Luxury SUVs have never been hotter, and here we have two of the most desirable: the 2017 Volvo XC90 and 2017 Audi Q7. Although they exist in the same segment, they’re actually quite different, and those differences could easily determine how one might suit you better than the other. Let’s take a look at them.
2017 Audi Q7
2017 Volvo XC90
The XC90 saw even greater changes last year when it was redesigned for the first time in more than a decade. For 2017, its electronics interface has been updated to address customer usability complaints. There is also a new range-topping, ultra-luxury Excellence trim level. See all 2017 Volvo XC90 models available near you
Reliability has not been a strong point thus far for the XC90. The major reason seems to be its touchscreen interface, which suffered growing pains as the first vehicle in Volvo’s lineup to be so equipped. Updates for 2017 may address these issues, but there were also some powertrain customer complaints as well. Certainly something to be aware of when considering an XC90.
The Q7 is really too new at this point to fairly discuss its fuel economy, but its systems have at least already served duty in other Audi vehicles. The reliability of Audis in their early years is also historically quite good — it’s when they reach six years or so that the troubles tend to begin.
The XC90 is exclusively powered by 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engines. The T5 model produces 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, while returning 22 miles per gallon city, 25 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined with optional all-wheel drive. Standard front-wheel drive adds 1 mpg combined. The T6 model produces 316 hp and 295 lb-ft, while Environmental Protection Agency ratings indicate it should get 20 mpg city/25 mpg hwy and 22 mpg combined. In real-world testing, however, we’ve found the T6 gets worse fuel economy than its EPA estimates would indicate. Finally, the T8 is a plug-in hybrid model that adds electric power to that 4-cylinder engine. It produces 400 hp and 472 lb-ft, while being capable of traveling 14 miles on electricity alone and returning a 54 mpg-equivalent in combined driving.
The Q7 also comes standard with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, which produces 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The EPA says it should return 20 mpg city/25 mpg hwy and 22 mpg combined. However, the Q7 is available with a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 that produces 333 hp and 325 lb-ft, and returns 19 mpg city/25 mpg hwy and 21 mpg combined. We would guess that its real-world fuel economy should be closer to the EPA estimates than the XC90 T6’s.
If you like how German cars tend to feel big, heavy and solid when going down the road — particularly on the highway — you’re going to love the Q7. It’s even bigger, heavier and, ah, solider. The word "stately" comes to mind, and there’s a level of sophistication present that the XC90 cannot match.
At the same time, the XC90 is a lighter, lither vehicle. The Q7 can feel pretty cumbersome around corners and when maneuvering, while the Volvo is sharper and engages more with the driver. When you select Dynamic mode, it’s actually quite compelling to drive quickly. That’s something that can never be said about the Q7. On the other hand, the XC90’s ride can be busy at times and even harsh when equipped with 22-inch wheels. We’d avoid those.
The XC90 is one of the safest cars on the road. Besides a full complement of airbags, it comes standard with a forward-collision warning and automatic braking system that can detect pedestrians and cyclists, as well as other vehicles. Options include blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning and lane-keep assist. Volvo’s Pilot Assist II system is also a semi-autonomous driving function that takes care of accelerating, braking and steering at speeds up to 80 mph. Both the government and non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the highest possible crash ratings. Its accident avoidance tech also got top marks from the IIHS.
The Q7 is extremely safe as well. It too comes standard with a forward-collision warning and an automatic braking system that detects pedestrians and other vehicles, but it’s not a full speed system. To get that, you have to step up to the Q7’s adaptive cruise control. Blind spot monitoring and lane-keep assist are also available. The government hasn’t crash tested the Q7, but the IIHS gave it the same marks as the XC90.
As we mentioned in reliability, the XC90’s vertically-oriented touchscreen interface that controls most secondary functions has taken a hit from owners for glitches and usability issues. Software updates may correct the former, while we can report that changes to its menu layout has indeed improved the latter. Four tiles on the homepage constantly display navigation, audio, climate and smartphone information, making it easier to control the system. We especially like that you can control and view the standard Apple CarPlay controls at the same time as the Volvo system controls. In virtually every other car, including the Q7, you have to go back and forth between them — that’s annoying.
We think we could probably live with the XC90’s system, but the Q7’s latest version of Audi’s Multi-Media Interface (or MMI) is one of the best infotainment systems there. This is especially true when you opt for Virtual Cockpit, which adds a full display screen to the instrument cluster. This brings important infotainment functions closer to the driver’s line of sight and we’ve pleasantly found it to not be a distraction. The rest of Audi’s tech controls are pleasingly easy to use once the initial learning curve is overcome.
However, Audi does come with more tech equipment. Not only is Apple CarPlay standard, but so is Android Auto. A 4G Wi-Fi connection is also available along with Google Earth navigation displays. We also like that you can input letters and numbers by writing them with your finger on the MMI knob.
Interior Space, Quality and Design
Both the XC90 and Q7 offer beautiful cabins. The Volvo might be a tad more stylish, but the Q7 makes up for it with a bit better craftsmanship. We would classify both, however, as having two of the finest interiors around. We would caution you about the Volvo’s optional leather upgrade, though: lighter colors stain easily, and we’re not sure it’s really that much nicer than the regular leather option.
In terms of space, the XC90 has a clear advantage. Actual adults can fit in its third row, something that’s a rarity in the luxury 3-row segment. The Q7’s is for kids only, which is surprising given just how big this Audi looks, feels and generally is.
The Q7’s total cargo capacity also leaves something to be desired, managing a mere 71.6 cu ft. with both rear seats folded. That’s about what you’d get in a 2-row midsize crossover. Heck, a Honda CR-V has more. The XC90 offers a generous 85.7 cu ft. with the rear seats lowered, a number more in line with non-luxury 3-row family crossovers. In other words, you’re not giving up much in the way of utility by choosing a premium vehicle. For this reason, plus the excellent integrated child booster seat option, the XC90 is the superior family choice.
At first glance, the Volvo seems like the better deal. After all, its base price is more than $3,000 lower. However, it’s more complicated than that. For starters, that’s for a front-wheel-drive model. Add all-wheel drive, and the gap closes to $1,000. The Q7 also comes standard with more equipment, effectively wiping out the advantage. But then, one must consider that the Volvo’s interior is more spacious and that it doesn’t weigh as much — sure, both SUV’s base 4-cylinder engines have similar output ratings, but the Volvo has about 300 more pounds to lug around. In other words, you’ll feel less compelled to pay more for the engine upgrade.
The Volvo offers considerably more space, is a bit safer and quicker in its standard form, it’s sharper to drive and there’s even a plug-in hybrid model. To most eyes, it’s also one of the best-looking SUVs on the road — perhaps even THE best. The Q7 is definitely not, but it could ultimately be the wiser buy. Besides better reliability ratings, its interior craftsmanship and technology are superior, its ride is indulgent and the available V6 engine offers better power and (likely) real-world fuel economy than the Volvo’s T6 engine. It’s on Autotrader’s Must Test Drive list for 2017 for a reason. Really, your heart may say Volvo, but your head will probably be on Team Audi.