ranked) BMW X3 M40i

Which model would I buy?

2018 Volvo XC60 High Resolution Exterior
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All these SUVs have their selling points; there’s no doubt about any of that

All these SUVs have their selling points; there’s no doubt about any of that. The Audi Q5 looks incredible. The Mercedes GLC checks off a lot of people’s requirements for a Mercedes SUV. Both the Jaguar F-Pace and the Volvo XC60 have proven themselves to be up to the task of being serious challengers in this segment.

The BMW X3 is showing a lot of promise, too, although I will admit that a lot of what’s going to make the X3 successful will be determined by how much BMW prices its variants, especially compared to the prices from both Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

But as far as which of these SUVs I’m most keen on, it’s not the BMW X3. It’s the Volvo XC60. Give those looks, the nice cargo space, the cheaper price tag, and top mileage, and I’m more than fine taking all of that, even at the expense of the SUV’s lack in power and performance.

What do you think?
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