Reviews and Road Tests
Back in 2003 when the Volvo XC90 hit the American market, it was described as late to the SUV party by the automotive press. However, the party kept raging and the Swedish SUV has since become not only one of Volvo’s best selling offerings, but has also nabbed the bragging right of best-selling European SUV in North America – no doubt helped by its 3-row seat versatility that only minivan owners can claim superiority to. That same versatility and sales success must have weighed on Audi as they developed their later-to-the-party Q7 for public sale. With the Q7 now putting a few months of sales under its belt and a refreshening of the Volvo recently available on the market, it seemed natural to put the two stylish family trucksters up for a quick comparison.
The new kid on the block is most certainly the Audi. With barely six months of sales under its belt, the true potential for the Q7 remains to be seen. However, the Audi’s handsome looks, rich interior and capable component set make it a very serious contender. Developed from the Volkswagen Group’s SUV chassis architecture that is also shared with the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, the Q7 adds a longer wheelbase in order to fit a third row of seating and saves weight by dropping all of the hardcore off-road hardware and all-wheel drive systems for simple and potent Torsen all-wheel drive. It further saves on weight through extensive use of aluminum body panels, but still weighs in at a minimum of 5049 lbs. for the V6. Though unibody, the Audi, along with its Porsche and Volkswagen siblings, is considered more truck-based as the chassis from which it was born is not used for any automobiles.
As mentioned, the Volvo XC90 came to market in 2003, developed off of Volvo’s large car platform, known internally as the P2 chassis. With unibody design, the P2 chassis components set means a transversely-mounted engine mated to a Haldex all-wheel drive system very similar in design to that of the Audi A3, but with a clever non-return valve in the hydraulic clutch mechanism that allows the system to launch in an engaged position. This mimics the characteristics of a full-time all-wheel drive system like the Torsen-based quattro system in the Q7.
Current Audi drivetrain offerings include the aforementioned 4.2-liter FSI (rated at 350-hp and 325 ft-lbs. of torque, 14 mpg city / 20 mpg highway) and a 3.6-liter FSI V6 (280-hp and 266 ft-lbs. of torque, 16 mpg city / 20 mpg highway). Similarily, the XC90 features a 4.4-liter narrow-angle Yamaha-sourced V8 as its top-of-the-range (rated at 311-hp and 358 ft-lbs., 15mpg city / 20 mpg highway) and a new 3.2-liter inline 6-cylinder (235-hp and 236 ft-lbs., 17mpg city / 22 mpg highway) as the new base motor, replacing the outgoing 2.5-liter low-pressure turbo inline 5-clinder unit. XC90 3.2 models also come as front-wheel drive in entry-level spec, allowing for an even lower-price should an owner not deem all-wheel drive necessary.
Neither are very frugal on gasoline, though Audi has announced it will add a 3.0-liter TDI model to its lineup within the next calendar year. While Volvo does have an equally impressive commonrail D5 (diesel 5-cylinder) engine in Europe, it’s made no such suggestion that this power plant might find its way to the States any time soon.
Both the XC90 and the Q7 use new 6-speed automatic transmissions with manual-shifting functionality via the center console mounted gate. The Q7 also offers a Sport Mode, something the driving enthusiast will certainly go for, whereas the XC90 offers a winter mode.
Visually, the XC90 is not a small automobile, though the Q7 appears bigger and more substantial with the two vehicles parked side-by-side. Interior specs mimic this with the Q7 slightly edging out the XC90 in measurements such as shoulder room and rear-seat legroom. However, the XC90’s more boxy rear profile makes for better headroom for third-row passengers.
Inside, Audi does what Audi does best and that’s domination in the touch-and-feel category. The XC90 interior is perfectly satisfactory, but does pale a bit to the lavish wood, aluminum and leather-adorned cockpit of the Q7. The Q7 can also be specified with a wider range of interior tailored details, although these add to the Q7’s weighty pricetag.
Love-it-or-hate-it, many of the functions within the Q7 are controlled via the company’s MMI system first launched in their A8L flagship. A new Audi Music Interface (AMI) allows for full iPod integration, an option that can also be retrofitted to non AMI Q7s that predate the system’s availability. Audi’s AMI might just be the most thorough iPod integration system we’ve yet seen on the market that will also eventually work with non-iPod MP3 devices and USB2 storage devices to boot- a major plus for the Q7, costing about the same money as a higher-end iPod when it hits the market.
The new XC90 features a simple-yet-effective iPod and MP3 interface of its own in the form of a standard audio input jack. This means any portable device with an audio output and a male-to-male connector can be used via the Auxiliary button on the Volvo’s head unit, though navigation of content must be performed on the device itself – a good or bad quality depending on who you ask.
While the Q7 gets an edge in iPod integration, the XC90 certainly isn’t left out in the cold when it comes to audio. An available Technology Package includes Dynaudio speakers and Dolby Pro Logic II. Further, an optional video entertainment system places a video screen in the back of each front seat headrest, each with its own wireless headset, a single DVD player built into the rear center console and independent feeds for each side, including inputs for video game devices and more. Such a system isn’t yet offered on the Q7, and it’ll set you back just shy of $2,000 to equip it in your Volvo.
Audi currently has one standard audio system for the Q7 range, with a 6-disc CD changer upgrade and the previously mentioned AMI system as the only options. There have been rumors of an expensive Bang & Olufsen audio upgrade as seen in the Audi A8, but no confirmation of date or price has yet been made.
Both offer as optional equipment Sirius Satellite Radio. They also each offer built-in navigation systems, the Q7’s a DVD-based setup viewable through a dash-mounted screen, and the XC90 a new hard drive based system that is controlled via buttons on the back of the steering wheel or a remote control and a screen that raises from the top of the dash. In day-to-day use, we found both very useful, though the Q7 has a slightly more intuitive interface.
Both the Audi and the Volvo also feature optional Bluetooth integration. For the Q7, this system falls under the wide-scope of the MMI system and can be controlled via those dash-mounted controls and controls in the steering wheel. Volvo features a dealer-installed aftermarket unit that works well enough, but looks a bit clumsy wired to the dashboard and of a generic button design that doesn’t exactly match the Volvo’s dashboard.
For the driving enthusiast, both also offer a variant for the more sport-minded owner who wants to kick their SUV up a notch. Audi calls this package “S-line” while Volvo calls theirs simply “Sport”. On the XC90, this means slightly different body treatment, silver piping on the charcoal-only interior and 19-inch alloy wheels. The Q7 S-line gets unique body treatment and 20-inch 5-spoke wheels with handsome 21-inch wheels modeled after those on the Audi RS 4 as a stand-alone option.
As a stylish family hauler, either of these SUVs is a strong candidate. While the XC90 projects a less lavish and more conservative image, it’s still very handsome and right at home in old money environments such as country clubs and private schools. However, we’re doubtful it’ll get as many longing stares, even in Sport spec, being traditionally understated and conservative as most offerings from Sweden.
Audi has gone for sexiness and opulence over understated practicality. The locomotive-inspired nose of the Q7 is love-it or hate-it, and combined with a swooping C-pillar and optional S-line 21-inch wheels, it will undoubtedly attract attention. We’d expect to see the more striking examples of the breed in backdrops like L.A.’s Rodeo Drive or Miami’s South Beach where being in fashion is more important than price and the luxurious features available on the Audi are in high demand.
In the end, choosing between the XC90 and the Q7 is a personal choice – one based on priorities. Prices on the XC90 range from a base of $36,135 for a front-wheel drive 3.2, on up to $59,536 for a fully-loaded XC90 Sport with V8. The Q7 is a bit saltier at a base of $39,900 for the entry 3.6 quattro, on up to a lofty $72,000+ for a loaded 4.2 Premium S-line model.
In fairness to the Audi, that additional coin buys some truly lavish trim, such as alcantara suede roof liner, custom wood accents , air suspension and more. In fairness to the Volvo, one Audi option of third-row side airbags is standard on third-row equipped XC90s.
If being noticed, luxurious accoutrements and a more sporting ride are your priorities, then the knod should go to Audi. If you prefer a lower price and practicality, then we suggest the XC90. Both of these two vehicles might be some of the best family haulers in the SUV business, and as such we think we could be quite happy with either offering.
All information Copyright © 1999-2003 Swedespeed. All rights reserved.
No photos, news stories, graphics, or Swedespeed logos may be used or reproduced without written permission.
Volvo is a registered trademark of Volvo Car Corporation and Ford Motor Company. Swedespeed is an independent media publication and is not affiliated with or endorsed by Volvo Car Corporation