So you’re considering a compact luxury SUV, eh? Well, you’re not alone, but unlike other SUV segments, this isn’t a cookie cutter selection of hard-to-distinguish offerings. There are radically different approaches and at two opposite poles lies these two: the 2018 Range Rover Velar and 2018 BMW X3.
One is more about style and luxury with more than a dollop of off-roading capability, while the other is more functional and emphasizes driver involvement. One is from Great Britain, the other Germany (though built in South Carolina). One tries to capture the magic of its bigger, pricier SUVs siblings, while the other tries to capture the dynamic magic of smaller, sportier sedans.
This is definitely an example of different strokes for different folks, but they’re both hot, new/redesigned entries in the same segment with similar price tags and features, so let’s see which might work better for you.
2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar
The Velar is the newest member of the Range Rover sub-brand within Land Rover. It’s smaller than the Range Rover Sport, but bigger and more luxurious than the Evoque. If you want to know more about how it compares, check out our feature: Range Rover Velar vs. Range Rover Sport: What’s the Difference? See the 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar models for sale near you
2018 BMW X3
The X3 was completely redesigned for 2018, though it is largely evolutionary of the compact SUV it replaces. New styling, more powerful engines, a more functional cabin design and an injection of BMW’s latest tech are highlights. Read more about what’s new in our full 2018 X3 review. See the 2018 BMW X3 models for sale near you
Both of these are too new to fairly comment on their reliability. Having said that, Land Rover and BMW have never been known for making especially reliable cars. Given the increased popularity of leasing, however, perhaps this isn’t a problem.
The Velar is available with a choice of three engines, indicated with different names: P250, P380 and D180. Standard is a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine (P250) that produces 247 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. Land Rover says it’ll go from zero to 60 miles per hour in a quick 6.4 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated to be 21 miles per gallon city, 27 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. As a Land Rover, all-wheel drive is standard on every Velar.
The performance upgrade is the P380, a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 good for 380 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. It’ll hit 60 in an estimated 5.3 seconds, and return an estimated 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined. However, unlike the new X3, the Velar offers a fuel economy option. The D180 has a 2.0-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder good for 180 hp and a hefty 317 lb-ft of torque. It hits 60 in a lazy 8.4 seconds, but returns excellent fuel economy at 26 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined.
The 2018 X3 is available with two models, each with a different engine. The rear-wheel-drive sDrive30i and all-wheel-drive xDrive30i has a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that produces 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. With either drivetrain, 0-to-60 acceleration is estimated to be six seconds. Fuel economy is estimated to be 22 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/25 mpg combined with xDrive.
The high-performance X3 M40i has a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-6 good for 355 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Despite that being less than the Velar P380, the X3 weighs less, meaning it can sprint to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds. Fuel economy is also superior 20 mpg city/27 mpg hwy/23 mpg combined.
Both the X3 and Velar come standard with front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and emergency communications systems. The X3 comes standard with a backup camera, whereas it’s included among a variety of other optional driving aids in the Velar. Those include lane-departure warning and automatic emergency braking, both of which are also optional on the X3.
The non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the X3 the best-possible rating of Top Safety Pick+ for its top performance in every crash protection and prevention category, as well as a Good headlight score (a rarity). The Velar hasn’t underdone any third-party crash testing.
The new X3 has lost some of the driving verve that used to be a hallmark. The driving experience is less engaging, especially in regards to the numb steering, and selecting the Sport driving mode just doesn’t do enough. Having said that, opting for the M40i certainly makes a difference given its thrilling engine, warbling exhaust and sharper handling. You do lose the rather supple ride of the standard xDrive30i, however, and gain a considerable amount of firmness (even in Comfort mode) that may get tiresome if you live in an area with poor pavement.
The lighter X3 is also bound to feel like the more agile, involving machine than the Velar. Nevertheless, Range Rover’s newest is still a far sharper, more engaging steer than its bigger, pricier siblings thanks to underpinnings shared with Jaguar’s sport sedans and F-Pace SUV. Despite this, there’s something immediately familiar about its steering feel and the ultra-solid way it moves down the road. As a result, the Velar should feel like the more luxurious, stately (and pricey) SUV from behind the wheel.
Interior Design, Quality and Space
Kudos to BMW for staying true to its subdued, uber-German design aesthetic. The new cabin is no-nonsense and function-first, yet still constructed meticulously with fine materials and an obvious attention to detail. It’s a BMW: You either like it, or you think it’s a bit plain.
There’s absolutely nothing plain about the Velar, which has one of the most stylish cabin designs found in any SUV. Besides the standardized look shared with every Velar, buyers can choose from a variety of color schemes and even upholstery types: The unique Kvadrat cloth upholstery option looks and feels incredible, showing that leather isn’t the be-all and end-all of luxury materials. Other materials are also excellent, and it can be tough to see where Land Rover skimped out on in the cheaper Velar compared to other Range Rovers. It even debuted the super-cool double-screen center console we’ll describe in more detail below.
In terms of space, the Velar may be a bit bigger on the outside, but the X3 does a better job of utilizing passenger space. There’s 2.3 extra inches of rear seat legroom and 1.1 extra inches of rear headroom. On paper, the Velar has more cargo space with the rear seat raised (34.4 cu ft. versus 28.7) and lowered (70.1 cu ft. versus 62.7), but we suspect the X3’s more squared-off roofline could make it more functional when carrying around bulkier objects.
The Velar’s cabin is dominated by a unique double-screen center console, where the top one controls the infotainment system and the one below operates the climate system and most other vehicle functions. The addition of key physical knobs and buttons presents the sort of headaches associated with the touchscreen-or-nothing systems of other vehicles. Unfortunately, that upper infotainment touchscreen can be a bit convoluted to use — especially the radio controls — and Land Rover doesn’t offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
While the Velar’s setup is definitely cooler in appearance, BMW’s iDrive interface may be easier to learn and use thereafter. New to the X3 for 2018, it’s the latest version of BMW’s system that mostly relies on a dash-top screen controlled by a knob and menu buttons on the center console. Steady improvements over 15 years have refined its usability. Most recently, optional touchscreen functionality has been added and makes certain functions easier to control, but BMW’s "Gesture Control" that lets you operate certain functions by waving your hands is a silly parlor trick that doesn’t work particularly well. BMW does offer Apple CarPlay, but it’s a stand-alone option. Cars costing a third of what the X3 does include it as standard equipment along with Android Auto.
If you’re looking for a luxury SUV bargain, this is not where you’re going to find it. Both are pricey and nickel-and-dime you a bit on features. You really have to put value in the difficult-to-quantify sophistication of their driving experiences, quality of their cabins and, perhaps more so in the Range Rover’s favor, the appeal of their luxury designs.
These elements can also determine which of these luxury SUVs is a better match for you, especially since the Velar is the pricier of this pricey pair. The cabin alone could merit its price premium, though so too could its extra off-roading capability that BMW doesn’t bother with. On the other hand, those looking for a zestier driving experience may prize the X3 M40i’s dynamic talents. Either way, value here can’t really be determined by a spreadsheet.
The X3 and Velar are ultimately two of the most appealing and competitive luxury SUVs, but for different reasons. We’re guessing they’ll also appeal to different buyers, so it’s extremely hard to make a definitive claim that one is better than the other. Really, try them both and see which tickles your fancy. If you want a pricey SUV to deliver a truly luxurious, stand-out experience inside and out go with the Velar. If you want a luxury branded SUV that’s more functional than elegant, get the BMW. Find a 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Velar for sale or Find a 2018 BMW X3 for sale