A Wheel Thing was fortunate enough to have the stars align and be given the keys to two new range toppers: from Sweden comes the 2016 spec Volvo XC90 Inscription and from Germany the 2016 Audi Q7 Quattro. Similarly priced, similarly sized and similarly specced, it’ll come down to personal preference for a potential buyer and certainly the end decision as to which A Wheel Thing would keep is a personal choice.What’s on offer are two very well kitted out SUV’s, ostensibly with off road ability, luxury trimmings and plenty of room. Yet, at their heart, two totally different approaches on how some basics are delivered…
Up front is how these two get their get up and go. The Volvo goes slimline with a turbocharged four cylinder petrol whilst the Audi squares its shoulders with a brawny V6 diesel. Capacities are different; two litres vs three and the end power/torque numbers tell the story. Volvo offers up 235 kilowatts at 5700 revs, with 400 torques on tap across a plateau flat 2200 to 5400 rpm.
Being a one litre bigger, naturally torquey V6, Audi says you can have 200 kW from 3250 to 4250 revs but if you insist on out twisting a tornado, Sir says thank you for 600 Nm from 1500 to 3000 revs. Both get self shifters with eight ratios; Audi’s gear selector is a super easy to use rocker lever style with Park selected by pressing a button embedded in the back of the lever.
Consumption from the oiler? Audi says around six litres per one hundred klicks on a combined cycle. The big Swede drinks a little more heavily, at 8.5L/100 km. Even the dirty stuff has the Audi cleaner, with 163 grams of CO2 per kilometre versus the petrol’s 199.
Stood side by side, there’s bugger all between them. Volvo: 4950 mm in length whilst the the German heavyweight goes 5052. Width? Sir can choose 2140 mm (including mirrors) for the blue and yellow flagged entrant or 2212 mm for the Audi. Height wise it’s 1776 mm for the Volvo vs 1740 mm. Interior room, as a result, is within cooee; Volvo says 1465 mm for front shoulder room, Audi 1512 mm. Wheelbase comes into play as well, with the Q7 just under 3 metres at 2994 mm whilst the XC90 is almost lineball at 2984 mm.In profile they’re almost identical, with the Volvo having a slightly larger area for the rearmost window and a touch more upright in the nose. It’s at the front that the XC90’s dramatic makeover gets shown off. Think two pick axe shaped LED inserts, laid T outwards in the headlights. Sun bright when looked at head on, they provide a high level of safety during the day by providing oncoming drivers a clear signal the Volvo is on its way. Hidden away at the bottom corners of the front bar are normal globe lit lights, almost redundant they are.
Audi have LED lit headlights and a similar but less intense design philosophy for the driving lights. The massive hexagonal grille dominates the front and both, leaving the Volvo’s grille feeling diminutive in comparison. Both cars come with forward collision alert and cameras hidden within the front ends, with rear reverse parking and sensors an/or cameras for lane avoidance, blind spot alert and cross traffic.
There’s power tail gates, folding third row seats and LED lighting for both at the rear, with both exhibiting an evolution of the previous design in regards to looks and lights, with the Volvo’s looking more streamline and lithe than before. Inside, mid and rear seat passengers get aircon controls, with Audi allowing four zones of climate control, controlled from the front.
Staying inside, there’s two noticeable things: both have classy looking trim, featuring wood, carpet, slide and folding mid row seats, easy to flip & fold rears and high end audio with Bose for Audi and B&W (Bowers and Wilkins) for the Volvo. For the front seat passengers, here’s the divergence: Volvo’s gone with a large, almost laptop sized touch screen for the control system, whilst Audi has eschewed that tech, staying with touch sensitive flip buttons for the aircon and their proprietary push button/jog dial system for car/audio/drive settings.
The Volvo system immediately presented a conundrum: at the top of the screen was a warning note about one of the parking system options. This note covered a little touch tab which allows the driver to access the Settings tab….but without clearing that warning and not knowing it hid the tab, access to items such as changing the driver’s display screen was blocked. By staying with their system, Audi’s was straight up easier to use. A simple thing, yes, but for people that may not be of a technological bent, it’s a speed hump.
The multi-function display or MFD isn’t as intuitive as other Volvos but info on how to use it can be found here: Volvo XC90 user manual
The issue A Wheel Thing found wasn’t huge, in the greater scheme of things, but hints at the needless complication of what’s intended to be simple. The centre console screen is now the main home for things such as changing the look of the driver’s dash screen.
So a whole wealth of information hidden by an ultimately unneccessary warning message which could have been fixed by simply including the Settings and manual on the Applications section of the appropriate screen….Simplicity, overlooked. The Audi’s system, although not perfect, is simpler to use in its “click, twirl, push to select”.
Also, in the Volvo, the electrically assisted steering does feel too light and the lane keeping assistance is perhaps a little too violent in its helping for the more dour driver in one setting. It tugs, not gently, to tell you you’re off line. Audi’s system had the driver feeling almost as if autonomous steering was on board; there’s four external cameras on the side of the car, tracking the white lines and was mostly bang on, with the occasional exception of when the cameras lost sight of the lines of the lines faded. Couple that with the forward collision avoidance system (which both have and sometimes set off false positives) when cruise control is engaged, and it’s almost drive by itself ready.
Speaking of driving; there’s a substantial difference in how they get under way, with the diesel’s low end thump matched nicely by the turbo four once under way. Getting under way is the difference, with the turbo suddenly coming on song versus the diesel’s more linear delivery. Although the Volvo offers less torque, it’s across a more useable, in real terms, rev range. Acceleration, once the throttle has been feathered to avoid the lightswitch, is decently rapid as to be almost frightening in its pace. On road manners, regardless, were impeccable for both.
The Audi, with more torque but a slightly lesser range, does feel as if it runs out of serious urge whilst the Volvo is still ready to strap on the gloves. When the torque rolls off from the Volvo, it runs straight into the peak power and lends the Volvo a feeling of near unstoppability. The diesel’s rev range simply doesn’t allow it to continue the wave to the extent the Volvo does. Having said that, the Volvo feels almost dainty in its presence, ladylike, compared to the Audi’s broad shouldered, axe swinging assertiveness.
Both cars were taken onto some flat, compacted, gravel roads to test their off road traction, acceleration and braking. The Q7 had Pirelli Scorpion rubber, at a relatively low 255/55/19 size. Volvo went bigger at 20 inch wheels, with massive 275/45 Michelin rubber. For both, on road grip was stupendous, as expected and offroad, in the situation used, held on nicely, with the Volvo perhaps a touch, a touch, skatier. Braking pulled both of the cars up in similar distances, with the ABS and traction systems audible as they did so.
The Audi’s variable drive system also involves airbag suspension, so to select the off road mode you can feel and see the car rising and lowering itself. Volvo also offers variable drive modes such as Comfort and Eco. Air suspension is available as an option. One thing the Volvo had and, in A Wheel Thing’s opinion, should be more widespread, is a HUD, a Head Up Display.
Looking through and ahead from the driver’s position, the display is intuitive but, more importantly, utterly non distracting. It’s adjustable for info, height and brightness, via the central touchscreen. It’s surprising just how unobtrusive a HUD is yet how useful it becomes without realising.
Soundwise, there’s little between the B&W system versus the Bose, with perhaps the Volvo’s system displaying a touch more separation in the notes, a sense of airiness and clarity to the ears.
Buying a car has, largely, been a matter of preference, allegiance too, such as a dedicated Holden or Ford supporter. This pair comes down, in this case, to personal preference and the Audi takes the chequered flag.
In A Wheel Thing’s opinion, touchscreen technology has its place in cars. Some minor layout tweaks and refinement for the Volvo’s would make it more user friendly and, with the presumption that the majority of buyers will have a measure of tech savvy that won’t reach the Volvo’s level of sophistication, may broaden the appeal somewhat.
The Audi’s tried and proven interface isn’t perfect, but for A Wheel Thing, it’s better.
The Audi drive modes, the feeling it’s a more capable soft roader and that torque, which in a real world driving scenario felt easier to live with, and offered to A Wheel Thing a more blokey handshake, wins the election on preference votes.
For info on the Audi Q7, click here: 2016 Audi Q7 Quattro
And for the Volvo: 2016 Volvo XC90 range
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