Sporty, premium-badged SUVs are flavour of the month right now. Motoring Correspondent Jonathan Crouch runs his eye over three of the most interesting new arrivals.
Every mainstream maker now knows that without a profitable compact or mid-sized SUV in their model line-up, they won’t be profitable: simple as that. The premium German brands were amongst the first manufacturers to realise this and they’ve reaped the rewards. Other marques though, are quickly joining the market, leaving potential buyers spoilt for choice. Here are three of the most important fresh arrivals in this segment.
New Jaguar E-PACE
Jaguar’s E-PACE brings the company’s brand values into the growing market for compact, lifestyle-orientated SUVs. Sporty cues are borrowed from the Coventry maker’s F-TYPE sportscar and the proven underpinnings hail from the successful Range Rover Evoque. All the ingredients seem to be in place then, for a strong package.
It’s around 4.4m in length, so very similar in size to the Audi Q3 that many think will be its biggest rival. It’s certainly a lower, sleeker design than that Ingolstadt model, with crisp surfacing, strong rear haunches and a sporty stance. Inside, the cabin has more in common with Jaguar’s F-TYPE sportscar than its F-PACE SUV cousin: there’s a 360-degree grab handle for the passenger on the side of the centre console, just as in the F-TYPE, though the dash itself is arguably more futuristic.
Instead of Jaguar’s rising rotary gear selector, as on the F-PACE, there’s a sports stick shifter. All models get a 10.2-inch centre-dash touchscreen for the infotainment system and there’s the option of a 12.3-inch TFT digital instrument panel to replace conventional dials, plus you can also order a head-up display. The boot is a spacious 577-litres in size, thanks to the integral link suspension system chosen for the rear.
Buyers get a choice of either front or four wheel drive and choose from a range of 2.0-litre Ingenium four cylinder petrol or diesel engines mated to either manual or nine-speed auto gearboxes. Most will be selecting one of the diesel, available in 150PS, 180PS or 240PS outputs. There’s also a pair of petrol turbo engines with 249PS or 300PS. The optional ‘Active Driveline’ AWD system can transfer traction to the rear axle in a fraction of a second should a lack of grip demand it.
New Alfa Romeo Stelvio
Alfa Romeo's Stelvio is, according to its maker, very much an Alfa Romeo first and an SUV second. That sounds promising, as does the fact that most of the engineering here is shared with the brand's well-regarded Giulia saloon. The result should be a premium mid-sized SUV well able to mix it with class favourites.
The Stelvio is styled very much the way you might expect an Alfa Romeo SUV to look and sits on the same 'Giorgio' platform used for the brand's mid-sized Giulia compact executive saloon. The brand makes much of the Stelvio's 'premium' architecture, which has made it possible to use copious amounts of aluminium and develop high-cost features like a carbonfibre propshaft. As a result of all this, this Alfa's very light by class standards. Inside, the cabin design is centred around the driver with the main controls grouped together on the small steering wheel.
On the road, this car serves up plenty of Alfa character, thanks to a soundtrack that Chef Engineer Roberto Fedeli says was created working in concert with musicians, who helped perfect this SUV's addictive engine note. Buyers can choose between three engine versions - a 2.0-litre 280hp petrol Q4 AWD model and a couple of 2.2-litre diesels. The base 180bhp 2.2 diesel comes with either rear wheel drive or 'Q4' four-wheel drive, while the more powerful 210bhp version of this unit comes only in 4x4 guise. The two quickest derivatives both get an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission as standard.
Featuring perfect 50/50 weight distribution, Q4 all-wheel drive architecture, best in class power-to-weight ratios and innovative engine and driver technologies, the Stelvio embodies everything a true Alfa Romeo should.
New BMW X3
BMW's third generation X3 is a premium mid-sized SUV that's a larger, plusher and more powerfully efficient choice than its predecessor, stacking up impressively against prestigiously-badged alternatives from Audi, Mercedes, Jaguar and Volvo in this sector. Like its rivals, dynamically targeted almost exclusively towards on-road use, it's another example of just how car-like a model of this kind can be.
The exterior dimensions of this third generation X3 are largely unchanged, but its five-centimetre-longer wheelbase, long bonnet and short front overhang emphasise its 50:50 weight distribution between front and rear axle. The interior of this X3 follows BMW tradition, with a driver-focused and ergonomically designed cockpit. In the back, the standard 40:20:40 split/folding rear seat backrests can be adjusted individually and behind them, there's a spacious 550-litre boot.
On the road, with ideal 50:50 weight distribution, a finely honed chassis and xDrive intelligent all-wheel-drive, linked to Dynamic Stability Control, this SUV proudly shows off the handling characteristics for which the Munich maker is renowned. To further improve dynamics, the car is now lighter and rear bias of BMW's xDrive all-wheel-drive system has been increased.
As for engines, well as before, most buyers will choose a diesel, probably the 190bhp 2.0-litre xDrive 20d variant. There's also a 265bhp straight-six xDrive30d diesel derivative. BMW thinks that petrol power will get more of a take-up this time round, so is offering an entry-level xDrive 20i version, plus there's a range-topping 360bhp X3 M40i variant to take on rivals like Audi's SQ5. Across the range, 8-speed auto transmission is standard.