From the August 2018 issue
We have found our peace. And no, that’s not because we based the first part of this comparison test out of a resort/spa in the woods, where each of us had his own cabin complete with fancy soaps, a deep soaking tub, and a porch swing upon which we could consume beer and contemplate the slight misalignment of our chakras.
No, we are at peace with the world as it is presented to us because, in a few ways that we care deeply about, the material realm is a better place today than it was before. Should we rail against the proliferation of quasi-SUVs, a form factor now so pervasive that it’s no longer a class or a segment but instead an SUV-shaped reflection of the entire automotive market? Life coach and spiritual guide Alterman says complaining about it would be the wrong path. Instead, consider that the luxury-brand cute-utes gathered here, the BMW X2, the Volvo XC40, and the Jaguar E-Pace, are the reincarnations of the stumpy BMW 318ti, the Mitsubishi-based Volvo S40, and the Jaguar X-type, which was a shitbox. Forget for a moment the SUV-shaped vessels they arrive in. That shape is, after all, just the modern idiom.
These three stylish runabouts for the upwardly mobile are the newest representatives of one of the hottest vehicle classes on the market. When we last surveyed this segment, in 2016, it included a mixed bag of freaks and geeks such as the wee Mercedes-Benz GLA250 and its mechanical twin, the Infiniti QX30; the Audi Q3 potato dumpling; the curiously aggro-looking Lexus NX200t; and one truly successful, well-rounded entry, the BMW X1. An early trendsetter in the category, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, had already lost a comparison test by then, but it’s still available and still adorable. Depending on how broad your definition of luxury is, you might also throw in the Buick Encore and the Mini Cooper Countryman. Our definition isn’t that broad.
We would have certainly included the Cadillac XT4 and Lexus UX, since both would fit within the loose confines of the class-would have if either were yet available, but neither is. But there is choice enough to find one small luxury-utility vehicle that works with your other life accessories or vibrates to your inner frequency or whatever.
Instead of bringing back the winning X1 for this battle, we chose its newer, sportier, more stylish, and somewhat less practical sibling. The X2’s platform, 228-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, and eight-speed automatic transmission come straight from its more established stablemate. But while its overall width is effectively the same as that of the X1, the X2 is roughly three inches shorter in both height and length. This gives it a decidedly wagonish look, a bit like the old, first-generation X1. All-wheel-drive X2s start below $40,000, but our metallic-orange example was laden with $11,525 in options, bringing its as-tested price to a stiff $50,920. The single largest part of the upsell came from performance-oriented stuff, including a sport-suspension setting, sport seats, and bigger-than-base 19-inch wheels and tires. Heated front seats, power-folding mirrors, a head-up display, upgraded audio, park-distance sensors, and, well, pretty much every nicety available mean that this is about as expensive as an X2 can get.
Jaguar’s second SUV-like device, the E-Pace, can be made considerably costlier than even the BMW. A loaded 296-hp R-Dynamic version can top $65,000. But the diminutive crossover covers a lot of ground for Jag. A basic E-Pace with fabric seats starts at just under $40,000. After wading through Jaguar’s Byzantine trim hierarchy, we chose a mid-level SE version. Powered by the standard 246-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, our test vehicle came with a healthy load of equipment that pushed the list price up to $54,190. All-wheel drive is standard on all versions, as are the E-Pace’s meatball-like proportions.
Then there’s the Volvo XC40, a charming little nugget of an SUV-ish thing, which isn’t trying to look like anything it’s not. Where the Jag is plastered with F-type cues and the X2 appears almost ashamed of its SUVness, the Volvo is simply modern and handsome and honest, even when it’s done up in pastel paint with a white roof, a look known around these parts as “the full Easter egg.” Our $45,935 unit was all grayscale except for the funky (and optional) orange carpeting that creeps up from the floor to cover the XC40’s lower door panels. The T5 version of the XC40 brings a 248-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four and standard all-wheel drive. Stop us if this all sounds familiar. The boosted 2.0-liter is the de facto engine choice in this and many other segments. A mere 29 cubic centimeters of displacement and 20 peak horsepower separate these three engines.
But we could not stay out in our retreat alone, simply driving quickly over wooded two-lanes and enjoying the quiet pace. We also had to visit the trendier side of town in these gentrified CR-Vs. There, we found no peace. But where better to park your Volvo XC40 than in front of a hipster taco emporium or a place that treats sliders as haute cuisine?