Can the new BMW X3 take on the dominant Audi Q5 and Land Rover Discovery Sport?
Take one BMW 3 Series. Make it longer, taller and wider, give it four-wheel drive running gear and enhance its ground-crossing abilities. What do you have? A BMW X3 â€“ and the firm has recently launched the all-new third-generation model, which is lighter, more efficient and tech-packed than before.
BMW isnâ€™t the only one playing this game. Audi does something similar with the Q5, which is also present here in still-fresh second-generation guise, a car weâ€™ve previously rated as a real winner. Both of them are snaring a growing slice of the action first carved out by Land Rover, whose latest Discovery Sport is an able all-rounder with the unique advantage here of offering seven seats. So which is best?
Audi Q5 2.0 TDI S line S tronic
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Gearbox: 7-spd dual-clutch automatic
Top speed: 135mph
CO2 emissions: 133g/km
Under the bonnet of the Land Rover, thereâ€™s a surprise. Weâ€™ve previously criticised its four-cylinder diesel engineâ€™s lack of poke â€“ but this one is fitted with a twin-turbo 2.0-litre producing 237bhp, which solves the problem brilliantly. The nine-speed automatic gearbox remains hesitant (itâ€™s not a patch on the BMWâ€™s excellent eight-speed unit), but the boost in power transforms the drive.
Itâ€™s actually now the fastest car here, beating the Audi and BMW. OK, itâ€™s a marginal win, but itâ€™s still a surprise. What a pity the engine still has a grumbly nature to it which, when combined with more wind and road noise at speed, makes it the least refined here. Itâ€™s the Audi thatâ€™s the most peaceful, with the BMW running it close, let down only by a little too much engine and wind noise.
How do they handle? Off road, the Land Rover leads the way, thanks to loads of ground clearance and its advanced Terrain Response control systems. On road, it has nice steering, although itâ€™s soon held back by being the tallest and heaviest car here, leaning the most in corners and running out of grip the soonest. The ride is the least well resolved as well, albeit rarely actually uncomfortable.
The X3, in contrast, is made for on-road use. Itâ€™s no great shakes off road, but through the bends, itâ€™s well-balanced and fun, and even manes to combine this with a decent ride. However, itâ€™s not as well-rounded as the Audi, which easily has the best ride quality of the three and feels really well sorted when driven quickly along back roads. The only proviso is that Audi has swapped the optional adaptive suspension of our test car for a pricier air suspension setup â€“ although this will pay further dividends in terms of ride quality.
BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Gearbox: 8-spd automatic
Top speed: 132mph
CO2 emissions: 138g/km
Theyâ€™re all fine machines to sit in, with multi-adjustable seating positions and comfortable chairs. All of them will soak up long distances and hours behind the wheel without pain or discomfort. You sit highest in the Land Rover, but all three have a good view out, although when it comes to quality, more of a gulf opens up. The German cars feel genuinely premium, whereas the Discovery Sport is decidedly more rugged and utilitarian.
The Land Rover has the worst infotainment system too, which is disappointingly laggy and distracting. The Audiâ€™s system is slick and the top-spec BMW iDrive Professional system thatâ€™s offered as standard on M Sport models is simply superb.
Where the Brit model claws back points is for rear passenger practicality. The amount of space on offer is appreciably better than the other two, and itâ€™s easily the best model for carrying three people in the middle seat. It has the added bonus of a third row of seats as well â€“ OK, you wonâ€™t want to seat adults in there for long distances, but theyâ€™re still a useful feature to have, and are perfect for carrying kids.
Theyâ€™re more closely ranked in terms of boot space, with the Audi nudging ahead, and the German cars offering a small practicality advantage thanks to their 40/20/40 split rear seats; itâ€™s a less useful 60/40 split in the Discovery Sport. All have electric rear tailgates and remote-fold rear seats, and they all have flat load floors when the seats are folded.
Land Rover Discovery Sport 2.0 SD4 HSE
Engine:Â 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, diesel
Gearbox: 9-spd automatic
Top speed: 127mph
CO2 emissions: 169g/km
List prices show the Land Rover to be the most expensive, both before and after you factor in discounts (but it is also the most well-equipped, in partial compensation). The Audi is actually the cheapest and, while the X3 and Discovery Sport are more closely matched when it comes to PCP payments, the Audi is by far the most affordable â€“ it costs Â£530 a month, rather than more than Â£600. The Q5 is the cheapest for fleet car drivers too.
SUVs are much in demand right now, particularly premium SUVs such as these three. And the best premium SUV of all remains the Audi Q5. This all-new model is a fine performer across the board, with few weakness and plenty of attributes. The new BMW X3 runs it close, but its higher PCP costs mean it has to take second place, despite sharing a five-star rating.
The Land Rover Discovery is in third, but itâ€™s not outclassed. If it were a bit more affordable, it would perform even more strongly, although itâ€™s still going to be the pick for those who need seven-seat space and genuine off-road prowess.