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Volvo XC60 vs BMW X3 – Which is Better?

The Volvo XC60 and the BMW X3 are two of the most popular premium mid-size SUVs in the UK. Both were listed on Autocar’s round-up of the 10 best family SUVs of 2019, with the BMW narrowly missing out on the top-rated spot to the Audi Q5. The Volvo came in at number 8 – but as the cheaper and greener car, is Autocar’s rating truly representative? 

This article will compare the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 for performance, practicality, reliability, comfort and more to help you decide which SUV is better for you. 

Performance

The X3’s firm suspension and heavy steering – typical of a BMW – doesn’t stop this car from performing well, both on and off road. Its eight-speed transmission is smooth and responsive, and the cabin well-sound proofed on noisy motorways. 

The Volvo XC60 responds well to bumps in the road, even on standard 20-inch alloy wheels, and is certainly a better SUV than the smaller XC40. But compared to the BMW X3, its off-road capability isn’t that impressive. Its engine is also louder than the BMW’s, which is noticeable to people outside the vehicle if not to the driver in the cabin. 

When it comes to acceleration, the XC60’s most powerful diesel engine (the twin-turbo D5) can do 0-62mph in 7.2 seconds. The BMW’s six-cylinder diesel engine achieves this sprint in as little as 5.8 seconds. 

So, which is better?

In terms of performance as a true SUV, the BMW X3 is the better – and quieter of the two models. 

Practicality

When comparing the dimensions of the XC60 and X3, there is very little to choose between the two cars.  Both cars seat five, with adequate shoulder space for all passengers. However, the BMW offers slightly more head room  with 40 inches to the XC60’s 38, from roof to seat bottom. 

At 505 litres, the XC60’s boot space doesn’t match up to the BMW X3’s 550 litres – but its rear seats do fold completely flat, which isn’t the case in the X3. Nevertheless, the latest model of the X3 has more room in its cabin than its predecessor did.

So, which is better? 

If you’re after as much boot space as possible, the BMW X3 is at the top of its class. 

Safety and reliability

Volvo is well-renowned for the safety of its cars. Its latest move, as part of its pledge to prevent people from sustaining serious or fatal injuries when driving, was to cap the top speed of its vehicles at 112 mph. That’s paired with road sign recognition, forward collision warning and optional extras like surround-view cameras, giving BMW a lot to compete with. 

As standard, the X3 comes with cruise control, lane departure monitoring and an automatic emergency braking system - all of which are matched by the Volvo. There are also front and rear parking sensors and a parking assist function. This is better than some of its competitors, although it doesn’t quite mirror the range of features offered in the XC60.

When both cars were crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2017, each received a five-star rating – but the XC60 was the highest rated vehicle that year. Moreover, the XC60 has been awarded a score of 112 by Reliability Index, which considers the frequency, cost and inconvenience of car faults to give a ‘real-world’ analysis of car ownership. 

With lower reliability index scores indicating a more dependable car, the BMW X3’s score of 229 simply can’t compete with the XC60, largely due to issues with the engine and suspension.

So, which is better? 

As you might expect, the Volvo XC60 is optimised for the safety of its passengers but also outperforms the BMW when it comes to reliability. 

Engine and green credentials

The BMW X3’s most efficient engine is its smallest diesel, which consumes 1.25 gallons over 62 miles on its combined cycle and releases 239.8 gram per mile of CO₂ emissions. Its petrol variant is predictably less efficient, consuming 1.67 gallons over 62 miles and releasing 280 gram per mile of CO₂. 

Volvo has already made the move to electric and plug-in hybrid cars. Releasing 83.7 grams per mile of CO₂, the T8 plug-in hybrid is the most efficient XC60 engine. However, BMW won’t be far behind for long – a fully electric version of the X3, called the iX3, is due to be launched later in 2020. 

So, which is better? 

The Volvo XC60 currently wins this round, though the release of the iX3 could change everything. 

Design and comfort 

The bodywork of the BMW X3 was designed by Australian car designer Calvin Luk. One of BMW’s youngest designers, Luk was asked to make the X3 ‘sportier, tougher and bolder’ than previous models – and likens its shape to a superhero puffed up in a suit. While that comparison may not be the first thing that springs to mind, the X3 is undoubtedly well-designed, with a substantial yet streamlined frame. 

Inside, the dashboard feels a bit more crowded than that of the Volvo, but its optional 10.25inch iDrive infotainment system is intuitive and can be operated in a number of ways. You can choose to control it via touchscreen, a rotary touchpad near the gear-lever, or even voice recognition. 

As for the XC60, its interior boasts a 9-inch Sensus infotainment display with touchscreen and voice recognition, which is surrounded by the sleek leather and wood detailing of the cabin. Its leather-upholstered seats are very supportive and can comfortably hold passengers of various sizes. 

So, which is better? 

It’s a matter of taste, but the simplicity of the dashboard in the Volvo XC60 wins out if you like an uncluttered look. 

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