Volvo XC90 VS Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
- 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
- Stunning interior
- Superb space
- Comprehensive safety kit
- Unpleasant ride
- Four-cylinder diesel performance
- Challenging styling
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|
But this new version - the 2020 GLE - is exactly that. It's new.
The exterior is new. The engines are new. The underpinnings are new. The interior - yep, you guessed it - new.
Let's find out.
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.
All told, the Mercedes-Benz GLE 2020 model is an improvement in many ways over its predecessor. It's safer, more high-tech, considerably more luxurious and practical inside, and offers better value, too.
But, in 300d guise at least, it's let down by a slightly underdone engine, and suspension that just doesn't do a good enough job on rougher roads. It's close, but not close enough to be best in class.
Maybe that'll be a different case for the higher-grade versions with the most high-tech engines and the tricky optional suspension... we'll have to wait and see.
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.
You can make your own mind up about the styling of the new GLE. It's certainly more aggressive than the model that came before it, and Benz claims that it's the most aerodynamic SUV in its class.
The models on test were all fitted with the AMG styling pack and the bigger 21-inch multi-spoke wheels, and from some angles it's a striking car. I particularly like the way the rear-end treatment has worked for the GLE: the triangulated tail-lights, the lower bumper and the rear glass all work together well.
In profile, the GLE is quite challenging to look at. The rounded window-line is a bit awkward, and somehow the wheels just don't fit with the bulky guards (though I do like the way the AMG 21s poke out a bit at the back).
The front sees the diamond-style treatment to the grille for the AMG Line versions, but there's a lot of black plastic on the bumper, and the headlight shape gives it a bit of a droopy-eyed look. Is it just me, or is it a bit of a Bassett Hound?
It is a bigger car than before - 111mm longer (now 4930mm - and on an 80mm longer wheelbase, now 2995mm), and it's 15mm wider but 31mm lower - and it looks more substantial as a result. I'm just not sure it's pulling off its bulk as well as it could.
So the outside is pretty, er, interesting. We had comments from passersby to that effect, too, and in our comparison test it was the consensus of our team of experienced testers that the GLE had some challenging exterior design elements.
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.
The cabin presentation and pragmatism is excellent in the new-generation GLE. There was an existing version on site for us to compare, and to say it's like night-and-day would be generous to the old model.
A lot of that comes down to the MBUX twin 12.3-inch screens on top of the dash - one for all the driver instrumentation and controls, and the other for sat nav, media, car controls and other settings. They look great, and there are multiple ways to control them: the steering wheel controls, the touch pad between the front seats, the screen in the middle is touch-capacitive, and there's the much-bragged-about “Hey Mercedes” voice control system.
But it's more than just the screens: the finishes and materials used in the GLE are exceptional. The plastics are excellent, the brushed aluminium treatment that runs the width of the dash with ambient lighting, the surrounds on the vents (oh, so many vents!) - it all works so well together. But the open-pore wood finish is my favourite element, adding a touch of ruggedness that's also plush and luxurious.
The test cars all had the high-end leather treatment and optional bolster-heavy seats, and they're okay, but a little fiddly to adjust. I guess that's the beauty of driver profiles - the car will remember your favourite settings and make the adjustments as you get in or out by detecting the key.
There's also excellent storage throughout - the door pockets in all four doors are huge, there are cupholders front and rear, and loose item storage is decent, too. Plus there are heaps of USB-C (fast charging) ports up front and in the back.
Speaking of the back, the cars at launch all had the seven-seat package, which might appeal to you, or not. It's more than just a couple of seats in the back row, because it includes electric seat adjustment for the second row, with slide and recline functions allowing you to prioritise second- or third-row space.
The space in the second-row with the seats set as far back as they can go is excellent. There's heaps of room for someone my height (182cm) to sit behind a similar sized driver with ample knee room, headroom and shoulder room. You'll be able to fit three adults across the back, or if you have kids, there are three top-tether points and outboard ISOFIX child-seat anchors, too. No child seat restraints in the third row, though.
Whether you choose the five-seat or seven-seat option, the boot space remains the same at 825 litres with five seats in play. All models have an electric tailgate, too.
And if you're curious about the third row, it should be fine for anyone shorter than 175cm for shorter drives. It's not super spacious back there, and should be considered a 5+2 option. Really need a seven-seat Merc? You could get a GLS if you can afford it, or go for a V-Class luxury van. Go on. Do it!
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.
One thing that's really neat about the new Mercedes GLE range is that the brand has decided to specify each of the models exactly the same - that makes it simple for consumers, because essentially you're just paying more for a better engine.
That means the extensive standard equipment list is the same whether you choose the 300d entry-level diesel model at $99,900 (plus on-road costs), the mid-range petrol 450 model at $111,341, or the current range-topping six-cylinder diesel 400d at $118,142.
That may seem like a pretty slim range, but you can expect Mercedes-AMG to offer two additional performance-oriented models - the GLE 53 and the GLE 63 S - in 2020. And, for context, the current BMW X5 ranges from $112,990 to $149,900, while the Porsche Cayenne lineup spans from $117,000 to $242,000.
Standard equipment includes the company's MBUX multimedia system with dual 12.3-inch screens, LED lighting with adaptive high beam headlights, 20-inch alloy wheels, a power tailgate, 360-degree parking camera, colour head-up display, the company's 'Artico' leatherette upholstery with heated front seats, DAB+ digital radio and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
There are multiple ways to personalise and customise your GLE, but one that's expected to attract a lot of custom is the “7 Seat Package” which adds third-row seats for people up to 180cm tall, and also incorporates electric second row seat adjustment (tilt and slide) and electric seat folding. The pack is $3900.
Other option boxes include the AMG Sport Package ($9900, comprising an AMG bodykit, panoramic roof, wireless phone charging and leather upholstery), the Night Package ($4800, adds black exterior accents), the Vision Package ($4200, including panoramic roof, wireless charging, 13-speaker Burmester sound system) and the Energising Package Plus ($6200, adding multi-contour front seats with massaging, heated armrests, air fragrances).
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.
Powering the Mercedes-Benz GLE is a selection of engines, with petrol and diesel offered.
The entry-level power plant is the 300d, which uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine with 180kW of power (at 4200rpm) and 500Nm of torque (from 1600-2400rpm). It has a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive as standard.
The range-topping diesel is a thumper. It's the 400d, which runs a 2.9-litre turbo-diesel six-cylinder with 243kW of power (at 4000rpm) and 700Nm of torque (from 1200-3000rpm). It also has a nine-speed auto and AWD standard.
The sole petrol model at launch is the 450, which employs a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine with 270kW of power (at 5500rpm) and 500Nm (at 1600-4500rpm). It uses a nine-speed automatic transmission with AWD, but this version is the only one with mild-hybrid tech, using 48-volt EQ Boost tech to help add 16kW and 250Nm for short stints of added performance (0-100km/h in just 5.7 seconds, apparently), and allowing the engine to shut off under light throttle or lift-off situations.
If you plan to tow, there's a factory-fit tow pack available that allows 750kg unbraked and 3500kg braked towing across all grades. This pack is the one from the factory - remember that - and it costs $1900. If you instead fit one as an aftermarket fit, the figures are 750kg/2700kg respectively.
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.
Fuel consumption varies between the models, as you'd expect.
The 300d is the most frugal of the mix, with an official combined cycle fuel use claim of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres. The 400d, with its bigger six-cylinder diesel, is said to use 7.7L/100km. The 450 petrol model has the highest claimed fuel use, at 9.1L/100km, and that's despite the fact it's the only version of this trio to bring electrification into the mix with the EQ Boost 48-volt mild hybrid system.
On test at the launch of the GLE we saw a displayed return of 9.4L/100km for the 300d model, but there was a fair bit of country road and highway driving in the mix.
All versions of the GLE are fitted with an 85-litre fuel 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.
The launch drive was limited to the 300d variant, though I did get a chance to sample the version with air suspension, as well as the model with the standard steel suspension.
Now, before we get too nerdy, this is an important element for a luxury SUV. Ride comfort is arguably as vital as effortless power. And, sadly for the GLE, neither model sets any benchmarks for suspension control and comfort.
The steel-sprung model doesn't have adaptive suspension at all, meaning that it can be bouncy, wobbly, unsettled and stiff all at the same time. The country road I sampled it on showed that the standard suspension offered up a quite nervous experience, never feeling as settled as a luxury SUV really ought to.
The air suspension version is definitely better, but still not as good as a BMW X5, Audi Q7 or VW Touareg. It lacks the body control and comfort that a true luxury SUV ought to offer.
Now, that might matter to you, or it might not. You might think the look of the car - with 20s, 21s or 22s filling the guards - is more important than how it deals with lumps and bumps. But it's our job to tell you how the land lies, and the GLE simply can't match the better SUVs in this segment as a driver's tool.
There is another level of suspension which the CarsGuide team (myself included) hasn't yet had the chance to sample - the E-Active Body Control system, which includes curve-tilting so it can make the car feel level through corners, and a system that'll scan the road ahead to predict bumps and lumps and prime the suspension to deal with it. That system is $13,000... and, while I haven't sampled it yet, it's my hope that it makes all the difference to the GLE.
So, what about the other driving elements? Well the steering is light and accurate, and decently responsive at low speeds or highway pace, and you're never left guessing as to what'll happen.
The engine, too, is decent - a 2.0-litre with 180kW and 500Nm is nothing to be sneezed at - but in a vehicle this large, with a kerb weight of 2165kg, and with a nine-speed automatic taking care of forward progress, it can be a busy engine.
That's because the transmission will shuffle between ratios when you encounter a hill as it doesn't quite have the grunt to simply stick in a gear and tug you along. It's not that big of a deal, and the transmission is smooth enough and pretty hard to catch out, but it is a little less effortless than a six-cylinder would no doubt be.
All in all, I was left wanting more from the drive experience. Maybe the higher-grade models with the highest-grade suspension will prove a better flag waver for the new-generation GLE.
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 Mercedes-Benz GLE has achieved the highest possible five-star ANCAP safety rating under the stricter 2019 criteria. Indeed, the GLE was given the best ever score for child occupant safety.
The GLE is loaded with the safety technology and equipment you would expect. There's auto emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist (with active lane assist - it will merge into the next lane when you indicate), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a 360-degree camera with reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, semi-autonomous parking, and driver fatigue detection.
The GLE has nine airbags (dual front, front side, driver's knee, rear side, full-length curtain).
All GLE models have three top-tether restraints for child seats, and dual ISOFIX anchors in the second row. The seven-seat model has no third-row child restraints.
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.
Mercedes-Benz stands by its three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, stating at the launch it has no plans to extend it to match what most of the mainstream brands now offer (five years). But it's not alone in the luxury segment in that regard.
The big point the company's local reps made was that they're trying to lower the cost of ownership for customers through servicing packages. You can pre-pay them, or you can pay as you go (PAYG).
The GLE requires maintenance every 12 months or 25,000km. The pre-pay option is $2700 for the first three years/75,000km of maintenance or, if you decide to PAYG, the costs are $850, $1200 and $1250 (totalling $3300 over the same period). It makes sense to pre-pay then, and you can bundle the cost into your finance, too, so you'll notice it less.
There is three years roadside assist included at no cost if you buy the car brand new, as it coincides with the warranty period.