These three luxury compact crossovers go about doing their business in three very different ways.
One corner of the triangle is home to the BMW X3, an SUV that prioritizes sportiness and driving excitement. In the second, the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, an SUV that feels like a vintage drawing room inside, coddling the driver with luxury and putting driving excitement second. And finally, the Volvo XC60, a wonderful exercise in minimalism that puts safety and clever design at the top of the engineering brief. Each one offers some unique attributes, and here’s a look at all three to help you decide which one is up your alley.
These are all two-row crossovers, and they’re all in the compact segment, but that doesn’t mean tiny in the same way it used to with compact cars. All three are within a couple of inches in overall length, and within 0.3-inches in wheelbase. Naturally, that means they’re similar in size, but the X3 offers a little more than three-inches more headroom than the other two. Shoulder room front and rear are all but identical, and rear legroom is again nearly the same.
Cargo space is where the differences show though, inside this trio. With the rear seats up the Volvo holds 21.7 cubic feet while the Merc holds 20.5 and the BMW 19.4. Fold the seats flat and you can put 49.8 cubes of cargo in the Volvo to a whopping 56.5 in the BMW and just 40.6 in the GLC. So for ultimate space, the X3 can stow the most.
Volvo’s simple interiors are a wonder of modern automotive design, but, much like Swedish furniture, there can be a coldness in that minimalism. The seats are much more comfortable than they look, and the portrait-mode Sensus infotainment is easy to use. Below that large screen are some climate controls, and the dial for the drive modes is exquisite.
BMW’s X3 is warmer than the Volvo, and, like of all of these, available in a wide range of hides and colors. The large iDrive screen sticking out of the dash isn’t the best integrated but does offer the party trick of gesture control letting you, for example, twirl your finger in the air to change audio volume.
In the GLC you’ll find what we feel is the most inviting interior, especially if you select one of the open-pore wood options. Gentle, broad curves make this feel like an expensive living room, and the speaker grilles in the doors are almost worth the price of admission on their own, but it still has all the latest tech including an available digital dash and the excellent MBUX voice interface.
All three of these start off with a 2.0-liter turbo-four and the option of all-wheel drive. Mercedes-Benz offers the GLC 300, a 255 hp and 273 lb-ft turbo four as the base model, again with optional AWD, or there’s the GLC 350e plug-in hybrid that has 315 combined hp and a 22-mile electric range. As a foil to BMW’s M40i, Mercedes-Benz offers the GLC 43, making 385 hp from a bi-turbo V6 and adding plenty of performance upgrades to the suspension. Top of the line is the GLC 63, a 4.0-liter V8-powered rocket that makes 469 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. All the GLCs have a nine-speed automatic.
BMW starts with a 248 hp version of its four-pot and an eight-speed automatic badged sDrive30i for rear-drive or xDrive30i for AWD. An M40i version gets a 382 hp 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six (and AWD) in its place. Both offer plenty of power, but obviously, the 382 hp version is a whole lot quicker. BMW also offers a plug-in hybrid version with 288 hp and an 18-mile EV range if you want to go greener. If you’d rather see red an X3 M model that boasts 473 hp and a 0–60 mph time of 4.1 seconds, along with a host of performance suspension, braking, chassis, and interior upgrades.
The XC60’s base model is badged T5 and delivers 250 hp, putting all three of these in the same ballpark power-wise. FWD is standard on that engine, with AWD optional. Next up is the T6, which uses the same 2.0-liter four but adds a supercharger to the turbo system and makes 316 hp. Volvo doesn’t quite have a separate answer to the BMW M and Mercedes-AMG or either brand’s PHEVs, instead, it combines a bit of both into one. The T8 eAWD PHEV offers 400 hp and 495 lb-ft (415 hp if you tick the Polestar box) thanks to the four-pot and electric motors, able to run 19 miles on EV power.
With so many powertrain options, things get complicated so we’ll try and keep it simple. Two-wheel drive versions are estimated at 25 mpg / 29 mpg city/highway for X3, 22/29 for GLC, and 22/29 for XC60. So near as not identical other than BMW’s higher city figure. AWD is much the same with 24/29 for BMW, 21/28 for Mercedes-Benz and Volvo falling a bit behind with 20/27.
Mid-range engines offer 21/27 city/highway for X3 M40i, 18/24 for GLC 43, and 20/27 for XC60 T6, while the top-spec engines have an estimate of 14/19 for X3 M and 16/22 for GLC 63. While neither of those are great figures, buyers of these super-utes likely aren’t bothered.
In PHEV modes, BMW offers 60 mpge, Mercedes-Benz 68, and Volvo just 57. Every one of these vehicles asks for premium gas.
BMW’s X3 offers active driving assistant as standard as well as frontal collision warning and navigation. A digital dash is an optional extra along with gesture control and self-parking as well as a cool surround-view camera system that can send live video of your car to your smartphone. Driving Assistant Professional adds adaptive cruise with lane-keeping and autonomous braking.
Mercedes-Benz offers active braking assist, a blind spot assist that can warn you of cars coming up as you exit, Pre Safe automatic collision preparation, and predictive braking all as standard. Active steering assistant, stop and go traffic assistance, lane change assist, cross-traffic active braking, and adaptive cruise control are all optional. While it doesn’t have BMW’s gesture control, the MBUX infotainment system’s natural speech control is one of the best in the business.
In its standard kit, Volvo offers City Safety, a suite of driver assistance that has automatic braking and collision avoidance that can detect pedestrians, cyclists, and large animals. Pilot Assist is a hands-on lane and speed control system that’s available as an option. The Pilot Assist pack also adds a head-up display and LED active headlights.
Volvo may have the most standard kit here, but all of them can have all the modern bells and whistles if you move up the options list. BMW and Mercedes-Benz each offer unique features that are not on offer on others.
BMW’s X3 starts at $43,000 for front drive or $45,000 for AWD. The PHEV model is $49,600, the M40i is $56,600, and X3 M $69,900. All of BMW’s models have an extensive list of options and if you want all of the modern amenities you can easily add ten thousand in options. Watch the price closely, because even with the Executive pack, things like ventilated front seats are still extra.
Mercedes-Benz’s GLC 300 starts from $42,500 with the PHEV from $51,900, with the GLC 43 at $59,500, and GLC 63 from $73,750. Like the BMW, nearly all of the features you want are optional extras, though Mercedes lets you pick and choose with more freedom than BMW. Their option packs are smaller, which could be a benefit depending on what you want.
Volvo’s XC60 starts from $40,795 for the Momentum trim, and both R-Design and Inscription are $47,495. At the top the Polestar Engineered is $69,500. Yes, that’s a big jump, but the Polestar is available with the T8 powertrain only. The Momentum can be had as a T6 for $46,495 or T8 for $54,595. The T6 is $53,295 on the other two and T8, $61,295. Luxury packs with heated seats and wheel and uprated leather are available as is air suspension and Bowers & Wilkins audio.
If you’re shopping for a PHEV, BMW and Mercedes open access for thousands less, though you’ll likely make up some of that on the options list. We like Volvo’s more simplified offerings when it comes to finding the right price.
Like we said at the top, these three crossovers that are similar on paper are very different in how they deliver the goods. All are comfortable, all can be fast (though BMW is quickest), and all can be a bit more green. While drivers will want the BMW and those less worried about the badge and more concerned with safety will likely lean Volvo, the soothing interior of the Mercedes along with MBUX and available augmented reality navigation make it our favorite.
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