Vehicle Comparisons

Audi Q8

Audi Q8

The Audi Q8 is one of those large coupe-style SUVs, part of a genre pioneered by BMW a decade ago with their X6 and subsequently copied by Mercedes. Audi's considered solution for fashion-orientated folk browsing in this segment is Q7-based and very Vorsprung durch technic.

The Q8's primary engine is the '50 TDI' 3.0-litre diesel unit we're familiar with from the A7 Sportback and the A8. Most will go for this unit in 286PS form, but you can also talk to your dealer about a lesser version of this powerplant with 231PS (the Q8 '45 TDI'). A 3.0 TFSI petrol-engined variant with 340PS (the Q8 '55 TFSI') is also being made available and Audi is also developing a top RS Q8 flagship version. We'll focus on the '50 TDI' 286PS derivative because most customers will. This puts out a hefty 600Nm of pulling power and accelerates this large SUV from 0 to 62mph in 6.3 seconds on its way to a top speed of 144mph. Your transmission will be an 8-speed Tiptronic auto. And of course there's standard quattro 4WD, which divides torque front-to-rear in a 40:60-split. When required, it transfers the majority of power to the axle with the better traction.

Adaptive air suspension with controlled damping is a standard feature, with a sport set-up. This further improvers the supple ride you can expect from the aluminium five-link front and rear suspension. It can be adjusted to four modes with the Audi drive select dynamic handling system, varying the ride height of the body by up to 90mm. Q8 buyers also get standard 'progressive steering' which becomes increasingly direct as the steering angle increases.

Audi's understandably keen to point out the differences between this Q8 and the more conservative, family-oriented Q7 model it's mechanically based upon. Its coupe-style roof line makes it appear much lower than that sister model and it's 66mm shorter and 27mm wider. Plus there's a more distinctive front end, a shorter rear overhang and a mighty set of 21-inch wheels. Thanks to the frameless doors, the coupe-type roof line stretches low across the vehicle body visually, ending in a long roof spoiler. The roof line arches slightly towards the flat sloping, strong D-pillars, which are supported by wide, muscular contours.

Inside, the cabin delivers the latest touch-sensitive piano black-trimmed interior we've lately seen in the brand's rejuvenated A7 and A8 models. With the dashboard's black-panel look, the main controls almost dissolve into the fascia's large, black surface when switched off. Of course, this coupe-style model doesn't provide the Q7's third row of seating, but Audi insists that there's ample room for five people, pointing out that the interior space exceeds that of the direct competitors in almost all relevant dimensions. The luggage compartment holds 605-litres, which increases to 1,755-litres with the rear backrests folded down. Two golf bags can easily fit in diagonally.

You can see why Audi felt it had to build this car, though it's a little hard to understand why it took the brand so long to bring it to market. We had half-hoped that this delay might have enabled Ingolstadt to bring something radically new to the fashionable formula undergirded this sort of car. That hasn't happened here, but even so, the Q8 does manage to bring buyers seduced by this class-conscious category something a bit different.

Turn up to a business meeting in an X6 or a Mercedes GLE Coupe and some might dismiss you as a showy extrovert. Arrive in a Q8 and the impact would be a touch more subtle. For some, that will be important, particularly as this Audi is - in its own way - just as stylish and avant garde as its two main Teutonic arch-rivals. If you want one of these, then probably nothing else will do. Which is exactly as it should be when it comes to this class of car.

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Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe

Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe

The Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe is the three-pointed star's take on BMW's X6, a large luxury crossover that rides on SUV underpinnings but which features a coupe-like sloping roof. Whether you like this genre of car or not, it's hard not to be impressed by Mercedes' execution of the theme. It's a sportier, more stylish coupe-styled version of the GLE-Class five-door model and gains an added dash of maturity in this second generation form.

There are two main GLE engine options to begin with and most buyers are likely to choose the base diesel derivative, a 400d 4MATIC variant that features a six cylinder diesel engine, which produces 330hp. If petrol power is of more interest, there's an alternative Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 4MATIC+ Coupe model with a stonking 435hp. This unit's enhanced by the Mercedes EQ Boost mild hybrid system, which uses a 48-volt onboard network with a belt-driven starter/alternator - the system adds 22hp to the car's overall output. This AMG '53' version can sprint from 0 to 62mph in just 5.3 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 Coupe is significantly bigger than its predecessor, 39mm longer and 7mm wider. The wheelbase is 20mm longer too, but remains 60mm shorter than that of the ordinary GLE so as to preserve this sportier variant's coupe-like appearance. Something further emphasised by the flatter-angled windscreen, rear-sloping roof line and large, flush wheels available at sizes ranging between 19 and 21-inches. Broad, muscular C-pillars deliver what Mercedes calls a 'ready-to-pounce' look.

Inside, much of the fascia architecture is familiar from the ordinary GLE, but the coupe feel is emphasised by a high centre console, sports seats and a grippy sports steering wheel with nappa leather trim. Other than that, 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 are more interior stowage spaces this time round and better all-round vision. The rear seat is more spacious that the swept-back lines would suggest. And there's a bigger 655-litre boot, extendable to 1,790-litres once you fold the 40:20:40-split rear bench.

This is the kind of car that evokes howls of self-righteous indignation from the motoring press. They'll criticise its weight, its looks and its politically incorrect attitude. Before, of course, going on to fawn over some enormous luxury limousine or thirsty, dirty supercar. It's all very hypocritical. If you don't like this car, then fair enough. But don't moralise about it.

True, if you're a business buyer, your CEO might still raise an amused eyebrow, but if you're the kind of very individual customer who'll want one of these, then you probably won't mind that for you'll be someone who shares the confidence that's apparent in every aspect of this model's make-up. In years to come, when considering this market segment, we might well forget who got there first and who tagged along. Who knows, we might even forget about SUV-coupes. In the here and now though, here's one of the very finest.

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BMW X6

BMW X6

The third generation BMW X6 looks broadly similar to its predecessor, but don't be fooled by the lookalike silhouette. It's bigger, more powerful and more efficient than before. Love it or hate it, you have to respect a vehicle that's sold in such numbers and which has evolved into something rather special.

You've probably got used to the X6's shape by now and you'll also have got used to BMW's spectacularly cumbersome naming conventions for its SUVs. The X6 range consists of a couple of diesel versions and a couple of petrol variants. Most, as before, will want the xDrive 30d diesel derivative, which puts out 265hp, though BMW also expects a following for the faster M50d diesel, with its more potent 400hp version of the same 3.0-litre six cylinder unit. Your petrol options vary between a 340hp six cylinder xDrive 40i model and two top models that use different versions of BMW's 4.4-litre twin turbo V8, the 530hp M50i and the top, barnstorming 616hp X6 M. The X6 M can make 62mph in just 3.8s. Even the base xDrive30d diesel can do it in just 6.5s. All the engines come mated to a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. And in every case, the ride remains on the rather firm side of comfortable.

All variants have BMW's intelligent all-wheel-drive system which as usual has a rear-wheel bias. In situations that don't require all-wheel drive, power can be channelled entirely to the rear wheels in the interests of efficiency. The car's sporting attributes are aided by the electronically controlled M differential lock at the rear axle, available either individually as an option or as part of M Sport specification to deliver sharper handling. Added to which, the controlled locking function for the rear differential maximises traction and increases the car's ability to put down its power on rough ground. A feature of the optional xOffroad package, it also optimises traction on roads where grip levels vary between the right and left rear wheels by preventing a wheel with insufficient grip from spinning.

This MK3 X6 sits 6mm lower than its predecessor and is also 26mm longer and 15mm wider for a wider, more assured roadway stance. BMW reckons the X6 combines "the robust presence of a BMW Sports Activity Vehicle with the hallmark sporting elegance of the brand's Coupes to create an unmistakably athletic appearance". That might be the case if you consider an American football player or a pro-wrestler to be athletes. It's hefty. The silhouette looks much as before and the car squats over its wheels like Konishiki in the sumo circle. The initial shock at the car's styling has dissipated somewhat, and with the right colours and wheels, the X6 can even look quite handsome, the deeply sculpted flanks incorporating the Air Breathers which work better here than on a 4 Series Coupe.

The cabin sits you high and commandingly and is much as it is in an X5. You get the same 12.3-inch screens for the instrument binnacle and the centre of the dash as are fitted to that car. And the same quality ambiance, with its supple leather upholstery and faultless build quality. Two adults can comfortably accommodated in the back. And there's a decently-sized 580-litre boot, expandable to 1,525-litres if you fold the rear seats.

When you pause to consider it, the BMW X6 shouldn't really have caused such controversy. It's a bit like getting hot under the collar about a 4 Series Coupe when you can buy a perfectly practical 3 Series Touring for less. They're not the same thing, the buyers aren't the same and BMW ought to be congratulated for having the savvy to spot this latent demand. Even if it's not your thing, and there are many who will put their hand up to that, the X6 deserves a certain measure of respect.

This third generation model doesn't diverge too markedly from the template laid down by its predecessors. It's just better in every measurable regard; more powerful, more economical, quicker, bigger and less polluting. It's also built of superior materials, is arguably a bit better looking and comes with some tempting high-tech options. Admire it for what it is. The X6 isn't going away.

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