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Used test: BMW X1 vs Volkswagen Tiguan vs Volvo XC40

German family SUVs such as the BMW X1 and Volkswagen Tiguan are great used buys, but can the safe, stylish and Swedish Volvo XC40 beat them?...

Used test: BMW X1 vs Volkswagen Tiguan vs Volvo XC40

The Contenders

BMW X1 xDrive25d M Sport

List price when new £37,780
Price today £25,000*
Available from 2015-present 

BMW’s smallest SUV is one of the most practical in the class, and this is the most powerful version.


Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI 190 4Motion R-Line DSG

List price when new £37,100
Price today £28,000*
Available from 2016-present

Like all our contenders, the Tiguan is here in its sportiest trim: range-topping R-Line.


Volvo XC40 2.0 D4 AWD R-Design Pro

List price when new £36,555
Price today £30,000*
Available from 2017-present

The XC40 cuts a dash, but it has to stack up objectively to win.

*Price today is based on a 2018 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing


'Go big or go home' isn't always good advice, and in the case of SUVs, it certainly isn't. Why? Well, the premium BMW X1 and Volvo XC40 are far from the largest in their line-ups, but are both truly sublime.

BMW X1 rear cornering

They serve as a reminder that you don't need the biggest and brashest high-rider to get amazing practicality, a polished drive and a luxurious interior – a tip that will save you a lot of money, especially on the used market. 

It's a similar story with the Volkswagen Tiguan. While it's closer to the top of its the VW range (size-wise), it too is a remarkably capable family SUV, with plenty of useful space, excellent refinement and a smart interior all working in its favour. It's a great all-rounder and one of the best used options you can buy. 

Speaking of which, the Tiguan and its rivals all have temptingly reasonable used prices – a factor that's sure to make competition here even hotter. We've gathered a four-year-old, diesel, top-trimmed version of each car to find a victor. Read on to see which model comes out on top.

Volkswagen Tiguan rear cornering

Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

The X1 was always going to win the performance test. That’s because this xDrive25d model has the most powerful diesel engine in the X1 range, a 2.0-litre that produces a healthy 228bhp. It takes 6.8sec to accelerate from 0-60mph, so you can pull off overtakes in no time.

The Tiguan and XC40 aren’t quite in the same league. Both possess ‘only’ 187bhp and deliver 0-60mph times more than a second slower than the X1’s.

Volvo XC40 rear cornering

Still, even on wet roads, their standard four-wheel drive systems (the X1 is four-wheel drive too) get them off the line smartly and they pull solidly to 70mph. They’re also gutsy enough to pass sluggish B-road traffic with relative ease.

We weren’t totally convinced by any of the cars’ gearboxes, though. The Tiguan differs from the others (which have conventional automatics) in using a dual-clutch ’box. It's jerky in traffic and when parking, and is reluctant to shift down when you ask for a burst of pace.

The XC40’s foibles materialise when you roll up to a junction and go for a gap, only for the gearbox to dither momentarily when you ask for some power. And while the X1 is generally the most responsive, it still occasionally gets caught out and jolts in urban traffic.

New Volvo XC40 vs BMW X1 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

The X1 also has the rowdiest engine. When accelerating, its coarse character is unpleasant to listen to – even more so than the Tiguan’s boomy engine, although that does send more vibrations through the controls. The XC40’s engine isn’t exactly whisper-quiet, but it’s undoubtedly the smoothest in feel and tone.

The trend continues in other aspects of refinement. Again, the XC40 isn’t perfect, stirring up noticeable road noise from its vast 20in wheels, but wind noise is well contained, and overall it’s the most peaceful of the three on a motorway. While both the Tiguan and X1 whip up slightly more wind noise than the XC40, it’s the X1’s atrocious road noise that really narks you, to the point that you have to crank up the radio over coarse surfaces.

The X1 is also poorest for ride comfort, partly because BMW insists on fitting run-flat tyres, which don’t have the give of regular rubber. Our car has optional adaptive suspension, but you still feel every sharp ridge thumping through your backside and the car rarely settles, even at speed.

New Volvo XC40 vs BMW X1 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

The same flaws are apparent in the Tiguan – which, in R-Line trim, comes with firmer sports suspension – but to a lesser extent. It jostles you slightly at 70mph and will occasionally crash over harsh bumps around town, but it’s less irksome.

The XC40 is entirely different. It copes brilliantly with undulations and expansion joints at speed, while also isolating you well from potholes in town. And it does all this without the suspension thudding away boisterously, as it does in the other cars. The only down side is that you feel more side-to-side jostling over uneven urban roads than you do in the X1 or Tiguan – something worth bearing in mind if your kids are prone to motion sickness.

None of our contenders handles as well as the most agile family SUVs, but the Tiguan (unsurprisingly, given its close mechanical relation to the top-tier Seat Ateca) has the sweetest steering and feels the most composed through corners.

Volvo XC40 front cornering

The X1’s steering is very quick by SUV standards, sometimes causing the car to feel nervous at speed. The wheel doesn’t give you much feedback, either, making the X1 hardest to trust, especially in the wet. That’s a shame, because body control is actually very good.

The XC40, meanwhile, is the least sporty, with the most body lean and fairly uncommunicative steering. Yet, at a regular pace, the composure that helps it to ride well also allows it to flow down an undulating B-road surprisingly ably. It’s perfectly pleasant, just not that much fun.