SUVs and crossovers have become firm favourites with UK buyers thanks to their raised seating positions, practical interiors and car-like handling. In this class, the Volvo XC60, Audi Q5 and BMW X3 are some of the most popular choices, but which is best?
Volvo XC60 vs Audi Q5 vs BMW X3 – styling
The BMW X3 was facelifted in 2015, getting an updated front end that mirrors the larger X5 and other newer BMWs. It’s an inoffensive design but only the bold and expensive M-Sport version truly stands out in the company car park.
The Audi Q5 is one of the oldest cars the brand makes, so looks quite dated even among this company. Audi’s usual LED lights give the front a clear identity but these only come with cars in S-Line trim or above – you also get bigger alloy wheels and tinted windows.
Volvo’s XC60 is another ageing model kept just about up-to-date with an extensive facelift. It’s nowhere near as striking as Volvo’s newer models, but its styling is thoroughly inoffensive – just don’t expect many admiring glances as you drive it.
Volvo XC60 vs Audi Q5 vs BMW X3 – interior
The Volvo’s age really shows as soon as you get inside – the design isn’t unattractive, but a swathe of buttons and dull design really stick out next to newer rivals. A small infotainment screen and fiddly controls mean the user experience has lots of room for improvement. The XC60 does partially redeem itself by having some of the comfiest seats on the market.
The Q5’s interior features better materials and feels more solid than the Volvo, but also looks incredibly dated now. Audi’s MMI infotainment system is on hand to assist drivers, and, while it’s not the latest version, it’s still easy to use. The Q5’s cabin is decent in isolation but, compared to rivals and especially newer Audis, it’s a bit of a let down.
Existing BMW owners will find the X3’s interior very familiar – the majority of controls and design is shared with other BMWs. That means it’s easy to use and benefits from the fantastic iDrive infotainment system. The design isn’t very imaginative compared to the Mercedes GLC but is more interesting than these rivals and build quality is flawless.
Volvo XC60 vs Audi Q5 vs BMW X3 – practicality
All three have enough room for four people plus luggage, but the X3 is the largest both inside and out. The 550-litre boot has lots of usable space with the 40:20:40 folding seats providing a huge 1,600 litres if you need. Passengers in the rear also have a plenty of space, but the seat is a little flat and unsupportive, and doesn’t offer the Q5’s sliding function.
The Audi is a little smaller on the outside but, inside, you’ll find a 540-litre boot that’s a square shape with no load lip. Fold the rear seats and you get a similarly large 1,560 litres of space, but the Q5 doesn’t feel quite as airy as the X3 and therefore not as spacious. The sliding rear bench is a handy feature, but the Q5’s transmission tunnel is by far the most intrusive, limiting legroom for those sat in the middle rear seat.
The XC60 lags behind its rivals for space, but the 495-litre load bay should be more than enough for most, with 1,455 litres if you fold the rear seats. Again, this is made up for by the seats’ outstanding comfort and support. In addition, the outer ones are also available with integrated booster cushions – perfect for avoiding bulky baby seats.
Volvo XC60 vs Audi Q5 vs BMW X3 – driving
SUVs don’t tend to be bought for their driver appeal, but the X3 offers the best overall driving experience. Sharp steering and a compliant ride mean the BMW remains one of the best driving cars in its class – you’d have to look at the Jaguar F-Pace or Porsche Macan for real rivals. Sporty M-Sport suspension compromises comfort though, so we’d pick the adaptive dampeners or the basic setup for the best balance.
The Q5 is based on the previous Audi A4 and comes with the excellent quattro all-wheel-drive system as standard. Handling is therefore very stable and surefooted, but lacks the sporty edge of the X3, making the Q5 feel marginally more unwieldy as speeds increase. The Q5’s ride also isn’t as settled as the BMW’s, feeling fidgety over small surface imperfections.
The XC60 excels in comfort but isn’t very fun to drive. It rides over bumps with respectable compliance but the controls don’t feel as intuitive as the BMW’s meaning the steering feels vague at speed. Four-wheel drive is an option but we’d avoid wasting the money unless you live somewhere very rural.
Volvo XC60 vs Audi Q5 vs BMW X3 – engines
You can only buy the BMW with diesel engines in the UK, the most popular of which is the excellent 2.0-litre unit. With 184hp, it sprints from 0-62mph in 8.5 seconds – a six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but we’d recommend getting the eight-speed automatic. The larger 3.0-litre six-cylinder engines get this gearbox as standard and can challenge many hot hatches in terms of speed – although the extra performance does come at a price.
The Audi Q5 offers a little more choice, with four diesels and one petrol. Many buyers will choose one of the 2.0-litre diesels, having either 148 or 187hp, the former only available with a manual gearbox. There’s also a beefier 255hp 3.0-litre V6 diesel, or the bonkers SQ5 model, which has up to 335hp and can reach 62mph from rest in 5.1 seconds. Those who cover fewer miles might fancy the turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol model although this won’t be as popular on the used market.
Engine choices in the Volvo differ depending on whether you want two or four-wheel drive. XC60s with two driven wheels get an efficient 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with 190hp and an optional eight-speed automatic gearbox. If you want four-wheel drive, however, you’ll get a much older and noisier 2.4-litre five-cylinder unit that with either 190hp or 220hp and a six-speed automatic exclusively. The range-topping 2.0-litre petrol has 245hp and takes 7.2 seconds to cover 0-62mph – the fastest diesel takes 7.7 seconds.
Volvo XC60 vs Audi Q5 vs BMW X3 – value for money
The BMW X3 is priced from just less than £34,000, but we’d suggest adding the £1,500 automatic gearbox at the very least. Base SE models are actually quite well equipped, but sporty M Sport models cost from £39,585 and include the automatic as standard. The 3.0-litre engines are an extra £5,000-£8,000 on top of equivalent 2.0-litre versions, but can still return a reasonable 47mpg with noticeably more performance.
Audi has priced the Q5 a little cheaper, with around £32,500 being all you need to get into the basic model, although it’s slower than the equivalent X3 or XC60. On the whole, you’ll find the Q5 to be around £1,000-£2,000 cheaper than the BMW, but options can easily push the price past £40,000 for a well equipped S-Line Plus model. Fuel economy for diesel models should be between 42-50mpg – a little disappointing compared to rivals.
The XC60’s basic price is similar to the Q5’s, but it lacks all-wheel drive despite the more powerful engine. Choosing it adds around £1,500 to the price but, unless you really need it, we’d suggest sticking with the cheaper to run and more refined two-wheel drive versions. Fuel economy is also around 10mpg better in two-wheel drive models, with around 62mpg possible in the most efficient versions.
Volvo XC60 vs Audi Q5 vs BMW X3 – verdict
All three cars offer a comfortable and refined package that many buyers will find desirable but, ultimately, it’s the BMW X3 that gets our vote. Its blend of driver appeal, interior technology and space make it an excellent choice for any family wanting to splash out on something a little different than everyday hatchbacks and MPVs.
Both the Audi Q5 and Volvo XC60 still have bags of appeal though, with safety, comfort and quality bringing high praise – we’d probably pick the Q5 over the Volvo, mainly thanks to its nicer interior and better driving experience. The XC60 is no poor choice though with some of the best seats on the market.
Replacements are on the horizon for this trio, so things could all change when they arrive. We’d also recommend checking out the Mercedes GLC – it has a fantastic interior and a refined driving experience, and the Land Rover Discovery Sport, with its off-road prowess and practical cabin.