Vehicle Comparisons

Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90

Volvo's second generation XC90 was worth the wait, a seven-seat luxury SUV that has given key rivals like Audi's Q7 and the Land Rover Discovery a lot to think about. Safe, efficient, clever, practical and stylish, it has re-established this Swedish maker as a credibly prestigious automotive brand. This revised version offers a slightly smarter look and some extra electrified tech. It's well worth a look.

The key news with this revised MK2 XC90 model lies in the introduction of an advanced kinetic energy-recovery braking system, which is coupled with the company's existing 2.0-litre internal combustion engines to create a new integrated electrified powertrain, identifiable by the brand's latest 'B' badging. Otherwise, things are much as before. The car sits on Volvo's light, stiff 'Scalable Product Architecture' (SPA) platform. And most customers still choose the 235hp B5 diesel. A 250hp petrol T5 engine's offered too, as is a 310hp T6 petrol unit.

All the conventional engines drive all four wheels via the almost obligatory eight-speed automatic transmission. The other option is the T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric plug-in hybrid model, billed as 'the world's most powerful and cleanest large SUV'. This delivers a combined 412hp output, with a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatchd in just 5.8s, yet this car can also gve you 26 miles of pure electric driving range when fully charged. Whatever spec you choose for your XC90, there's as much off-road prowess as most owners will want and tarmac handling is assured, crisp and responsive for this class of car.

On the outside, this refreshed XC90 offers subtle upgrades to the original award-winning exterior design, such as new wheels, exterior colours and a revised front grille, among other details. Otherwise, things are much as before, with a sculpted bonnet flowing into LED front headlights with a distinctive so-called 'Hammer of Thor' design.

The interior still seems boldly-styled, with a massive tablet-like touch screen control console helping to create a cabin that's modern, spacious and uncluttered. Volvo's clearly put a lot of budget into driving up materials quality and this XC90 gets soft leather and wood with handcrafted details, including an optional gear lever made of crystal glass from Orrefors, the Swedish glassmaker, and diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control. This genuine seven seater features innovatively designed seats that also free up interior space for passengers in both the second and third seat rows. Even the third row can seat an adult up to 170cm tall.

As for the boot space on offer, well that's inevitably going to be a little restricted with all seven seats in place, though even in this configuration, you still get 397-litres of luggage space. Fold the 3rd row and you can load up to 1,102-litres, if you pack to the roof.

And in summary? Well Volvo seems to be flourishing under foreign ownership. You might have expected Chinese control to stifle the company's Scandinavian character. Instead, what we've been given here is a return to Swedish charisma and an emphasis on all the things that the Gothenburg brand does best - cool restrained style, real-world practicality and class-leading safety.

Of course, this Volvo's not perfect. There are still sharper-handling choices and more capable off roaders in this sector. In balancing these virtues though, this XC90 sets its own class standard and in doing so, establishes a family benchmark amongst luxury SUVs that rivals will struggle to match. Company founders Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson would have liked this car. More importantly though, if you're shopping in this segment, we think you will too.

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Mercedes-Benz GLS

Mercedes-Benz GLS

Some Mercedes models are the epitome of on-road luxury. Others are almost unrivalled for off-road prowess. And then there's one which claims to offer the best of both: the GLS. This is the very few super-luxury SUVs that can seat seven fully-sized adults. And it claims to be able to do so while offering a properly dynamic drive on road as well as extreme capability off it. This second generation version is smarter, plusher, more refined and even more appealing. Got a family? You'd like one.

Not everyone is going to feel comfortable piloting something of this size but provided you do, then GLS motoring is a pretty fabulous way to view your everyday world. AIRMATIC air suspension with the brand's 'ADS Adaptive Damping System Plus' package smoothes your way over poor surfaces and power is transmitted by 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission. The key engine option for our market is the six cylinder diesel fitted to the main GLS 400d variant, a unit from the brand's latest 'OM 656' powerplant family and the same one as used by the S-Class saloon. It offers 330hp and a massive 700NM of torque. For those who can never have too many Tiger tokens, there's also a wild turbo 4.0-litre petrol V8 in the Mercedes-AMG GLS 63 variant.

4MATIC 4WD is standard of course, which works using a transfer case with an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch. This allows a variable transfer of drive torque from 0-100 percent between the axles. As an option, buyers can now specify a transfer case specially configured for better off-road driving characteristics which features a reduction gear for off-road driving. Also, when driving on the road, and particularly when cornering, the two fully networked transfer cases improve handling agility by specifically influencing the degree of yaw to induce oversteer or understeer.

So, it's big - of course it is, even more so than the car it replaces, which already was large enough to make your neighbours question their right-to-light restrictions. This MK2 model is over 5.2m long and nearly 2m wide with a wheelbase that's 60mm longer than the previous model. Full-LED Multibeam headlights are now fitted as standard and the drag factor is now sleeker (0.32Cd).

Inside the leather-lined cabin, as you would expect, the latest Mercedes infotainment technology has been installed, with two large 12.3-inch screens for the infotainment monitor and the instrument cluster. It's significantly more spacious than before, especially in the second row, where the bench can slide back and forth and where legroom has increased by 87mm with the seat in its rearmost position. As before, a third seating row is standard (now suitable for adults of up to 1.94m in height) and an 'EASY ENTRY' function now makes these rearmost chairs easier to get to.

A push of a button is all that is required to stow away the second and third row seats and make full use of the 2400-litre boot space in the GLS. The switches on the left and right of the load compartment and on the front of the wheel arches on the front-passenger side in the C-pillar area allow the seats in the rear rows to be folded completely flat.

If you're in the unusual position of wanting a huge 7-seat super-luxury SUV that can climb the lower slopes of Snowdon, then stop by Sainsburys on the way to an evening at the Ritz, then you won't be disappointed with this one.

But then, that much we already knew about this Mercedes. The thing that's changed with this second generation version is a broadening of its appeal. Now it reaches out below its price point to an Audi Q7-class customer. And above its asking figure to lower-order Range Rover buyers. These people may not necessarily need this car's huge size or ultimate off-road prowess but hey, they didn't really need a big SUV in the first place, so why not buy one that really ticks all the boxes?

This GLS does and in second generation form, manages to do so with a far more dynamic personality. True, it's not quite the all-round proposition a Range Rover can be but in many respects, it offers far more car for much less money. Which means that in your SUV search for the biggest and the best, you shouldn't overlook it.

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Lexus RX L

Lexus RX L

The Lexus brand has brought us many things over the years, but never a seven-seat car. This RX L luxury SUV has put that right, with subtle changes over the standard model that enable a third seating row to be inserted at the rear. Otherwise, all the RX features that loyal buyers like are carried over intact. This body style has really broadened his model's appeal and now features some useful revisions.

Not too many dynamic changes feature with this revised model. Apparently the structure is slightly stiffer. There are new shock absorbers. And the RX is now equipped with 'Active Cornering Assist' torque vectoring to maximise cormnering traction. There are clever new 'BladeScan Adaptive High-beam headlights too. Otherwise, it's as you were.

So what's a hybrid RX like to drive? Well you get in, luxuriate in the beautiful leather seats and enjoy the commanding SUV-style driving position before pressing the starter button to be greeted by.... nothing. The engine's running, true enough. It's just that at this point, it's doing so silently under battery power alone and if you've a gentle right foot, that's all it will continue to use at speeds of up to 30mph before the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine kicks in, controlled via a six-speed CVT auto gearbox.

This mechanical package offers 308bhp and there's a useful 335Nm of torque for towing. It sounds quite good too, thanks to a sound generator system that creates a performance-style air intake roar. The E-Four 4WD system's functions have been tuned for quick response when accelerating through bends: there's no mention of off piste ability. Lexus doesn't think potential buyers will be interested - and they're probably right. As for handling, well other rivals offer a more involving drive. The RX is still one of the most comfortable, refined SUVs in its class though.

In this revised form, this variant features smarter bumpers and a re-designed front spindle grille. Inside, the brand has revised the multi-media centre-dash touchscreen and (at last) added in 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring into it. In creating this RX L, the designers were clear that the standard RX model's distinctive coupe-like profile had to be preserved. But look more closely and you'll notice that not only is the RX L longer at the rear, the angle of its tailgate has been made slightly steeper. That fine adjustment is actually important in making sure there's comfortable headroom for anyone sitting in the third row of seats. Even more valuable millimetres have been gained simply by moving the rear wiper mechanism from the top to the bottom of the window.

Raising or folding the third seating row can be done electrically with just the press of button. The rearmost seats are finished to the same high quality as the rest of the cabin and are comfortable for youngsters on long journeys and adults on shorter trips. The cabin is designed to be a social space, incorporating what Lexus designers call a 'lounge' effect that's open and light and where it's easy for everyone to see what's happening, share conversations and enjoy the in-car entertainment together on longer journeys.

An extra seating row can make all the difference. Having this Lexus in RX L form means that when you want a night out with friends for example, you need only take one car. Why wouldn't you? Otherwise, the reasons why you might want an RX haven't changed. This isn't the most capable luxury SUV you can buy. It isn't the sportiest to drive. And it's not the most affordable to buy. But despite all of that, it will continue to attract a significant following in this segment. Once you've bought the thing, after all, its running costs can be usefully less than even the most frugal of its diesel competitors.

While other manufacturers dithered over hybrid technology, Toyota's Lexus division got on and developed it. Their first hybrid RX was an impressive achievement and this one has added a more style and extra technology to existing strengths of comfort, refinement and a high specification. It's a tempting package - and in RX L form, now a more spacious one.

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