BMW X3 xDrive20d M Sport auto
List price £39,045
Target Price £36,286
It's been around for a while, but the X3 still leads the way on performance and economy
Jaguar F-Pace 2.0d 180 R Sport auto AWD
List price £41,260
Target Price £41,210
Jaguar's first SUV has the looks to impress, but it'll need to be a complete all-rounder to win here
Land Rover Discovery Sport 2.0 TD4 180 HSE auto
List price £39,800
Target Price £39,107
Our current favourite at this price point and the only seven-seater here. Can it hold on to its crown?
You can't teach an old dog new tricks, they say. Well, it appears felines are a bit more adaptable in their senior years because, after 71 years of solely building saloons, estates and sports cars, Jaguar has branched out into the SUV market.
The F-Pace might be rather late to the party, but it certainly doesn’t lag behind on appeal. Its stunning looks and spacious interior are obviously big selling points and, in entry-level 2.0-litre diesel form, running costs are also surprisingly reasonable.
To find out just how good Jaguar’s maiden SUV is we’re pitting it against the BMW X3 xDrive20d and Land Rover's Discovery Sport. The latter is available in 148bhp five-seat form, but most buyers choose the 178bhp seven-seat version, so that’s what we’ve lined up. All our contenders also have automatic gearboxes and four-wheel drive.
What are they like to drive?
The X3’s extra power gives it a performance edge over both rivals. No matter whether you’re using the auto gearbox’s kickdown function to build speed as quickly as possible or relying on the engine’s low-rev muscle to accelerate in a more relaxed way, the X3 is always the nippiest.
Meanwhile, the Discovery Sport is the slowest of our trio. Both it and the F-Pace use the same 2.0-litre diesel engine, but the heavier Land Rover doesn’t accelerate with the same vigour as its British rival. The Discovery Sport also has the least impressive gearbox; there’s often an annoying pause between you pressing the accelerator pedal and the arrival of the burst of power requested. The F-Pace’s gearbox is snappier to respond, although it’s never quite as smooth or seemingly as intelligent as the X3’s.
If you want your SUV to scythe through bends more like a hot hatch on stilts than an old school 4x4, you’ll love the F-Pace. It’s easily the most agile of our trio, staying remarkably upright and streaming plenty of feedback to your fingertips through its steering wheel. The Discovery Sport sways about more through bends, although it still steers sweetly and is easily the most comfortable car here. It rides particularly smoothly at high speeds and, although it fidgets a bit on pockmarked urban roads, it never becomes uncomfortable.
In range-topping M Sport trim, as tested here, the X3 has sports suspension as standard and is way too firm. You’re tossed around like a small rowing boat on the high seas whenever the road gets remotely bumpy, and the rigid suspension doesn’t do the handling any favours unless the road is super smooth because even small bumps unsettle the car through corners. The X3’s steering is also rather slow and heavy when manoeuvring, although it is at least always precise.
'If you want your SUV to scythe through bends like a hot hatch on stilts, you’ll love the F-Pace'
If you want the sporty styling of the M Sport but with a more agreeable ride, you can opt for softer suspension for free. We’ve yet to try the latest X3 in this form, but it’s bound to be a better option.
If, on the other hand, you’re after a quiet life, the Discovery Sport will appeal most. Its tyres generate the least road roar on the motorway and its engine, while a bit gruff around town, hushes up when you’re cruising. The F-Pace has the noisiest engine and generates the most road noise (the optional 20in alloys on our car probably didn’t help). The X3 is only fractionally quieter, and its door mirrors whip up the most wind noise at 70mph.
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