Volvo XC90 VS Audi SQ7
- Stylish inside and out
- Powerful four-cylinder engine
- Spacious cabin
- Cabin storage could be better
- Quiet exhaust note doesn't match brutish looks
- Touchscreen takes getting used to
- Exhaust sound actuator
- Couldn’t match claimed economy
- Warranty off the pace
Does the Volvo XC90 R-Design T6 have what it takes to match other large seven-seat prestige SUVs... or is it even better?
This Volvo XC90 is where it all began for Volvo way back in 2014. Okay, let me rephrase that, it wasn't the beginning of Volvo – that was in 1927. This second-generation XC90 was a kind of new beginning for Volvo because it brought with it the styling and technology rules for the brand's future models. But how does it hold up now?
See, when the new XC90 arrived in Australia in 2015 it wowed us with its large portrait display, advanced safety equipment and 'Hammer of Thor' headlights. Since then, safety and tech has come along way - has the XC90 been left behind?
And while on the topic of reality checks: what's this large seven-seat SUV like to live with – how did it cope with our nightmare car park test?
We tested the XC90 R-Design T6. What the heck does that mean? Well the T6 refers to the engine – it's a four-cylinder petrol – and R-Design is the highest trim level.
A four cylinder… in a giant SUV? Yep, we'll get to that.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Australians can’t get enough of big, burly, luxurious SUVs. Since the Audi SQ7 arrived here in late 2016, a laundry list of high-end, high-performance family trucksters have been refreshed, renewed, or revealed, pushing competition at the top end of the market towards boiling point.
So, after just 18 months in market, how does this brutally quick, seven-seat mothership stand up to a swag of compelling key competitors chasing upper-luxury performance SUV supremacy?
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
The XC90 may have been the first of Volvo's new breed of cars, but it remains exceptional in its styling, refinement, technology and safety. The R-Design trim level makes it the burger with almost the lot in that it still gives you room to option more and doesn't assume you want, say a sunroof, when you might not.
The T6 engine is excellent – powerful, with plenty of torque. All that's missing is a beefy soundtrack to go with this brute of an SUV. A cool alternative to a large SUV from BMW, Benz and Audi.
Would the XC90 R-Design T6 be on your prestige SUV shopping list? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Audi SQ7 is fast, beautifully built, and dynamically outstanding. It’s also practical, flexible, and loaded with useful driver assistance, media and safety tech. Can an SUV costing north of $150k be considered good value for money? Yep.
Is the Audi SQ7 your performance SUV of choice? Let us know in the comments.
Can you believe the current Volvo XC90 came into the world in 2014 and still looks this good? Signature elements are the giant grille with its oversized badge, the 'Hammer of Thor' headlights, the unmistakable Volvo tail-lights and the tall profile with enormous windows. Yup, the XC90 is still a futuristic, stylish and elegant-looking brute.
The R-Design trim level enhances the look by adding a gloss-black grille, body-coloured side skirts and bumpers, silver wing mirror caps, aluminium roof rails, a roof-top spoiler, fog lights in the front spoiler, dual tail pipes and the 20-inch alloys you can see in the images.
The modern, minimalist design cabin has also aged well – although the portrait-orientated screen now feels a bit small. I remember writing about how outrageously large it was when it was launched – and then I sat in a Tesla with its mega touchscreen, taking displays to a whole new level.
The R-Design spec makes its presence known in the cabin, too, with the R-Design steering wheel, R-Design Sport pedals and R-Design carpet; it also adds carbon-fibre door inlays and a leather illuminated gearshift knob.
The R-Design trim level also gives buyers two seat trim choices – Nappa leather/Nubuck or Nappa perforated leather. Both are no-cost options and our test car featured the perforated hide.
How big is the XC90? Let's take a look at this seven-seater SUV's dimensions. The XC90 is just less than 5.0m long, more than 2.0m wide (with mirrors) and nearly 1.8m tall.
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, the SQ7 is large. At a little under 5.1m long, just shy of 2.0m wide and over 1.7m high, it’s a beefy bus.
But Audi has applied its cool, calm and collected design language to this expansive canvas, resulting in a neat, relatively conservative look that masks the car’s oversize proportions.
A huge version of Audi’s signature ‘single frame’ grille dominates the nose, with confident, straight character lines defining the bonnet shape and the top of the car’s flanks.
Another clue to the SQ7’s size is the fact the optional 21-inch rims fitted to our test example, sitting under gently flared arches, look (proportionally) smaller than the 16s fitted to a Mazda CX-3 Neo.
The rear broadens slightly, while the turret and glasshouse taper distinctly towards the back, and the simple rear end treatment echoes the other 'numbers' in Audi’s SUV line-up (Q3, Q5, and the soon-to-arrive Q8) - although the recently released compact Q2 breaks the mould with a chunkier, more geometric approach.
The interior is all class, with a beautifully finished, swooping dashtop rising over a compact instrument binnacle that houses Audi’s all-digital ‘Virtual Cockpit’ display. The only other interruption is the standard 8.3-inch high-res colour media screen rising proudly from the centre of the dash.
Air vents live inside a long section of horizontal lines across the face of the dash, and ‘our’ car had optional brushed metal and chrome-finish highlights underneath and across the broad centre console.
Standard ambient lighting adds subtle illumination to the centre console and door sill trims, with no less than 30 colours available.
Attention to detail in the look, feel and finish of the ‘Velcona’ leather-trimmed seats is hard to fault, and overall, it’s clear quality was a key driver here.
It's a giant box on wheels, how could be it be impractical? Actually, there are ways it could be more practical, but first the good points.
There's plenty of room. This is one of the few seven-seat SUVs where even at 191cm tall I can sit behind my driving position with space to spare, and then behind that position in the third row with just enough room for my legs. Headroom in the second row is excellent, but the third row is getting tight although my head still isn't touching the roof.
The doors to the second row are large providing a tall and wide opening for easy entry and exit. The third row is a bit tricky to get into, but I haven't met a single seven-seat SUV where entry into the third-row is a breeze.
Even though the XC90 does well to slide and fold its second row (40/20/40 split) forward, I still ended up crawling in on my hands and knees. Older kids will be able to leap in, so put them back there.
The boot is enormous and with the optional air suspension the XC90 can lower itself like an elephant getting down on its knees to make it easier for you to load stuff into the back. Yup, with all seats up you have 314 litres of boot space; with the third row folded flat you'll have a cargo capacity of 1019 litres, and with all of the seats folded (no not the front ones), there's 1868 litres. Those are measured in ISO litres which are different to the VDA litres used by many other car makers.
Storage throughout the cabin is good but could be better. There are two cupholders in the third row, two in the second and another two up front, and while the storage boxes in the armrests in the third row are an excellent idea, the second row just has small door pockets and seat-back cargo nets. It would be good to see drawers under the seats or even a fold out tray from the centre console.
Storage in the front isn't great either – that long sliding panel next to the shifter (you can see it in the images) houses the cupholders, the glove box is also on the smaller side and so is the storage area under that armrest – but it does contain two USB ports. There's one 12-volt power outlet in the second row, another in the boot and a cigarette lighter (or another 12-volt) in the front.
There's four zone climate control – and directional air vents in all three rows.
No surprises here. There’s plenty of room inside, with heaps of breathing space for the driver and passenger, not to mention two big cupholders in the centre console, with a slot for the weighty key in-between them.
There’s also a decent glove box, a lidded storage box between the front seats, a couple of oddments trays (one covered) in the console and generous door bins with bottle holders in the doors. Connectivity is taken care of with USB and aux-in ports, as well as a 12-volt power socket.
Second-row passengers are also sorted, with ample leg and headroom. In fact, Audi claims more than a metre of space between the rear seat base and the headliner.
The centre seat is split 35/30/35, with each segment able to slide fore and aft to increase passenger and load space flexibility. Again, there are door bins with space for bottles, with other storage running to a flip-down centre armrest with twin cupholders (although they’re appreciably smaller than those in the front), and map pockets on the front seatbacks.
Standard four-zone climate control not only means there are air vents for centre row passengers (in the back of the centre console and the rear of the B-pillars), but individual temperature controls for each side of the car. Nice. Plus, there are two 12-volt power outlets back there, as well.
A simple fold-and-roll mechanism for the two outer centre-row seats minimises the acrobatic prowess required to gain access to the 50/50-split third row. As with most seven seaters, the way-back seat is tight for grown-ups but perfectly acceptable occasional accommodation for kids up to about year-nine size, with cupholders and oddments trays thrown in.
When it comes to load space, the SQ7 scores a big tick for its auto tailgate and the sheer volume of its cargo space. Even with the third-row seats upright there’s 235 litres of space available. Enough to hold the CarsGuide pram, with some room for soft bags left over.
Press the buttons on the wall of the load area and the back seats fold (electronically) to expand that number to 705 litres. More than enough to hold our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres), and the pram.
With the second and third row lowered you will have a mega 1890 litres to play with; enough to open a small shop from which you might sell luggage and prams.
The addition of tie-down anchors, a small netted pocket behind the passenger side wheel tub (complete with first-aid kit), yet another 12-volt socket, strategically placed shopping bag hooks and useful lighting push the practicality factor through the roof. The only snag is the lack of a spare wheel (of any description), a repair/inflator kit your only option in the event of a puncture.
Price and features
The Volvo XC90 R-Design T6 lists for $104,900, plus on-road costs. The trim level below, with the T6 engine, is the Inscription which lists for $102,900, and the entry-model is the Momentum for $96,900.
So, while nearly $105K might seem like a lot (especially once you add the on-road costs) you can feel comfortable knowing it's actually mighty fine value for money considering the amount of equipment you're given in return.
Coming standard is the 9.0-inch portrait touchscreen and the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a head-up display and sat nav, there's a 10-speaker 330W stereo, Bluetooth and internet connectivity, Apple CarPlay and Android auto, digital radio, 360-degree parking camera, gear shifting paddles, power and heated front seats, four-zone climate control, a pop-out booster child seat in the second row, bending LED headlights, fog lights and a proximity key.
That's along with all the R-Design gear which we covered in the section above and the extensive safety equipment list which we'll cover below.
Our test car was fitted with the $8000 'Premium Package' which brings sunblinds for the rear doors, a Bowers & Wilkins sound system, air suspension, plus tailored dashboard and door trims. The 'Bursting Blue' metallic paint our car wore is a $1900 option.
Worried you're paying too much? Fear not, because relative to most other prestige seven-seat SUVs the XC90 R-Design T6 is at the more affordable end of the pricing spectrum.
Audi's Q7 3.0TDI Quattro lists for $106,900, Mercedes-Benz's GLS 350d is $118,729, while the Land Rover Discovery TD6 HSE manages to undercut it at $103,000.
It's interesting to note that while the XC90 T6 has a petrol engine, those rivals are diesels. Audi doesn't make a petrol Q7, Land Rover does make petrol Discoveries but only sell diesel ones in Australia, and as for a Benz GLS petrol there's only one - the GLS 500 and that lists for $165,129, which is $60K higher than our Volvo XC90.
With cost-of-entry sitting at $155,511 (before on-road costs), the SQ7 lines up against five well established, performance-luxury SUV competitors at the ‘around $150k’ price point; namely the BMW X5 M50d ($144,990), a relative newcomer in the shape of the Maserati Levante Gransport ($159,990), the Mercedes-AMG GLE 43 Coupe ($146,200), the recently renewed Porsche Cayenne S ($155,100), and the Range Rover Sport SD V8 HSE ($150,200).
So, it’s fair to expect a big basket of standard fruit, and the SQ7 doesn’t come up short.
Highlights include ‘Valcona’ leather upholstery (with S embossing on the front seat backrest), sport front seats (heated and electrically adjustable with electric lumbar support and memory for the driver), four-zone climate control air, ambient lighting, the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument display, rain-sensing wipers, a leather-covered sports steering wheel, adaptive cruise control and adaptive air suspension.
You’ll also pick up 20-inch alloy rims, Audi’s ‘Parking system plus’ (sensors front and rear with reversing camera), as well as a 360-degree camera (four wide-angle cameras covering the area immediately around the vehicle), a head-up display (in colour with speed, nav and assistance info), auto LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED tail-lights with dynamic indicators.
And before you start scoffing at those ‘show-off’ scrolling indicators, it’s worth remembering their safety value. As you’ve possibly discovered, too, in misty or foggy conditions, knowing a car up ahead on the freeway is not only changing lanes, but which direction it’s heading in is a huge plus.
But we’re not done yet, the standard features column also includes ‘Audi connect’, including an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a Bose 3D Surround Sound System (19 speakers and a 15-channel 558 watt amp), DAB+ digital radio, and ‘MMI touch’ including nav through the 8.3-inch high-res touchscreen (3D maps, voice control and free text search including handwriting recognition).
Worth noting, though, our test example was loaded with an A3 Sportback’s worth of extras, namely ‘Matrix LED’ headlights - $2200, 21-inch Audi Sport alloys - $4000, the ‘Dynamic Package’ (quattro sport differential, all-wheel steering, electromechanical active-roll stabilisation) - $13,500, a Bang & Olufsen 3D Advanced Sound System - $11,340, Inlays (alternate materials) - $3800, phone box light (wireless charging) - $500, red brake calipers - $950, and premium paint (‘Sepang Blue’) - $7950 (yee-ouch!).
All of that adds up to $44,200, bringing this example within a whisker of $200k.
Engine & trans
You may have noticed in the images that our test car wears a tiny blue square on its tailgate. This is the badge of Volvo's Polestar performance tuning division. All R-Design XC90s come with the 'Polestar Optimisation' package which increases the T6's power output from 235kW to 246kW and its torque from 400Nm to 440Nm.
The Polestar Optimisation package also recalibrates the XC90's throttle response and increases the shifting speed of the eight-speed automatic.
Acceleration from 0-100km/h according to Volvo is 6.4 seconds which is a tenth of a second quicker than an 'un-Polestar-optimised' T6 - say in the Inscription T6 or Momentum T6.
The XC90 R-Design T6 is all-wheel drive and for the five of you out there who will ask, including my father in-law – it's a Haldex 'Generation 5' system.
My bet is the same people will also want to know its braked towing capacity: 2400kg.
The SQ7 is powered by a 4.0-litre, double overhead cam, 90-degree, twin-turbo diesel V8 producing a maximum of 320kW (429hp) from 3750–5000rpm, and 900Nm across a broad plateau of just 1000rpm up to 3250rpm (perfectly placed for peak power to take over at 3750rpm).
Featuring common-rail, direct-injection and variable valve lift (on the exhaust side), the engine gets its added oomph from twin, sequential-charging turbos and an electric compressor (EPC) that acts like a supercharger to keep the turbos spooled up when they’re on low pressure, or completely off-boost.
It’s an amazing set-up that virtually eradicates turbo-lag, with Audi claiming the EPC can accelerate the turbos up to 70,000rpm in less than 250 milliseconds! The arrangement is powered by a 48-volt electrical sub-system delivering a peak output of up to 13kW.
The eight-speed torque converter auto transmission features a Tiptronic function for manual changes via the main selector or wheel-mounted shift paddles.
Drive goes to all four wheels via Audi’s quattro permanent all-wheel drive with asymmetric torque split and self-locking centre diff. Default drive distribution is 40 front/60 rear, with up to 85 per cent able to go to the rear, and 70 per cent to the front axle as required.
Volvo says the T6 four-cylinder turbo- and supercharged petrol engine with its eight-speed auto should use 8.5L/100km over a combination of open and urban roads – this goes for the Polestar Optimised T6, too.
We measured our test car's fuel economy at the petrol pump and calculated that after 246km of mainly suburban and city running we were using 14.3L/100km. The trip computer reported a slightly higher figure of 14.5L/100km.
Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 7.2 litres per 100 km, emitting 190g/km of CO2 in the process. They would be outstanding figures for a hefty, high-performance, seven-seat SUV.
Even with the help of the SQ7’s standard stop-start system, over roughly 300km of city, suburban and freeway driving we couldn’t match the claimed number, recording 11.3L/100km (at the bowser). And speaking of filling up, you’ll need 85 litres of diesel to brim the tank.
At 5.0m long, 2.0m wide and nearly 1.8m tall the XC90 R-Design T6 is big, but in comparison to other large SUVs it's one of the easiest to drive.
The images in this review were taken at the top of an eight-storey carpark: it's a good place to take photos of my review cars and at the same time test pilot them through probably the worst-designed car park you'll encounter.
Narrow ramps and tight turns are not really ideal conditions for a large SUV but the great visibility through the XC90's big windows, the excellent field of vision offered by the wing mirrors, the light steering and smooth throttle response made climbing to the summit pretty simple.
The flat, broad bonnet helps with being able to see exactly how much room you have between the concrete pylon and an insurance claim, too. Other large SUVs with curvaceous lines and noses that dip away from sight will have you sitting up like a meerkat trying to see how much room you have.
A four-cylinder petrol engine may seem small for such a large SUV but the T6 is outstanding – it's efficient and impressively powerful. Not once did I feel like it was lacking in grunt, but there were many times I wished the exhaust note sounded beefier.
Our car had the optional air suspension which for the most part turned out a composed and comfortable ride, although being fitted with fairly low profile tyres on large wheels (Continental ContiSport Contact5 275/45 R20) meant when the road surface turned bad the ride suffered.
And these aren't even the largest wheels. The R-Design T6 comes with no-cost option 22-inch wheels – they look good, but you'd be wise to try them before you buy.
The touchscreen will take some getting used to – I kept discovering more hidden 'pages' and functions the more I swiped around it.
A serenely quiet cabin, comfortable seats with uber-stylish surrounds, a commanding driving position and not being in just another German SUV made the experience even more special.
With every one of its 900Nm available from just 1000rpm, the SQ7 feels like an erupting volcano from step-off. Audi claims 0-100km/h in 4.9sec, and there’s no doubt it’s properly quick. No 2.4-tonne SUV has a right to accelerate this fast, and the mid-range thrust is formidable, too.
And when it comes to transferring that forward thrust into lateral grip, the SQ7 pulls off a better than passing impression of a much smaller, lighter, lower vehicle.
The electrically-assisted steering delivers satisfying road feel, and the standard air suspension (working in parallel with a five-link independent set-up front and rear) manages to combine excellent ride comfort with impressive body control (thanks in no small part to electromechanical active roll stabilisation) and cornering accuracy.
In ‘enthusiastic’ cornering, grip from the (optional) 21-inch 285/40 Continental ContiSportContact rubber is tenacious, without any discernible penalty in terms of noise or harshness at lower speeds.
The eight-speed torque converter auto transmission features a Tiptronic function for manual changes via the main selector or wheel-mounted shift paddles. It’s quick and smooth in auto mode, and shifts rapidly in the manual setting.
The front sports seats are as comfortable as they are grippy (how good are heated seats on cold mornings, by the way?), and the big ventilated brakes slow this big car calmly and progressively.
While it may not bother you, one thing I’m not a fan of is the sound actuator in the exhaust system. The SQ7 sounds gruff and grunty, more like a petrol V8, but that’s because the system is modifying the noises. It’s like (spoilers) learning Santa Clause isn’t real. Once you know, things are never the same.
If this was Family Feud and the question was: 'Name a type of car that's safe? I'd bet the answer would be 'Volvo' every time. I'd also wonder if Volvo had paid for the question to be asked on the show.
Anyway, the reputation is justified and the brand continues to pioneer life-saving technology and equip its cars with the latest safety gear.
What's just as noble is how Volvo applies the full range of safety systems to all grades of XC90 – so even the base grade Momentum T6 comes with the same safety features as the R-Design T6.
This includes AEB which Volvo says is active from four km/h and can brake effectively to avoid a collision with a pedestrian at up to 45km/h. At speeds higher than 45km/h but below 70km/h the collision is mitigated.
According to Volvo the system will also detect cyclists and if one swerves into the path of the car, the XC 90 can reduced its speed by up to 50km/h. As for other cars, the XC90 can brake to avoid a collision if the speed difference between the cars is less than 30km/h.
The XC90 is also equipped with adaptive cruise control with stop and go function, lane keeping assistance, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert with AEB that works while reversing.
A run-off mitigation feature also brakes and uses evasive steering to pull the car back into its lane if the vehicle accidentally starts to veer off the road.
The XC90 is fitted with front airbags, side airbags, driver knee airbag, plus second and third row inflatable curtains.
For child and baby seats you'll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top tether points across the second row – there aren't any in the third row.
The XC90 R-Design T6 has a space saver spare located under the boot floor.
Chinese company Geely own Volvo, but the XC90s that are sold in Australia are made in Sweden.
As you’d expect, the SQ7 pulls out all stops on active safety tech, featuring ABS, EBD, ESC, ASR, as well as ‘Audi pre-sense city’ with Auto Emergency Braking (AEB) and pedestrian detection (detects impending collisions at up to 85 km/h), and ‘Attention assist’ (alert tone and visual signal if the system senses the driver’s attention may be lapsing).
There’s also an Electronic Differential Lock (EDL), adaptive cruise control with ‘Stop & Go’ function, side assist (including pre-sense rear), rear cross-traffic alert, active lane assist, and ‘Exit warning’ (detects cars and cyclists when opening doors and provides a visual warning to occupants).
Plus, you can expect the Parking system plus system, 'Park assist' (self-parking for parallel or perpendicular spaces), the 360-degree camera, and a head-up display.
But if all that isn’t enough to avoid an impact, passive safety features include airbags for the driver and front passenger, side airbags (seat-mounted for front and rear passengers), head level curtain airbags (for front and rear passengers) and an active bonnet to minimise injuries in the event of a pedestrian collision.
The current (second-gen) Q7 scored a maximum five ANCAP stars when it was assessed in late 2015. And amazingly, top tether and ISOFIX child restraint anchor points are provided for all five seating positions in the centre and rear rows.
The XC90 is covered by Volvo's three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is recommended every 15,000km or 12months – whichever comes first.
There are two service programs offered for the XC90. There's the 'SmartCare' plan which costs $2225 for three years/45,000km; $3500 for four years/60,000km and $4230 for five years/75,000km. Then there's the 'SmartCare Plus' plan which costs $3050 for three years/45,000km; $5350 for four years/60,000km and $6540 for five years/75,000km.
It would be good to see Volvo offer capped price servicing, which doesn't need to be purchased as an additional piece of coverage.
Audi offers a three-year/unlimited-km warranty (as well as roadside assist for the same period), which is starting to lag the market when even Ford and Holden are at five years/unlimited km now, without even thinking about Kia’s seven years and Tesla’s eight.
On the up-side, Audi also offers a three-year paint warranty, along with a 12-year rust perforation guarantee.
Maintenance is scheduled by the on-board service indicator (up to 12 months/15,000km), and a three-year/45,000km ‘Audi Service Plan’ fixed-price service plan is available for $1900.