New BMW X1 vs new Genesis GV70 vs Volvo XC40

When it comes to posh family SUVs, the Volvo XC40 has ruled the roost for several years. Now, though, it faces fresh competition from a reborn rival and a new challenger with big ideas...

BMW X1 vs Genesis GV70 vs Volvo XC40

The contenders

New BMW X1 xDrive23i M Sport (Pro Pack)

List price £42,970
Target price £42,970

With a high-tech interior and a new focus on practicality, BMW’s smallest SUV has its sights set on class domination

New Genesis GV70 2.5 Turbo Sport

List price £43,425
Target price £43,425

This South Korean brand’s first family looks strong value for money, combining a powerful petrol engine with a generous level of standard kit

Volvo XC40 B4 FWD Ultimate

List price £45,460
Target price £42,708

Plush, practical and sophisticated, our 2018 Car of the Year remains the yardstick other family SUVs must be measured against

The writer Randolph S Bourne once said “History remembers only the brilliant failures and brilliant successes”, and the BMW X1 definitely falls into the latter camp. Since the first-generation version was launched in 2009, nearly 120,000 have found homes in the UK alone. But why has it proved so popular?

BMW X1 rear panning

Well, that original X1 was something of a trailblazer. You see, while it wasn’t the first family SUV to make on-road prowess its forte, it was the first of its kind to wear a premium badge and helped to establish one of the most lucrative corners of the market. And yet, ironically, it has never been a brilliant car.

That’s something this third-generation model is designed to remedy. Not only has it grown in size (with the aim of improving both interior space and road manners) but it’s also gained a new interior that features BMW’s latest infotainment system.

None of this comes cheap, though. In the xDrive23i form we’re testing here, the X1 costs more than £40k – a price that puts it right in the firing line of a new addition to the family SUV class, the Genesis GV70.

Now, if you’ve not yet heard of Genesis, let us explain. In much the same way that Lexus is the luxury arm of Toyota, Genesis is the posh branch of the Hyundai-Kia family, and it desperately wants to make a good impression in the UK. That has led Genesis to be rather keen with its pricing; despite the GV70 being physically larger than the X1 and having more standard kit and a significantly more powerful engine, it’s only fractionally more expensive.

Genesis GV70 rear panning

Our third contender, meanwhile, is the Volvo XC40. And how couldn’t it be? It won our overall Car of the Year award back in 2018 and remains the car to beat in the family SUV category, thanks to its plush, practical interior and sophisticated road manners. It was recently treated to a minor facelift that introduced more standard kit and slightly sharper looks. Let’s see if those small tweaks are enough to keep the XC40’s momentum rolling steadily along.

On the road

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

You might expect the GV70, with a large, 2.5-litre petrol engine that pumps out a whopping 300bhp, to be much quicker than the 215bhp 2.0-litre X1, but both cars rocketed from 0-60mph in an identical 6.7sec in our test. If you’re scratching your head and wondering why the GV70 didn’t clear off into the distance, the answer is simple: the GV70 weighs a quarter of a tonne more than the X1, and that also has an impact on efficiency and handling, more about which later.

The XC40 isn’t in the same league as its rivals for acceleration, taking 8.5sec to reach 60mph from rest, but that’s not all that surprising given that it’s more than 20bhp down on the X1 and has to put its power through just the front wheels (four-wheel drive is no longer an option, whereas it’s standard on the others). The XC40 is also hamstrung by a dim-witted automatic gearbox; if you ask for a sudden burst of acceleration on the move, it needs a good second or two to figure out which gear it needs to be in before it responds.

Volvo XC40 rear panning

That said, when the ’box does finally select the correct gear, the XC40 is more than swift enough and is reasonably pleasant to drive down a twisty country road. Its steering is well weighted and pleasingly accurate, allowing you to place the nose of the car where you want it. And while it leans a bit more than the X1 and GV70 through corners, there’s plenty of grip, so it never ties itself in knots.

The GV70 isn’t too far behind and is perfectly pleasant to guide down a B-road at a spirited pace. Its steering, however, isn’t quite as sharp as the XC40’s and it can feel a little more recalcitrant if you ask it to change direction quickly; blame its extra 200kg of flab for that.

That said, in some ways the GV70 feels more cohesive than the X1, which is a real mixed bag. With firm suspension and less weight to carry, the BMW turns in to bends in the keenest manner and leans less than its rivals when doing so. However, its steering, even in Sport mode, is very light. That’s fine around town, where squeezing into a parking space or performing a tight manoeuvre is effortless, but at higher speeds the X1 doesn’t provide you with a great sense of connection to the front wheels, robbing you of confidence.

BMW X1 nose

Therefore, the X1 isn’t particularly enjoyable on a country road, nor is it fun in the city; its firm suspension causes the body to fidget over rough surfaces while also twanging noisily over expansion joints and larger road scars. Combine that with a slightly coarse engine note when accelerating up to speed and the X1 isn’t the most relaxing travelling companion.

Conversely, the GV70 and XC40 cope superbly with undulations, and while the former car's ride is a little busier at higher speeds, the GV70 generates less suspension and road noise than the XC40. It's little wonder, then, that the GV70 is the quietest of our trio at a 70mph cruise, with the XC40 being fractionally louder than the X1.

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