Used test: BMW X5 vs Land Rover Discovery vs Volvo XC90

These used SUVs are all practical, luxurious and available for around half what they cost new. But which is the best buy?...

Volvo XC90 vs BMW X5 vs Land Rover Discovery

The contenders

BMW X5 xDrive25d SE 7 seater

List price when new £47,460
Price today £19,935*
Available from 2013-2018

Four-cylinder diesel X5 is available in both five and seven-seat forms. We're testing the latter.


Land Rover Discovery 3.0 SDV6 SE Tech

List price when new £47,500
Price today £22,943*
Available from 2004-2017

The oldest design here, but it’s ageing gracefully. Still a hugely practical and desirable SUV.


Volvo XC90 D5 Momentum

List price when new £45,750
Price today £23,452*
Available from 2015-present

Entry-level version of latest Volvo XC90 is practical, well priced and well equipped.

*Price today is based on a 2015 model with average mileage and full service history according to the What Car? Valuation service, correct at time of writing


Well-heeled families long ago realised that luxury SUVs make great buys. Nothing else manages to swallow as much paraphernalia, cope with the latest generation of bulky child seats or allow you to transport seven people quite so stylishly. 

The original Volvo XC90, in particular, was something of a trailblazer. Big, graceful and with three rows of seats as standard, it sold by the bucketload. However, the latest version we're testing at five years old here comes packed with even more features to make family motoring safer and less stressful.

Volvo XC90 vs BMW X5 vs Land Rover Discovery

Another classy SUV that's long been a popular choice is the BMW X5. And while it originally had only five seats, the third-generation car we’ve got here benefits from two extra seats in the boot that were optional when the car was new.

Mind you, neither of our first two contenders offers quite the same countryside manor cachet as a Land Rover – an environment which our Discovery would have absolutely no trouble fitting into or, indeed, traversing. What's more, the Discovery's boxy shape yields a hugely spacious interior with – yup, you guessed it – seven seats.

So, which car is best if you’ve got a little over £20,000 to spend on a luxurious and practical used SUV? Read on to find out.

Volvo XC90 vs BMW X5 vs Land Rover Discovery

Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Not so long ago, all big SUVs were fairly cumbersome to drive. And sadly the Discovery is a relic from that era; it weighs around half a tonne more than its rivals and doesn’t disguise that extra heft very well.

Around corners, the Discovery’s tall body leans over dramatically, making quick direction changes all but out of the question. This isn’t a car that feels at home on twisty country roads, then, and it’s even less well suited to town driving, where its slow, heavy steering and unwieldy nature make it tricky to manoeuvre. Venture off the beaten track, though, and the Discovery will get you places its two rivals could only dream of going.

Volvo XC90 vs BMW X5 vs Land Rover Discovery

The XC90 immediately feels lighter on its feet than its British rival. Its steering is faster, so less arm twirling is needed to get around tight corners, plus it's much more precise and there’s far less body sway through faster turns.

Sadly, the XC90 doesn’t ride as smoothly as you might hope. It’s too easily flummoxed by potholes and patched-up road surfaces, and you don’t just feel bumps, but hear them as clunks from the suspension.

Used BMW X5 rear corner

The Discovery’s softer setup irons out ripples and small bumps more effectively, helping it to lope along smoothly – especially on the motorway. Sharp-edged bumps and potholes cause the body to shudder a bit around town, but that’s preferable to the unsettled nature of the XC90.

As for the X5, that manages to combine the best of both worlds: tidy handling with a supple ride. Admittedly, our test car was equipped with adaptive suspension, which was an option when new, and allows you to stiffen or soften it at the touch of a button. But in this spec, the X5 is the most comfortable of the three at all speed.

Used Land Rover Discovery rear corner

In fact, even if you can't find an adaptive-equipped car, the X5 runs the Discovery close in this area, while remaining impressively sharp to drive.

As for performance, this isn't an issue in the Discovery, despite its considerable mass. Its muscular six-cylinder diesel engine wafts it up to speed snappily enough, and its automatic gearbox shifts smoothly most of the time.

Used Volvo XC90 rear corner

True, the X5 and XC90 will get you up to speed faster, but we're talking small margins that are only really noticeable against the clock.

What's far more obvious is how much quieter the engines in the X5 and XC90 are, although of the two, it's the XC90 that has the edge. This is largely because its gearbox keeps the revs low unless you need a burst of acceleration, whereas the X5’s ’box tends to hold onto gears for longer.