The Volvo XC90 has stolen hearts, awards and, crucially, sales, since its launch last year, but now it faces a tough new German rival. Can the stylish Swede outsmart the sophisticated second-generation Audi Q7?
AT A GLANCE
|Audi Q7 3.0TDI||Volvo XC90 D5 Inscription|
|Price (March 2016)||R961 000 (without options)||R933 500 (without options)|
|We like||Engine & ride refinement||Standard seven seats|
|Interior build quality||Standard features for the money|
|Performance||Family friendly packaging|
|Real-world fuel economy||Infotainment system|
|We don't like||Costly options||Engine not as refined as Audi's|
Champion under fire
Even if you only have a casual interest in daily motoring news you’d have picked up by now that Volvo’s XC90 SUV has been very well received. It has claimed numerous high-profile awards, including our own Cars.co.za Consumer Awards Premium SUV of the Year title. The XC90 is a superb product of an increasingly confident company. We love it.
But it has a tough new opponent in the shape of Audi’s second-generation Q7. The new German SUV launched late last year… too late for consideration in the first iteration of the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards, but now it’s here... more compact, lighter and more efficient than before and ready to stake a claim to the XC90's title.
Debating automotive aesthetics is not a terribly useful exercise, so we’ll leave you to make up your own mind. For what it’s worth, most testers and onlookers were of the opinion that the Swede was the most attractive of the two.
Volvo's XC90 is widely regarded as the most attractively styled vehicle in its category.
Of more importance in this category is how much flash you get for your cash. The Audi is a suitably upmarket-looking product with some pin-sharp detailing. For example, the LED-infused rear lights are standard, as are neat 18-inch alloys. Up front, however, you "only" get Xenon Plus headlights. We say “only”, because the Volvo offers striking adaptive (auto-bending) LED units while Audi charges you an extra R24 200 for LED headlights and a whopping R38 500 for its Matrix LED lighting system.
The Volvo scores some extra points when it comes to its wheels, too. As standard, it rides on 20-inchers, but if you want to prioritise ride comfort, you should opt for the smaller 19-inch rim, which is a no-cost option. Alternatively, you could get glitzy 21-inch items for R12 750. To put that into context… Audi charges R39 000+ for the same size wheels (21-inch).
Cabin execution and features
This is another area where personal design preference will be a deciding factor. Much has already been said about the XC90’s exquisite cabin design, but it really is a very cool place to be. The iPad-like touch-screen system is, of course, the centre point of all the discussions and remarkably simple to use, but there are other highlights too. We like the beautifully crafted starter switch, for example, and the way the leather surfaces and metallic accents “flow” next to each other. The build quality appears excellent, too, but we’d caution against the white trim of our test unit – it shows dirty marks far too easily.
The centre point of the Volvo interior is its superb touch-screen infotainment system.
Audi is famed for its interiors and it’s unleashed another cracker with the Q7. Stretched low and wide, the horizontal design elements accentuate the sensation of spaciousness and minimalism, while the retracting infotainment screen perched atop the facia offers crystal-clear graphics. Another nice touch is the gear lever which offers a large flat leather-lined surface on which you can rest your wrist while using the touch pad mounted in front of it. Audi’s all-digital Virtual Cockpit is class-leading too, much crisper and neater than the version offered in the XC90. But note, however, that it is a R9 000 option, while the Volvo comes with it as standard.
Audi's Virtual Cockpit is an optional extra, but it is worth the extra outlay.
Indeed, when it comes to interior features, Volvo has been significantly more generous. You get four-zone climate control as standard in the XC90, for example, but Audi charges an additional R11 800 for that luxury. Also standard in the XC90 Inscription is a Heads-up-Display (HUD) system, while Audi asks R20 800 for its version which, admittedly, is better.
And then there’s the small matter of third-row seating – standard in the Volvo, but a R20 800 option in the Audi. By comparison, the optional Premium Package for the Volvo at R55 500 sounds like a steal, seeing as it includes such niceties as surround-view cameras and a great Bowers & Wilkins sound system. Audi offers two optional sound systems, the first by Bose for R17 200 and a top-end Bang & Olufsen package is yours for a whopping R91 800…
Comfort, safety and packaging
If you don't have a particular brand affiliation, your choice could potentially be dictated by what your family needs. In short, the Audi is the more comfortable vehicle from the driver’s seat, and while the occupants of the other seats are unlikely to complain, the Volvo’s packaging lends itself more to family use.
But let's start with the front seats. The chairs in the Volvo are fully electrically adjustable and both offer memory settings. The seats in the Q7 offer electric adjustment as well, but memory settings will require an extra R8 000. Heated seats will cost your more in both vehicles (R3 550 in the Volvo, R5 900 in the Audi).
The Volvo is the more family friendly vehicle, with more load space and a standard third row of seats.
There’s more space all-round in the Volvo, and even the third-row seats offer acceptable comfort for adults. And when it comes to luggage space and flexibility, the Volvo also wins. With the third-row stowed away, the XC90 offers significantly more luggage space, and the rear aperture is better shaped for the purposes of loading/unloading (a greater variety of) items.
In terms of safety features, these are two top-end premium vehicles, so rest assured the basics are covered in terms of airbags, as well as braking assistance and stability control systems. The really sci-fi stuff is mostly restricted to the optional extras list, but the Volvo does offer lane departure warning, front collision mitigation support, park assist pilot (with front and rear park assistance) and the aforementioned HUD (head-up display).
The Q7 has a reverse-view camera as standard (which is, bizarrely, a R9 300-option on the Volvo), but you pay extra for the parking assistance package (R8 500) and the park distance control system (front and rear) costs another R11 600.
Volvo made a brave decision to limit the engine size of all XC90 derivatives to 2.0 litres. In a vehicle of this size and heft, that raised many an eyebrow. Still, on the road and in isolation, the XC90 D5 Inscription doesn’t feel lethargic at all. The engine delivers 165 kW and 470 Nm of torque and is mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Volvo claims brisk performance, including a 0-100 kph sprint time of 7.8 seconds.
But… when driven back-to-back with the new Audi Q7 3.0 TDI, the difference is quite noticeable. With similar weight to pull around as the 2.0-litre unit in the Volvo, the Audi’s larger 3.0-litre engine gives the Q7 a more responsive personality, which it should… after all, it has a higher power output. With 183 kW and a whopping 600 Nm of torque at its disposal, the Q7 sprints from standstill to 100 kph almost a full second faster than the Volvo.
In-gear acceleration is far more important, however. The Audi’s power and torque reserves are available across a wider spread of the engine’s power band, so the eight-speed automatic ‘box has a much easier task compared with the unit in the Volvo.
The engine size/power difference also has an impact on the vehicles’ cruising abilities. The Audi feels more relaxed, quieter and yet is still the one you want to have for frequent overtaking blasts. The Volvo’s engine has to work harder to keep up, and you can hear and feel it. Plus… the harder an engine works, the greater the impact on fuel economy (see the next category).
As we alluded to in the Performance category, the engine size/power differences have a marked impact on fuel economy as well. Volvo claims a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 5.8 L/100 km, while Audi says the Q7 will consume an average of 6.3 L/100 km. Is it a clear victory for the Volvo, then? Not exactly… The engine in the Volvo has to work harder in day-to-day driving and, therefore, drinks more diesel. As a result, we achieved figures closer to 8.5 L/100 km in the Volvo, with the Audi being more economical at 7.9 L/100 km.
Ride and handling
The Audi Q7 scores a decisive victory in the ride and handling departments.
The first-generation Audi Q7 was a bit of a lumbering giant. For the new version, Audi focused on efficiency-boosting design and materials, and the result is a vehicle that is up to 300 kg lighter than before. You can immediately feel it on the road. Our test version was equipped with the optional R30 500 adaptive air suspension, it must be noted, but based on the exquisite ride refinement and road holding, it’s an option box we would recommend ticking.
In fact, in terms of ride comfort, the Q7 is currently one of the best vehicles on the new vehicle market today. When the suspension setting is changed from Comfort to Dynamic, the Audi's ride quality is obviously firmer, but it never turns crashy. Combine the superb suspension with Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system and you have a class-leading combination of ride and handling.
In this area, the XC90 is trumped once more. With a rear suspension design compromised (to some extent) by the requirement for spacious third-row seating and a large boot, the Volvo rides firmly… perhaps too firmly for a vehicle with such clear family hauling applications. We believe that opting for the high-profile tyres on 19-inch wheels will improve the comparatively fidgety ride, but even then the Volvo's unlikely to match the Audi's balance of ride refinement and handling.
Audi is a leading brand in terms of ownership satisfaction, and Volvo is making big gains.
With identical maintenance plans (5 years/100 000 km) peace of mind should last a fairly long time for the owners of either vehicle. But what about resale? When it comes to big SUVs the depreciation curve is generally quite severe, but when considered as “brands”, the advantage is certainly on Audi’s side.
In terms of after-sales service, we refer to the data coming through in our Ownership Satisfaction Survey. Audi finished in a solid third place overall in the Brand of the Year category in our first annual Cars.co.za Consumer Awards, and when the scores are analysed further, it maintains a podium position when only after-sales service is considered (beaten only by Toyota and Mercedes-Benz).
Volvo, however, is not doing poorly at all when it comes to after-sales service, with the data showing that great strides have been made in this regard. In fact, the Swedish marque appears to be on par with most of the big brands in terms of after-sales service.
Own an Audi Q7 or Volvo XC90? Complete our Ownership Satisfaction Survey here.
Although these two vehicles are head-to-head rivals in the premium SUV segment, their respective skill sets will see them appeal to different consumers. A lot has been said about the difference in standard specification and the resultant value advantage of the Volvo. Yes, it offers many more features as standard than the Audi, but we feel that at this end of the SUV spectrum, the more pressing issues will be around brand perception and packaging. As standard, the pricing (R933 500 for the Volvo and R961 000 for the Audi) is not too different.
Buy the Volvo if you’re looking for a supremely well-finished, cleverly packaged premium SUV that will be used extensively as a family/leisure vehicle. Cars.co.za's Ciro de Siena recently spent and extended test period with the XC90 and reported on its numerous talents here. On the other hand, if you have a smaller family and don’t suffer the consequences of a very active leisure-oriented lifestyle, the Q7’s refinement, comfort and driver-oriented talents make it the stand-out product. The judges for the next round of the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards have some very difficult voting to do...