Drive Car Of The Year

Best Medium Luxury SUV 2023

Best Medium Luxury SUV

The vehicles in the medium luxury SUV class epitomise effortless luxury and everyday practicality. Which of these three worthy finalists nails the brief?

It’s a necessity for the big players in this class to continually update their vehicles in order to stay fresh, competitive and at the top of the charts. 

When purchasing a premium mid-sized SUV, there are various elements to consider. Firstly, a premium vehicle needs to look the part. This means that the quality of materials in the cabin needs to be of a high standard. 

The interior should be comfortable with ample space to cater for families, while the amount of features are also important. 

With a lot of the price tags in this segment in the six figures or edging close, buyers want their premium purchase to advertise the spend.  

We have three finalists in the 2023 Drive Car of the Year Best Medium Luxury SUV category – all solid contenders and fairly different to one another. 

The reigning champion in the Jaguar F-Pace is back in the mix to defend its title. The facelifted version brings Amazon Alexa voice assistant technology and a new 400 Sport model.

The Lexus NX is fierce competition with the all-new model boasting a new multimedia system and driver interface, while the line-up has also introduced a plug-in hybrid. 

Finally, the acclaimed BMW X3 comes into this battle strong with updated technology and exterior looks, along with additional standard features. 

It’s worth mentioning that the 2023 Mercedes-Benz GLC isn’t included as it didn’t go on sale in time to meet our criteria.

The judges deliberated all aspects of each of these vehicles – from drivability and practicality to space and equipment. But there can only be one winner. 

Winner: Jaguar F-Pace


Jaguar F-PACE

Jaguar F-PACE

5 variants available

$ 82,200 - $ 155,100* MRLP

What we love

  • -Exterior styling is classy, cabin feels premium
  • -Spacious cabin, largest boot of the three
  • -Infotainment system is one of the best in its class 

What we don't

  • -Options add up quickly
  • -Can be thirsty
  • -Sloped roof line compromises rear visibility 

The Jaguar F-Pace has taken the title, crowned the 2023 Drive Car of the Year Best Medium Luxury SUV for the second consecutive year. Refined luxury and an unmistakeable performance heritage make the Jaguar F-Pace a true force for prestige buyers.

This SUV remains a standout in its class, thanks partly to its impressive ride quality and comfort, state-of-the-art technology and infotainment system. 

Jaguar has refined the the F-Pace line-up since it launched, with the option five trim levels and the available a choice of three petrol engines and one diesel engine. All now wear Jaguar’s R-Dynamic cosmetic enhancements. Things get underway around $82K (plus on-roads) for the R-Dynamic S P250 and top out with the brutally quick SVR at $150K plus on-road costs.

We tested the 2023 Jaguar F-Pace R-Dynamic SE P250. The P250 describes the power level (in horsepower), R-Dynamic represents the styling, while the SE is the trim level. 

In the way of standard features it gets 20-inch diamond-turned wheels with grey accents, a 13-speaker Meridian sound system, noise cancellation, heated front seats with memory function, premium cabin lighting, auto high beam, and animated (scrolling) indicators, to name a few. 

The F-Pace looks the part – stylish, sophisticated, and unique on the outside, while the inside is classic and true to its pedigree. 

The cabin retains its understated elegance, boasting ample space and exceptional ergonomic design. The materials throughout are of a high quality with soft touches on the doors and dash, while the leather seats look luxe and feel comfortable. 

In the way of storage, Jaguar has done a great job of making the most out of every inch of the cabin. The front row scores a large open storage compartment in the centre console, while the rear passengers are treated to plenty of head and leg room along with storage options. What's more, the boot has the largest capacity of the three.

The infotainment system is one of the best in its class – an 11.4-inch Pivi Pro touchscreen offering Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, DAB+ radio and active noise-cancelling technology. It’s an intuitive system with high-resolution graphics and icons and is easy to use on the move. 

Behind the wheel, this F-Pace offers a premium driving experience with impressive body control, ample power and supreme comfort to boot.

This SUV shines on rougher road surfaces, never feeling flustered over bumps and providing a smooth and silent drive. One downfall on the road is rear visibility, which is compromised due to its sloping rear design. 

Overall, however, the Jaguar F-Pace is a perfect all-rounder – packed with features, stylish, luxurious and enjoyable to drive. 

Runner-up: Lexus NX


Lexus NX

Lexus NX

8 variants available

$ 61,900 - $ 90,923* MRLP

What we love

  • -Upgraded infotainment is a huge improvement
  • -Good value proposition
  • -Fuel-efficient 

What we don't

  • -Ride quality doesn't have the same sporty polish in comparison
  • -Smaller boot capacity 
  • -Styling is loud and may not be considered more funky than premium 

Lexus prioritised the driver during development of the second-generation NX medium SUV, and it shows in everything from interior design to the way it drives.

This new second-generation Lexus NX may look like a light refresh of the original from the outside, but it's a completely new car that drives better, is more spacious and luxurious, and is loaded with eye-catching – and lifesaving – technology.

The 2022 Lexus NX has crept up in price by around $3300. The range now kicks off with the NX250 front-drive variant at $60,800, then there's the NX350h hybrid at $65,600 (FWD) or $70,400 (AWD), the NX350 AWD at $77,091 and the range-topping NX450h+ plug-in hybrid AWD at $88,323, all before on-road costs.

The NX250 is powered by a 152kW/243Nm 2.5-litre non-turbo petrol engine which is new to the NX range but has been seen previously in other Lexus and Toyota models. It drives the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Lexus expects the NX350h to be the most popular variant, and it's powered by a detuned 2.5-litre petrol engine in combination with an electric motor and battery, which lifts power to 179kW (petrol and electric combined) and brings 239Nm of torque to the party. In typical Toyota/Lexus fashion the hybrid powertrain is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to save money on fuel but will cost you some drivetrain refinement and driver enjoyment. 

The sportiest variant in the range is the NX350 (no h), which was the first Lexus or Toyota model to get the company's new 2.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine. This 205kW/430Nm powerplant is finding its way into other Lexus models.

The NX450h+ is the first plug-in hybrid from Lexus. It has that same basic 2.5-litre petrol engine as the 350h, mated to an upscaled electric motor and larger battery pack. This powertrain is tuned for 227kW combined, delivering a sharper 0–100km/h time of 6.3 seconds, and offering 87km of electric motoring on a single charge.

The Lexus NX fell short of dethroning the Jaguar by just two votes, which is testament to the work Lexus has done building a better Medium Luxury SUV. It's no exaggeration to say the previous-generation NX wouldn't have come anywhere near as close.

As is usual for Drive Car of the Year, the entire NX range was assessed during judging, but we focused mainly on the best-seller, the NX350h Sports Luxury 2WD. Standard equipment includes leather-accented upholstery, digital rear-view mirror, a 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, power tailgate, keyless entry and start, eight-way power-adjustable front seats with heating, e-latch doorhandles, and front and rear parking sensors. 

The Lexus NX is the loudest of the class in terms of its exterior styling, wearing lots of sharp lines and an oversized grille. Inside, the NX is inviting, and while our test car had a light-coloured interior that may not be the most durable, it really enhances its overall appearance. 

The e-latch doorhandles are a definite convenience evolution, and once inside, front-seat occupants enjoy seat heating and cooling, while storage is plentiful with generous-sized compartments.

The rear seats offer ample leg and headroom, along with the standard niceties such as air vents, speakers in the doors, and a fold-down armrest with cupholders. 

Back up front, Lexus has replaced the terrible mouse-driven infotainment system with an intuitive, high-resolution system. Thankfully, Lexus retained physical climate-control dials.  

Strong build quality can be seen throughout the cabin, and while it presents well, it's not the most luxe-looking interior in it class. That accolade definitely falls to the Jaguar.

The gearshifter isn’t our favourite – workable with a push and move lever, but it can be difficult when undertaking quick manoeuvres.

On the road the NX feels incredibly refined and silent, even on harsher road surfaces. Lexus’s hybrid system is a class leader, and with that said, the transition from electric to petrol modes, and vice versa, is seamless. 

It’s personal preference, but we did feel that some of the safety features, like the lane-keep assist, can be intrusive. It also misses out on some active safety features as standard. 

Still, there is a lot to like with the new-generation Lexus NX, and it's a worthy runner-up to our two-time winner.

Finalist: BMW X3




8 variants available

$ 81,700 - $ 125,400* MRLP

What we love

  • -Classic and classy inside and out
  • -Ride comfort is exceptional
  • -BMWs are now supported by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty 

What we don't

  • -While the interior is classic, it doesn't pop like others in its class
  • -Options add up quickly
  • -Tyre noise is noticeable in the cabin 

The BMW X3 has long been a sought-after SUV in its class. It’s classic, sophisticated and, as a BMW, you know exactly what to expect – great ride quality, a premium package – but it’s not perfect. 

The facelifted SUV picks up reshaped front and rear styling, new headlights, an updated interior, and revised infotainment across the range. A plug-in hybrid powertrain also joins the line-up for the first time.

Seven variants are on offer locally with the entry-level X3 sDrive20i starting at $76,600 before on-road costs, and stretching to the flagship performance-focused X3 M Competition priced from $169,500 before on-road costs.

A range of four- and six-cylinder petrol and diesel engines are available, all sending power to the road via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The X3 sDrive20i is the only two-wheel-drive variant, with drive sent to the rear axle – all other models are all-wheel drive.

Inside the updated cabin, a 12.3-inch touchscreen compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is centrally mounted on the dashboard. A digital instrument cluster and head-up display feature as standard.

The model BMW made available for testing was the BMW X3 XDrive30i, which starts at $91,900 before on-road costs. This test car was equipped with the Visibility Package that offers metallic paint, panoramic glass sunroof and laser headlights.

The interior keeps its sophisticated yet understated styling. In the case of the updated X3 range, the update arrived before the introduction of BMW’s new curved widescreen infotainment system, therefore it carries older software, and a slightly smaller display interface. Thankfully, the 12.3-inch screen is easy to navigate through, clear, and of a high quality.

On the road, the X3 feels lively. It's an enjoyable everyday drive with a splash of sportiness. The drive quality is premium, smooth and supple, albeit let down by persistent tyre rumble.

The BMW X3 isn't the most fuel-efficient of the three, nor is it the cheapest to buy.

Having said that, there's still lots to love about the X3. This luxury SUV packs plenty of performance, is sporty, spacious, and well equipped. It may not be a class leader, but there's enough here to see why it is a category staple.

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