COMPARISON TEST CHARIOTS OF THE DADS #2016
LUXURY SUVS ARE NOW THE PREFERRED BATTLE WAGONS OF MONTESSORI PARKING LOTS.
BMW X5 xDRIVE35i
POWER 300 hp
TORQUE 300 lb-ft
WEIGHT 4974 lb
C/D OBSERVED MPG 17
VOLVO XC90 T6 AWD INSCRIPTION
POWER 316 hp
TORQUE 295 lb-ft
WEIGHT 4706 lb
C/D OBSERVED MPG 17,6
LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT HSE
POWER 340 hp
TORQUE 332 lb-ft
WEIGHT 5183 lb
C/D OBSERVED MPG 15
AUDI Q7 3.0T
POWER 333 hp
TORQUE 325 lb-ft
WEIGHT 5080 lb
C/D OBSERVED MPG 17
The ramifications of the crossover — or, more accurately, the unibody SUV — are still vibrating through the luxury segment. Americans just can’t get enough of these pricey family haulers, and buyers are even beginning to choose them over like-sized sedans. To wit: Audi expects the new Q7 to outsell the A6 in a year or two, and the BMW X5 already trumps the 5-series. After only nine months on the market, the redesigned Volvo XC90 is the Swedish brand’s bestseller. And more Americans take home a Land Rover Range Rover Sport than Jaguar sells cars, a big factor in Jag’s decision to build the forthcoming F-Pace SUV.
Practicality is a major reason these crossovers are eating away at mid-size sedan sales. So, in the interest of practicality, we decided to compare the most practical three-row versions, settling on a somewhat impractical price point of $70,000, give or take a few grand. Entering those parameters into the C/D comparators spit out the four SUVs here. To keep the playing field. The ramifications of the crossover — or, more accurately, the unibody SUV — are still vibrating through the luxury segment. Americans just can’t get enough of these pricey family haulers, and buyers are even beginning to choose them over like-sized sedans. To wit: Audi expects the new Q7 to outsell the A6 in a year or two, and the BMW X5 already trumps the 5-series. After only nine months on the market, the redesigned Volvo XC90 is the Swedish brand’s bestseller. And more Americans take home a Land Rover Range Rover Sport than Jaguar sells cars, a big factor in Jag’s decision to build the forthcoming F-Pace SUV.
Practicality is a major reason these crossovers are eating away at mid-size sedan sales. So, in the interest of practicality, we decided to compare the most practical three-row versions, settling on a somewhat impractical price point of $70,000, give or take a few grand. Entering those parameters into the C/D comparotron spit out the four SUVs here. To keep the playing field reasonably level, we equipped each vehicle with a third row of course (optional on the BMW and Rover), power everything, a huge sunroof, active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and other safety equipment that allows these crossovers to trundle down the highway with brief moments of autonomy. Of the four we’ve gathered, the BMW X5 is the undisputed sales champ. BMW averages 45,000 South Carolina – built BMW X5 sales per year in the U.S. Present at the creation of the segment, BMW launched the X5 for 2000 and delivered the third-gen model for the 2014 model year. Add up the options and the 300hp X5 xDrive35i F15 that starts at a reasonable $57,195 swells into the $68,270 machine tested here.
Audi didn’t sell an SUV until 2006, but the Q7 made up for its tardiness with a big dose of goodness. In the intervening years, updates kept the Q7 fresh and sales strong. The new Q7 is so new that it skips model-year 2016 entirely to jump right to 2017.
The Audi’s price starts at $55,750, but bringing its equipment level in line with the rest of the group means ponying up $9500 for the Prestige trim level. With a few more options — such as the Driver Assistance package, adaptive air suspension, and Glacier White paint — the price rises to $72,875.
The Volvo-XC90 is another freshly redesigned luxury crossover. Built on a new platform, the XC90 has the only four-cylinder engine in the class — but a four that is a 316-hp 2.0-liter powerhouse with both a supercharger and a turbocharger strapped to it. It does an amazing impersonation of a larger engine, but the “small heart in a big three-row SUV” strategy reminds us of the ticker in a Great Dane. Those big dogs don’t live long, and the Volvo’s 2.0-liter had us wondering how durable its hardworking heart will prove to be.
The XC90 T6 AWD has a base price of $50,795, but the Inscription trim level’s LED headlights, walnut inlays, vented seats, and decadently soft leathers add $5600. Include the safety and luxury goods that bring parity with the rest of the group and the price goes up to $67,055, still the least expensive of the test.
On the other end of the price scale is the Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE, a chunk of aluminum that starts at $65,945 but runs to $87,281 when equipped as the others. We could chip away at a few options, such as the Meridian Premium Audio system ($1850), the towing package ($650), black-lacquer wood ($350), rubber mats ($537), and wheel locks ($134), but even without all that, the Range Rover Sport is still more than $80,000. We considered the less dear LR4, but concluded that its body-on-frame architecture — what Land Rover calls integrated body frame — would make it an outlier in the group.
Also considered, but cut for its lack of a third row, was the Mercedes-Benz-GLE (formerly the M-class). To get a third row in a Benz SUV requires the larger and more expensive GLS, or the SUV formerly known as the GL-class. We didn’t include the GLS out of concern that its size and price were excessive for this test. This was admittedly before we found out the Range Rover Sport’s as-tested price. Other three-row lux SUVs, such as the Acura MDX, Infiniti QX60, Lexus GX470, and Lincoln MKT, were all deemed too inexpensive, hence this fab four.
What is the strongest-selling #SUV
of the bunch, the one that basically invented the segment, doing in the caboose?
After all, it has the safety and electronic features to play in this game, and its $68,270 price undercuts all but the Volvo. Under the hood is BMW’s superb turbocharged inline-six. It whirs and purrs with a nearly magical lack of vibration or harshness, delivering big, smooth power and decent fuel economy. Its zero-to-60 run is second only to the Q7’s, and its 4974-pound mass is lighter than the aluminum-rich Audi and Land Rover. More upright than the Q7 and the Landie, the X5 has an expansive greenhouse and a panoramic view out. Drive any of the other three, however, and the X5 disappoints. The light steering stiffens up in sport mode, but nothing can change the BMW’s lack of steering precision.
It requires more corrections on straight roads than the others need. A soft suspension soaks up bumps and the structure is unshakable, but there’s a pause before the chassis takes a set. The body leans more than the other three, and the stability control steps in more than we’d like, even when the X5 claims “DSC off.” The BMW posted the slowest slalom speed and the second-lowest grip (0.79 g). The tires almost feel overinflated even at their recommended pressures. Features editor Jeff Sabatini lamented the X5’s lack of BMWness. “Kind of shocked how little it feels like a BMW. It’s missing that planted and in-control driving quality that made BMW famous,” he wrote. The rest of us agreed, which is why the X5 places last in the fun-to-drive category.
New for 2014, the X5 suffers from premature aging. Inside, the dour black interior is uninspired, dull, and dated. This looks like a $50,000 SUV, not one pushing $70,000. Displays in the gauge cluster, head-up unit, and center screen lack the clarity and sophistication of the ones in the Volvo and Audi. The LED lighting in the doors and instrument panel appears to be an afterthought. BMW’s analog gauges, though, are a welcome bit of timeless style. Back-seat riders get big windows and good legroom. The wayback cushion is low, forcing knees up into chests, and headroom there is severely lacking and the worst of the group. This row should only be used for short distances. Presumably to assuage the suffering of third-row contortionists, BMW gives them their own climate vents.
No one praised the X5’s exterior styling. Road-test editor Mike Sutton was the kindest when he called it “forgettable.” The available $4450 M Sport package greatly improves the curb appeal, but when it costs that much to make a nearly $70,000 SUV look good, that’s a problem. BMW might have invented this segment, but it has since been reinvented by someone else.
+ BMW still builds great engines. Lighter than the two aluminum-rich SUVs in this test.
- Dull design, dull dynamics, tight third row.
= A game changer whose game has been changed.
Somehow, the BMW was the worst-handling SUV in this test. Its tight third row and paucity of features didn’t help, either.
3. Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE
There was a moment of disbelief when we discovered that the Range Rover Sport can be ordered with a third row. Next we expect to learn that the Morgan 3 Wheeler offers a tow package. How could this Land Rover possibly slip a third row under that sloping roofline?
Well, it did, but just barely. Those two little seats are usable in a pinch, but even kids won’t want to ride there for long. The only concessions to comfort are two head-shaped cutouts in the headliner that provide a little extra noggin space. So Land Rover checks the third-row box, but only by using copious quantities of design Vaseline.
A more pleasant surprise from Land Rover is that the RR Sport is more fun and agile than the BMW. The steering is accurate, body motions are kept in check, and the supercharged V6 pulls ferociously if a bit coarsely. Two counter-rotating balance weights diminish the shakes of this 90-degree V6, converted from a V8, but the engine’s grittiness results in the most noise at full whack. It’s the thirstiest at 15 mpg, and it’s the heaviest of the group at 5183 pounds despite its aluminum structure.
But it’s also incredibly solid and sub-stantial and feels grandiose as it presses the road into submission. It delivers a sense of Arthurian invincibility as you peer over the square-jawed front end. Nothing can stop you, except for maybe the odd British relay going kablooey. If only Rover could make the interior trim as solid as the platform. We didn’t hear rattles, but the passenger’s-side vent trim pulled off in someone’s idle hands.
Land Rover saves its best interior stuff for the top-of-the-line Range Rover, base price of $85,945. In black, the lesser Sport’s interior looks plain, the design appearing to be five years old. Or maybe that’s just an uncharitable way of saying it’s classic. In any case, a contrasting leather color would brighten up the space. The jeweled gauge faces are a tacky reminder that you didn’t spend for the optional TFT digital display, included in a $10,045 HST Limited Edition package. Both the Volvo and the Audi have interiors to rival the “real” Range Rover. The old touch screen works well, even if the display graphics are more BlackBerry than iPhone. And it’s a reach to get to some of the functions on the far side of the screen’s bezel. Help is on the way, though: The 2016 has a new infotainment system.
(Land Rover supplied a 2015 model, basically the same as the 2016, for this test.) To move up in the three-row luxury- SUV ranking, the Range Rover Sport needs a big price cut, a richer-looking interior, and a real third row. While the top two finishers might not be as lordly as they roll through traffic, they’re both more modern, efficient, and entertaining to drive. Plus, they’re considerably less expensive.
LAND ROVER RANGE ROVER SPORT HSE
+ A solid hunk of SUV, outhandles the BMW.
- Behind the times inside. If the price doesn’t make your monocle fall out, the third row will.
= Too much money, not enough practicality.
The V6 that powers this Range Rover Sport is literally a V8 with two of its cylinders left empty. It makes good power, but it’s noisy.
2. Volvo XC90 T6 AWD Inscription Three years ago, Volvo hired Robin Page, Bentley’s interior design chief. Smart move. Judging from the XC90’s interior, the man deserves a raise.
Forget the other SUVs in this test; this interior is suitable for a vehicle costing twice as much as the XC90. Delicate, impossibly soft leather covers the seats, doors, and instrument panel. Even the key is covered in the stuff. Volvo calls the colour Amber, and it’s reminiscent of a honeyhued Ferrari interior.
But the Volvo is more than just hides. Every button, bob, and stitch looks chosen for its quality and appearance, not its price. Nickel-plated bezels frame piano-black switchgear, and the sliding cup-holder cover is a flawless and intricate piece of woodwork. It all blends together harmoniously and the fits are precise and beautiful, like a Bentley designed by Italians and assembled by Germans.
Volvo makes great seats, and these heated and cooled front thrones are no exception. Soft, supportive, and graced with adjustable thigh support, the view from these chairs is commanding. A large, iPad-like touch screen in the middle of the dashboard buries its menus, but finding what you need does get easier with some practice. Still, it usually takes two inputs to accomplish a task as simple as disabling the automatic stop-start system.
In the middle row, the occupants sit perched above the first, as in a theatre, and the high roof gives the impression of spaciousness. Even the third row is comfortable. The two seats sit well off the floor, and the space is suitable for adults. Volvo earns straight As for the passenger-hauling part of this test.
Fitted with the optional air suspension, the XC90 soaks up the worst roads and will charge down the best ones. Zero-effort steering becomes heavier and more tactile in dynamic mode. The XC90 suppresses body roll, and there’s a nimbleness here missing from the others, even if that doesn’t show up in the slalom results (blame stability-control intervention). The Volvo is 268 pounds lighter than the X5 and nearly 400 pounds lighter than the Q7, though a few drivers did complain about creaks coming through the structure on rough pavement and steep driveways.
Volvo’s supercharged and turbocharged mighty mite has excellent throttle response in dynamic mode, but that doesn’t change the fact that the XC90’s 6.0-second zero-to-60 sprint is the slowest in the test. We’d be more forgiving if the engine made interesting noises, but Volvo appears to want to hide the fact that this crossover even has an engine. A thick foam and- plastic cover sits on top of the four to silence it, but at higher revs an anguished groan penetrates the sound deadening. The Audi and the BMW sixes sound much better. Volvo’s four pays no fuel-economy dividend, either. Its as tested 17 mpg is identical to the BMW and Audi sixes.
Elegant from headlight to taillight, the Volvo is a piece of art that is perhaps not the ideal place for a four-cylinder engine.
VOLVO XC90 T6 AWD INSCRIPTION
+ Interior mastery, steering you can feel, three rows of comfort.
- A stressed four tries its little heart out in a six-cylinder segment.
= Submit to the seduction of a beautiful Swede.
The XC90 is such a pleasant and practical vehicle that it would easily have won this comparison test were it not for that pesky Audi.
1. 2017 Audi Q7 3.0T
Every driver who stepped out of the Volvo was ready to declare it the winner. And then they stepped into the Audi. The Q7 is a 5080-pound sanctuary of aluminium and steel. Within a mile, you’ll forget the beautiful Swede you left behind.
The Audi combines the structural goodness and solidity of the Land Rover with the deftness of the Volvo. Actually, the Q7 is even more carlike than the XC90. In its sportiest mode, the optional air suspension lowers the ride height, and the Q7 does a passable imitation of an Audi sedan. The optional four-wheel-steering system (part of the $4000 air-suspension package) provides an eerie stability at speed and surprising nimbleness in town. Wide tires, size 285/45R-20, offer 0.85 g of stick, and while the steering lacks the clear voice of the Volvo’s, we can’t fault its precision. The Q7 quickly emerged as the most fun to drive. Some of the joy comes from the 333hp supercharged V6. Despite the second-highest curb weight, the blown Audi posted a best-in-test 5.5-second run to 60. Audi’s V6 snarls a pleasing tune, and only the straight-six in the BMW sounds better.
Volvo’s design team may have trumped Audi’s interior designers, but the Audi’s cabin is still a class above the Land Rover’s and the BMW’s. There is artistry in the way the leather and wood seamlessly butt up against modern tech like the large MMI touchpad.
From the driver’s seat, a head-up display and two big TFT screens vie for your attention. A display that can be configured to show trip information, engine-related dials, or a detailed map replaces traditional gauges. At night, on a fogged-in mountain stretch of California state route 58, the map right in front of the driver showed the way around the next corner. None of the other SUVs’ maps could provide that level of detail.
The Audi can’t quite match the Volvo’s passenger-hauling capability, but it comes close. There’s no theatre-style seating in the second row, as in the Volvo, but head-, leg-, and shoulder room are plentiful. Third-row riders will find more space and comfort in the Audi than in the BMW or the Land Rover, but the Volvo is still champ. Although the Volvo tugged at our emotions with its design, Audi earns the win with execution, packaging, and driving pleasure.
The Q7 is the quickest and most fun-to-drive rig in this test. That it makes no sacrifice in utility for its performance means it’s the winner.
2017 AUDI Q7 3.0T
+ Blends practicality, technology, refinement, and driving dynamics in a way that eludes the others.
- Audi loses the design competition to Volvo.
= Perhaps not the most emotional choice, but definitely the best choice.