Earlier this year we did the small SUV search and drove a TON of stuff (well over a dozen makes/models - new and used). I'll spare you all the details, but not surprisingly it came down to the X3, Q5 and Volvo's XC60. What IS surprising is that we ended up with the XC60.
Here is a post I made after we had driven all three (note: X3 28i was the previous straight 6 2012 model, but we also drove the 35i):
Well, as part of our NEVER-ENDING small SUV shopping for my wife we went out and test drove a few vehicles today. My wife and I have both driven XC60s (3.2 and T6s), and she had drive the Audi Q5 in both 2.0T and 3.2 trims. Neither of us had driven the X3 (we own a few BMWs as I've mentioned in other threads). In short...I wish I could combine the best of these three into one SUV. Our impressions:
1. Powertrain - This was no contest...the T6 RD simply outperformed the Audi 2.0T and X3 28. The shocker for me ( an owner of 3 BMWs) was that it felt significantly better than the X3 35 (also a turbo 3.0). I don't know if it was a combination of the BMW tranny upshifting so dang quickly that it simply lagged, and then hit with a hard downshift when you legged it or what. I would not have believed the difference to have been so dramatic if I had not experienced it. The transmission on the T6 appears well-mated and shifts occurred when they needed to. The Audi's 8 speed tranny was also pretty well matched to the 2.0t (turbo 4), but it NEEDS to be since that motor ideally needs a bit more torque. The BMW - again, a disappointment on the 35. The 28 was better, but only adequate (better than a 3.2 Volvo though). Both the Q5 and BMWs had a weird somewhat sensitive tip-in that was a bit aggravating. Ultimately, the T6 RD performance here is really compelling (esp for a guy who owns an older M3 and M5).
2. Exterior Styling - Frankly, there isn't a bad looking SUV in this bunch. The BMW is muscular looking. The Audi is elegant, and the Volvo is swoopy. From the rear, side and 3/4 rear view the XC60 is pretty nice - but from the front...meh. The Audi looks great from the front and the back isn't too bad either - the side view is more "stubby" - overall, it is probably the one most people would say "looks good, nothing 'wrong'". The BMW has a good overall presence about it, but probably lacks a distinctive specific feature...heck, I think I just forgot what it looked like! Look, this one is going to come down to personal preference more than anything. We test drove a passion red (my preference) which "helps" the XC60 IMO.
3. Interior - This one is tough, but I have to say the BMW and Audi are a step above the Volvo in terms of interior build quality and materials. The BMW appears to be the best, followed by the Audi and then Volvo. From a purely visual perspective the Volvo has a LOT of interest, especially with the two-tone RD seats. The Audi cam across as austere in all-black, but I've seen a cinnamon interior in the Audi and it looks great (and breaks up the sea of black nicely). The BMW seemed to scream "I've got money...and I spent it on this interior". The Volvo had the best rear-seat room and comfort. The Audi's rear seat seemed cramped and the bench was...well...hard! The BMW seats looked and felt great, but I swear they seemed low and I was sitting more "knees high" than the others...I need to go back and compare them again, but that's how it seemed. The durability of the leather has us REALLY concerned on the Volvo. Frankly, we drove a manager demo with a paltry 1500 miles and you could tell the seats were already wearing. I see this noted on other subforums here too. The RD looks like the leather may actually be a tad softer than the already soft XC60 leather...this and the larger bolsters could be trouble. The BMW leather looked to be able to last forever much like my wife's 11 year old 530i with dang near perfect leather. The Audi looked to be somewhere in between, but probably closer to the BMW end.
4. Tech - Volvo Sensus vs. BMW iDrive vs. Audi MMI. So, today was my first time to use any of these systems (the previous XC60's we drove were pre-sensus). Overall, the Volvo system looks to be half a generation behind the Audi and BMW setups. This is consistent with what other reviewers have reported. However, it isn't the end of the world. The Audi system seems to have everything but the kitchen sink in it and a button for everything. Some things, however, are needlessly complex (like adjusting the seat heaters). Frankly, folks, sometimes a dedicated button is just easier/better. I do like how the Audi makes use of the center gauge display as well as the screen. The BMW seemed easier to use than either of them...imagine that...after all these years, a positive review for iDrive. It did have the coolest navigation screen showing the buildings, etc. I did like the dedicated radio station buttons in the BMW and Volvo. (ironic given that the Audi had more buttons total). I would say both Sensus and iDrive are the easier of the two systems to use. Finally, all of this tech stuff is nice, but to me it is kind of a gimmick and I'm not likely to weigh it nearly as heavily as driving dynamics, interior quality, comfort, power, styling, etc.
5. Ride Comfort - The Audi (19" rims) and BMW X3 28 (non-sport) were tied for first here. The T6 RD rode more stiffly with more impact harshness. The BMW X35 also rode a bit harshly. Impact harshness and noise were probably better than the RD, but the general josstling about seemed worse. I took all of them on reasonably long test drives and purposely asked for some rougher roads, freeway, etc. Noise level (wind/road) in the XC60 and Q5 seemed comparable. The BMWs were a touch better.
6. Handling - In all honesty, none of these are sports cars or even sports sedans (despite what the manufacturers would like you to believe). I was actually favorably impressed with all three. The BMW was probably best, but I wasn't like "OMG, BMW IS KING OF ALL HANDLING!" - and the sport package on the X3 35 wasn't worth the ride comfort penalty to me. The Audi was probably the best compromise here, but the steering was much lighter than expected.
7. Build Quality - BMW = #1, Audi = #2, and Volvo = #3. Again, the BMW and Audi are just operating at another level here. I'm not slamming the XC60. It is what it is. The Germans just feel more like they are carved from a solid piece of granite. The doors shut with more of a thunk, etc.
8. Braking - Big surprise here...I give the nod to the Volvo XC60. It came down to brake feel more than anything. It was firm and linear in the Volvo while the other two were a bit grabby and non-linear. Not a decision maker in and of itself...just another data point.
If could combine them, I would probably take the Volvo's engine and tranny, the BMWs steering, suspension and front seats, the Volvo's rear seats, roominess and cargo area, the Audi's exterior (maybe somehow meld it with the Volvo's) and Audi's MMI (I am an IT guy so...).
Anyway, we actually made an offer on the XC60, but were within a $1000 and walked away...and walked right over to the BMW dealer. We test drove the BMWs there, but did not make an offer.
The wild cards here could be a 2013 X3 with the new turbo 4 (I assume the X3 is about to get it like everything else in the line-up) AND the 2013 Audi Q5 which will get the supercharged 3.0 I6.
Ugh...this search is never going to end!
Here is the post from after the purchase:
It was a long day for my wife yesterday driving these cars back to back (yeah, yeah, I know -"First world problems"), trying to decide which of the vehicles to choose. The pros/cons for each car were still true. The BMW was still in a class by itself in terms of material quality, rock solid construction, etc. and probably would have been our choice had it not been for the basic "drive" of the car. The throttle tip-in issue was simply annoying. To quote my wife during her test drive "I could probably get 'used to it'...I am driving right now with my shoe off trying to adjust to it" - I'm sorry, but having to adjust to a throttle pedal is just ridiculous. Conversely, she declared the XC60 to simply be "more fun to drive", "more intuitive", "like an extension of me". Keep in mind we own 3 BMWs (well two now) - two of which are M cars (97 M3 and '02 M5)...we are not unfamiliar with BMWs!
The Audis (2.0T and 3.2) were both really nice, but perhaps devoid of a bit of passion. There was nothing inherently wrong with them and we can see why they win all the comparisons.
I knew whichever one we chose would mean regretting something. If we chose the BMW, we would miss the Volvo's power (note: see my disappointment in the delivery of the X3 35s power) and sleek lines. If we chose the Volvo, we knew there would be a ride comfort, build quality and resale value compromise. If we chose the Audi, I would have probably felt we had a nice car, but been ambivalent about it...and I didn't want to feel ambivalent about a $40K+ outlay.
So, here we sit with our new XC60. The ride comfort is definitely the biggest compromise (as noted in my thread on that very topic) with the R-Design. I told my wife "You picked the sports car of the bunch!". She is concerned this morning (classic buyer's remorse) that passengers will find it too rough. I assured her it would be fine, but it is what it is. Keep in mind, she had been driving her non-sport 530i all day which is comparatively cushy. I know this sounds critical, but I didn't want to post some generic "We bought an XC60 and the world is all candy and roses now" kind of review! The power is awesome, the drive is easy, it looks awesome (really, very cool both outside and in), and so far Sensus seems pretty dang decent and is definitely competitive as compared to the other cars (frankly, it is a non-issue).
Our specific model is, of course, a 2012 Passion red with the off-black interior with cream accents (best combo ever...of course my last three cars were Lemans Blue, Devil Yellow and Hellrot Red so you might say I am biased to bright colors), platinum package and cold weather package. This is exactly how we would have ordered one if it hadn't come up locally. We have three Volvo dealers in the area (Dallas/Ft. Worth) and this is a pretty rare combo around here.
My favorite "feature" so far: PCC. Let's face it, not having to mess with your keys is just nice...hardly critical, but nice.
I expect to provide an update to this thread or create a new one as time progresses
10 months later and we may or may not have made the same decision. Frankly, the Volvo's looks are better (purely subjective) and I still think the power is great. A friend got new M-sport 2013 28i (the 4 banger) and I thought the power was merely adequate compared to the T6 RD. Mileage at 20-21 on the Volvo is nothing to write home about though AND 3 months after we bought it I decided that the ride was indeed too rough and swapped out the rear shocks and springs for the standard suspension ($500 and an afternoon well spent).