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 235PS D5 diesel. A 250PS petrol T5 engine's offered too, as is a 320PS 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 412PS output, with a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatchd in just 5.6s, 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 GLE

Mercedes-Benz GLE

The second generation Mercedes GLE is now a much stronger contender in the large luxury SUV segment thanks to smarter looks, more efficient engines and the option of seven seats for the first time. That's because it's significantly bigger inside than its predecessor, hence the bigger boot. The suspension's more sophisticated too and there are greater levels of safety and media connectivity. Rivals like BMW's X5 and Porsche's Cayenne must now take this car very seriously indeed.

There are four GLE engine options to begin with and most buyers are likely to choose the base diesel derivative, a 300d 4MATIC variant that features a 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, which produces 245hp and 500Nm of torque. It can travel from 0 to 62mph in 7.2 seconds and has a top speed of 140mph. Next up is the six cylinder diesel 350d 4MATIC, which offers 272hp, the same engine also available in 330hp guise in the GLE 400d 4MATIC. If petrol power is of more interest, there's an alternative GLE 450 4MATIC variant powered by a 3.0-litre six-cylinder petrol engine with EQ Boost, which has an output of 367hp and 500Nm of torque. EQ Boost uses a 48-volt onboard network with a belt-driven starter/alternator - the system adds 22hp to the car's overall output. It can sprint from 0 to 62mph in 5.7 seconds and has a top speed of 155mph.

In all variants, power is transmitted via 9G-TRONIC automatic transmission. The broad ratio spread of gears allows for a clearly perceptible reduction in engine speed. Ride comfort and agility improvements are promised by the optional 48V E-ACTIVE BODY CONTROL suspension, which is combined with the optional AIRMATIC air suspension. This is the only system in the market where the spring and damping forces can be individually controlled at each wheel. This means that it not only counteracts body roll, but also pitching and squat.

This second generation GLE has a much more purposeful look than its predecessor (which was really only a lightly facelifted version of the old M-Class). With this MK2 design, you get a longer wheelbase, short overhangs and large, flush-fitted wheels. There's also a very upright radiator grille and a purposefully-sculpted bonnet with two power domes. This GLE also cuts an athletic figure from the rear. This is particularly emphasised by the powerful shoulder muscle line extending from the C-pillar to the rear lights.

Inside, the 80mm wheelbase increase makes the car feel much more spacious, but the first thing you'll probably notice at the front is that the designers have incorporated a couple of 12.3-inch TFT screens, one in the instrument binnacle and one in the centre of the dash that works with the new 'MBUX' voice-activated multimedia system. There's more space in the second row too - plus for the first time, a third seating row has been fitted into this car. When you're not using it, there's 825-litres of luggage space - or up to 2,055-litres if you can fold down all the seats. In conjunction with AIRMATIC air suspension, the vehicle's rear can be lowered by around 40 millimetres using a switch, for easier loading and unloading.

So, how to sum up this GLE? First, here's what it won't do: stride across the Gobi desert quite like any Land Rover product. Or power round Brands Hatch quite like a more sporting BMW X5. But for us, that's not a problem: this car, after all, intentionally sets out to offer more of a middle ground between these two extremes and it's a place in which this second generation GLE seems far more comfortable than its predecessors was.

It's true that there are sportier, more dynamic models of this kind you could buy. But we're struggling to think of many that offer a better all-round package. Quick, capable, practical and luxurious, this is at last the car Mercedes always should have had in this segment.

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Audi Q7

Audi Q7

Audi's Q7 seven-seat luxury SUV has always made a big impact. This second generation model is lighter, cleverer and smarter than its predecessor, with clean diesel technology driving impressive standards of efficiency. As a result, if you really want a car of this kind, you may well find yourself really wanting this one.

Ever wondered why there was no S or RS version of the first generation Q7? Because it would have been like trying to turbocharge a continental plate. The thing was so big and lumbering that encouraging drivers to make it go faster would have been a recipe for disaster. The latest car doesn't go down that road either, but with all that weight excised from the chassis, it's a far nimbler thing. That tells in Audi's engine selection too. Most customers choose one of the efficient turbocharged 3.0-litre TDI units, these developing either 231PS in the 45 TDI or 286PS in the 50 TDI. The alternative is the flagship SQ7 model that uses a 4.0-litre V8 TDI diesel.

The 3.0 TDI diesel's going to be the one getting the most play with UK buyers and it's a good 'un. Most choose the base 231PS 45 TDI variant which has 500Nm of torque, which gives this Q7 enough about it to be able to mix it with the class best. In fact, 7.3 seconds to 62mph wouldn't be bad for a mildly hot hatch. The Q7 rides on a steel springs as standard, although buyers can opt for air suspension. Another interesting option is a rear wheel steer function. At lower speeds, it counter steers the rear wheels for better manoeuvrability, while at higher speeds it steers them by up to five degrees in the same direction as the fronts to improve handling agility. All very Porsche 911 Turbo.

The Q7's styling theme is evolutionary, although the car seems to sit low on its springs, almost like a beefed up Audi super-estate than a typical SUV, an impression compounded by the aggressively raked windscreen. The chassis on which the Q7 sits is also used by the current Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg luxury SUVs, plus the Lamborghini Urus and the Bentley Bentayga. An increased reliance on aluminium has shed weight, with 100kg coming out of the suspension, 71kg out of the body and a massive 24kg from the doors alone.

Despite being 370mm shorter, Audi has only reduced the wheelbase of this MK2 model Q7 by 10mm, so the amount of room available for passengers is still vast. In fact, Audi claims an extra 21mm of kneeroom in the second row. Even the third row gets decent space, with 24mm more headroom and an additional 20mm of shoulder width over what the first generation version could provide. This third row of seats are dubbed 'Group 3 child seats,' and are electrically operated, popping up from the boot floor at the flick of a switch. With all seven seats occupied, you get 295-litres of boot space. In five-seat mode there's even more room; fully 890-litres to the tonneau cover. The instrument binnacle features Audi's clever 1440 x 550 pixel Virtual Cockpit where you can configure the fascia display as a giant screen in a number of modes.

In summary, this second generation Q7 has proved to be a significant improvement on the MK1 model, thanks to smarter packaging, a bigger passenger cell and efficiency measures that are night and day compared to its Panzer-like predecessor. Even the shape has subtly morphed into something more estate car-like.

As a result, this Audi has turned from a blunt implement to one of the sharpest vehicles in its sector. We can't help but have a sneaking admiration for what Audi has done here.

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