BMW X3 20d xDRIVE, Volvo XC60 D4 AWD, Front view 29 Photos Zoom

BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 in the comparative test: Efficiency vs. character

It is no secret that the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 have sufficient room for the family and luggage. With its new 190 bhp diesel engine, the BMW should now be much more efficient. Can the Volvo, with its 181 bhp five-cylinder diesel engine still keep up with it?

Five-cylinder? Yes, for the Volvo price list also has an about-turn in store for 2015, that a reader casting a cursory glance may not notice: in the front-wheel drive version of the Volvo XC60 D4 with 181 bhp, the 2015 model, the new two-litre, four-cylinder engine is used, whereas in the all-wheel-drive variant, the old 2.4-litre five-cylinder is used, now also with 181 bhp.

The five-cylinder engine is not bad in its own right. It now has 18 bhp more than was previously the case and thus moves closer to the BMW X3 20d xDrive, which comes to 190 bhp in the new diesel engine of the B47 series. This type of powerful self-igniter harmonises well with the smooth torque converter transmissions, which is why both test candidates feature this option. In the case of the BMW it is the modern ZF eight-speed gearbox, while the Volvo XC60 still has to manage with the six-speed Geartronic from Aisin-Warner. However, here to there is an eight-speed version coming our way, which is already being used in other Volvo models.

The Volvo XC60 is more expensive

The torque converter transmission systems cost an additional 2,000 Euros, although the purse strings may well be a little looser for those interested in the X3 and XC60: in this case the Volvo is even the more expensive of the two, coming to precisely 45,350 Euros with the Momentum equipment driven here. The BMW X3 will set you back 43,250 Euros, with 2,200 Euros extra for the xLine package, although with the exclusion of the 18-inch wheels and inscribed entry sills this contains little worth having and you can therefore do without it.

For the money it is of course a good thing that the cars, with their turbo self-igniters, are very respectably equipped in the engine department. At any rate, only those used to being spoiled sense any lack of power in the comparative test – and if so, then in the Volvo rather than in the BMW X3. The five-cylinder engine feels a subjective 25 bhp weaker than the BMW four-cylinder, and the values on the stopwatch confirm this impression. It drops almost two seconds in the sprint from 0 to 100 km/h, while the top speed is 15 km/h lower.

The BMW X3 consumes around one litre less fuel

On first read this doesn't really seem dramatic, however, on the whole the BMW X3 engine gives the livelier impression. You have to forgive it the fact that it does self-ignites rather more audibly and gruffly. Not least because it consistently burns around one litre less fuel.

The XC60 drive system on the other hand can only focus on its somewhat smoother running performance and the typical five-cylinder timbre. In particular, its transmission does no respond so inconspicuously and sensitively as the well respected eight-speed automatic in the BMW X3. The paddle shifters that make their presence felt behind the steering wheel in both test candidates can, incidentally, be safely ignored, except perhaps when driving down a mountain with your caravan in tow.

The Volvo XC60 offers lower towing capacity

Regarding trailers: with a capacity of 2,400 kg, the BMW X3 can tow significantly heavier loads than the Volvo XC60. In addition, for the additional cost of 1,200 Euros, a trailer coupling with pivoting spherical head is available ex-works. For the Volvo, only a solution with a removable head is available, assembled at the dealership, for a price of 675 Euros without installation. Of course this does not mean that the XC60 is the less practical family vehicle. Overall it doesn't have so much storage space and the interior is a little less airy, but does impress with greater storage capacity (101 kg more).

Also among the areas in which the Volvo XC60 excels is its somewhat more polished drive comfort. In the comparative test the spring elements of the BMW X3 do respond much better to minor bumps, but do not absorb more powerful stimuli – at least with a heavy load – as casually as those of the Volvo. Here it should not go unmentioned that both test ccars were fitted with adaptive dampers (each subject to an additional charge of over 1,000 Euros).

The BMW X3 is more agile

The typical Volvo sense of well-being is also present thanks to the excellent seats, although together with the pleasantly soft leather these cost an additional 1,650 Euros. The seats in the BMW X3 are a little better still on account of having more support, and likewise cost an additional 1,650 Euros, this time including electrical adjustment. Leather upholstery then costs extra.

However, they are a worthwhile investment, not least because in this comparison the BMW X3 is the much more fun car to drive. It is light on its feet in corners, has the better steering and is neutral and stable, even with an extreme driving style. The xDrive drive system also contributes to this, distributing the torque between the front and rear axles, preferably with a ratio of 40 to 60. The Volvo's Haldex all-wheel system is rather front-heavy, which results in a less transparent, more sluggish and slightly understeer-prone cornering behaviour.

Of course this won't put anyone interested in the Volvo XC60 of, for whom it is more likely to come down to typical market strengths such as spaciousness and high safety standards. In contrast, the BMW X3 is a true BMW, agile and efficient. Who still counts cylinders anyway?


Dino Eisele


17 February 2015
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