Volvo has been on top of the world (literally, as the brand’s HQ in Gothenburg is the furthest North of all automakers) delivering attractive cars that are fuel efficient, safe and stunning to look at.
The XC60 is the more mainstream effort entering a popular segment that’s full of some of the best cars in the industry. It’s won a bunch of awards, including the World Car of the Year and the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year. It was also a strong contender in our own utility vehicle of the year award. But to see how it really stacks up, we brought along a long-time top pick in the segment, the BMW X3.
The BMW X3 has been around for a few years and offers a very accessible BMW luxury experience. It’s spacious, high-tech and promises to be something more than just an appliance in the M40i trim that we have on hand for testing. It may just look like another BMW utility vehicle, but underneath it’s got a lot more going for it.
Trim Level Touble
But the XC60 is no slouch. We have it in the sporty R-Design guise and there are a few details that give it away as such, beyond the badges. Matte silver mirror caps are a huge tell, as are the big 19-inch wheels, bumper integrated tailpipes, and dark tinted grille.
Those all accent a really attractive looking car. The XC60 is hard to miss, but also easy on the eyes, a tough balancing act in this world of over-sized grilles, wild angles and faux, four-door “coupes.” It always fits in while looking like a star.
Typically, the same goes for the interior. In different trim levels, the XC60 boasts a beautiful cabin, with light, creamy materials and wood trim that looks plucked from the George Clooney of trees. The R-Design model doesn’t have this kind of catwalk of fashion-forward interior design. Instead, it has dark black leather seating and sterile metal accents. Yes, the seats are soft and comfortable, but the dark theme doesn’t showcase the XC60’s typically stunning interior. Volvo says that this is part of the “driver focused” mantra of the R-Design. Personally, I like the crafted feel of the leather seats and steering wheel. It’s clear that another trim level of the XC60 would be a better representation of the vehicle.
Minimalist Cabin is Feature Filled
And the few buttons that are in the cabin are tactile and feel well built. But those are limited interactions. Instead, most of the interactions with the car involve the 9-inch touchscreen, which is bright and attractive, although clunky to use at times thanks to a few too many nested menus and small text. Instead, I found the 12.3-inch digital dash to be easy to read and very useful, showing even map and navigation information with ease. That, along with the head-up display, means that the Volvo is always showing you vital information, and that seems like a good situation to be in, as long as you don’t get overwhelmed with all that data!
The cabin is feature-filled, although not in the same way as the BMW. I’d recommend the Bowers and Wilkins sound system, which is a bit pricey, but oh so special sounding while also providing sleek looking speaker grilles that add some much-needed personality to the cabin. The car also packs heated seats all around, a heated steering wheel and four-zone climate control.
There’s a ton of space for passengers and all their stuff. Rear seat occupants will find more legroom in the Volvo than the BMW, and with the seats in place, the Volvo has an extra cubic foot of storage in the trunk compared to the X3.
Shabby Shifts and Steering
It’s a lovely place to be, but a few parts of the Volvo could do with some tuning, specifically in terms of how it drives. The 316-horsepower twin-charged engine is smooth and quiet (traits that a few AutoGuide “editors” deemed boring and drab,) and provides it’s 295 lb-ft of torque in a very linear manner. The way that Volvo engineered this 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to provide that much power in such a refined way is noteworthy, but we found the transmission to be a clumsy dance partner. A few too many rough gear changes were noticed, and we were wondering if the car was in its more aggressive “dynamic” mode when it was in the supposed “comfort” setting.
Hurting the Volvo’s enjoyment factor is the steering setup, which is laughably light. It’s numb, and artificial feeling, providing an unconnected, digital feel that is too loose for our preferences. Changing the drive modes helps a bit, but not entirely. Picking and choosing individual settings can help make the car settle into something reasonable and natural feeling. The suspension is uniquely tuned for this R-Design model, but it’s a far cry from the buttoned-down and distinctly sporty feel that the BMW has.
Quiet and comforting
Rounding out the XC60 is the availability and effectiveness of the various driver assistance and safety systems. As part of the brand’s efforts to ensure no one gets seriously hurt in a Volvo by 2020, the systems are very advanced and provide a lot of confidence on the road. The adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance interrupt your driving calmly and smoothly, without any abrupt change in the feeling of who’s in control. I like the parking assistance as well, which provides a lovely 360-degree view of the car’s surroundings.
Ringing in at $59,190 USD or $68,565 CAD, the Volvo is a bundle of good bits and things that could be better. It’s still a worthy car and great purchase, simply for the great styling, smooth engine, and high-tech assistance features, but those looking for a more engaging drive and better definition of luxury might find exactly that in the BMW X3 M40i.
|Vehicle||2018 BMW X3 M40i||Advantage||2018 Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design|
|Engine||3.0L Turbo-6||-||2.0L Twincharged-4|
|Output||355 hp, 369 lb-ft||X3||316 hp, 295 lb-ft|
|Trunk space (seats up)||28.7 cubic-feet||XC60||29.7 cubic-feet|
|Trunk space (seats folded)||62.7-cubic-feet||X3||50.6 cubic-feet|
|Rear Seat headroom||38.5-inches||X3||38-inches|
|Rear Seat legroom||36.4-inches||XC60||38-inches|
|Fuel Economy (MPG)||20 city, 27 highway, 23 combined||-||21 city, 27 highway, 23 combined|
|Fuel Economy (l/100kms)||11.7 city, 8.6 highway, 10.3 combined||-||11.4 city, 8.7 highway, 10.2 combined|
|Price as tested (USD)||$65,420||XC60||$59,190|
|Price as tested (USD)||$77,140||XC60||$68,565|
X3 With Great First Impressions
The first and most outstanding impression from the BMW is how it sounds, accelerates and drives. Under the hood is a turbocharged straight-six engine that makes 355 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The delta in power is just a dollop on the dossier, but you can feel it on the road. Highway speeds arrive in 4.8-seconds, while the Volvo will do the same sprint in just over five and a half seconds. The thrust feels great and it’s smooth too, as straight-sixes usually are.
The real factor in this car comes with the transmission, a slick-shifting eight-speed unit that never seems to stumble or make its operation known during mundane driving. When one of the two available sport modes are in use though, the car becomes rowdy, eccentric and goofy. In other words, fun and charismatic.
You’ll hear it for sure. The straight-six burbles through an exhaust system that opens up baffles to ensure you hear it even clearer. A few times, it’ll make you blush – firing up this loud beast in a quiet parking lot will turn some heads and induce a double-take when they realize that the sound is coming from a compact crossover, rather than a sporty coupe.
Oddly enough, the bigger and more powerful engine doesn’t suffer at all in terms of fuel economy, compared to the XC60. Both cars earn 23 MPG combined.
The engine, the transmission, and that sound are real achievements of the X3, but the rest of the car delivers as well. The handling feel is far more confident and interactive, with a steering feel that’s a total contrast to the Volvo’s.
The interior is also a stark contrast to the Volvo. While we love the brown leather upholstery, it’s the layout and cluttered mess of buttons on the center console that makes us go cross-eyed. We said that the BMW X3 had a buttoned-down driving feel, but the interior is actually just a bunch of buttons. And while the iDrive infotainment system is pretty easy to use, the car comes with a bevy of unnecessary features that are just meant to impress your friends. That includes a 3D gesture control so you can change the volume of the sound system by twirling your finger in the air, or a fragrance dispenser so your car can smell like the bathroom of a club-frequenting bachelor.
There’s no such thing as toned down in this car. There are big “X”s on the door panels in case you forget what car you’re in. Also there are plenty of ambient lighting options to entertain said club-goers. Lastly there is a parking camera feature that shows the exterior of the car like it’s a video feed provided by a drone following your car around. Realistically you can see what’s around the car by just looking out a window or mirror…
Safe and Sounds
At least it’s spacious though. Headroom and overall cargo room are in favor of the BMW, and although there is only three-zone climate control in this car compared to the four-zones of air conditioning in the Volvo, the X3M features rear window shades.
There’s one more contrast between the two cars, and that’s with the driver assistance and safety features. The X3 has many of the same systems, like adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring, but they are very sensitive, which leads to lots of beeping. Additionally, in the active systems, the way the car takes control can be abrupt and jerky.
The Verdict: 2018 Volvo XC60 vs 2018 BMW X3 M40i
With a price tag of $65,420 USD or $77,140 CAD, meaning it’s a pricier pick over the Volvo. While we joke that this is the cost of all those physical buttons and gimmicky features, the BMW is actually a better, more rounded vehicle than the XC60. What’s more is that BMW has addressed a major criticism of its past “sport activity vehicle” by delivering a vehicle that has personality and charisma. The Volvo is a huge leap for the brand, but still has to find another gear before it’s considered a true equal with the likes of BMW.
2018 Volvo XC60 T6 R-Design
2018 BMW X3 M40i