Volvo XC90 vs Audi Q7: school-run SUV showdown

The Audi Q7 has been the default choice for the school run for what seems like decades now. As premium SUVs from mainstream brands go, there’s been little to touch it because it offers seven seats and a good boot in a single, menacing package.

But Swedish safety-maestro Volvo has come up with something to rattle the Audi’s domination of the playground – an all-new version of its XC90 SUV. So what are they like head to head?

Styling

Like its predecessor, the new Audi Q7 has a brutish, imposing look. There’s a new massive air dam at the front – distinct from the old one by being largely hexagonal – which is distinctive if nothing else and fits into the Audi range better than the old one.

The XC90 follows a similar school of monolithic yet understated styling. It, too, is a little on the restrained side, but it has a few more kinks and creases. The new concave grille and restyled logo are fairly bold, and the new LED daytime running lights – apparently styled to look like the hammer carried by Thor – are a design feature we’ll be talking about for a long time as they inevitably creep into the rest of the range.

Interior

The previous XC90 had one of the dullest cabins of anything around, but the new car’s is an absolute treat. Volvo has dropped the symmetry and crafted a lovely-looking environment – using wood, leather, metal and LCD screens to create a place that presents both traditional luxury and modern technology in perfect balance.

The Q7’s cabin is very well put together, chunky and a high quality – leather’s standard on Q7s, which is more than you can say for most Audis. It improves on the old car’s fairly plain accommodation but it’s still a fairly inert bit of design – you’ll want some contrasting leather and trim materials to bring out the best of it. It won’t excite, but it won’t disappoint anyone either.

Volvo XC90 on the left, Audi Q7 on the right

Practicality

Both cars are seven-seaters, but the Volvo takes the lead because its third row is at least suitable for the average adult. The Q7 is actually slightly smaller than the old car but the seating has improved slightly with an extra inch of headroom in the second and third rows and improved legroom for the middle set – the rearmost seats will be a little cramped again.

Both cars have an impressive boot even with all seven seats up – the Q7 rivals most hatchbacks in swallowing up 295 litres (slightly down on before) and the Volvo scoffs 451 litres.

The Audi claws back the difference when the back seats are dropped – there’s just 5 litres in it – 770 litres to 775 litres which gives some clue to the relative roominess of those seats. Get the middle row down and both will fit nearly 2,000 litres of stuff.

Engines

XC90s of old had a miserable old diesel but new ones get a varied line-up of modern units. There’s a new a turbodiesel, a twincharged (turbo– and supercharged) petrol and even a plug-in hybrid. The least powerful and slowest option – the 222hp D5 diesel – accelerates to 60mph from rest in under eight seconds and returns 49.6mpg at the pumps.

The petrol is a little less frugal with only 35mpg combined on the cards, but it does pack 100hp more – while the hybrid adds electric power to that already pretty potent petrol. We’re not sure you’ll manage the 113mpg figure claimed, but a 0-60mph time in the six second range is easily done.

No such variety at Audi, as the Q7 is an exclusively diesel car at launch. First models will pack the 3.0-litre six-cylinder TDI engine with 268hp and, thanks to a new Euro 6 compliant unit and a 300kg diet, fuel consumption is down by 23%. This new combination means you’ll be keeping pace with the big V8s of the old car – and even the hybrid XC90 – while posting nearly 47mpg.

There’s a diesel hybrid e-tron and a 3.0 TFSI petrol planned for later in the Q7’s life, with the 328hp petrol being the most direct rival for the Volvo’s twincharged option. The e-tron will match the Volvo T8 hybrid for pace and ludicrous fuel economy claims – but we think 166mpg is optimistic to say the least. A more frugal 3.0 TDI ultra is plotted for late 2015 and will take up the battle against the base Volvo D5 option.

Driving

Both Volvo and Audi have tackled the on-vs-off road issue in the same manner – they both focus on the on-road performance while off-road prowess takes a back seat. It’s a sensible approach as few cars of this type will ever see anything more troublesome than a grass verge outside a primary school or a gravel car park. Nevertheless, thanks to standard four-wheel drive, neither will be troubled by anything most owners can throw at them.

The previous generation of XC90 was lacklustre on the road and some critics say the new one doesn’t really get on with bends either. It doesn’t wallow about but, as a point-to-point car, it’s not exactly thrilling. Instead, the Volvo microscope has gone on making it a comfortable cruiser and it’s met with great success – it’ll cover miles effortlessly.

Audi has gone a slightly different route and made the Q7 a bit of a handler. The brand has actually gone a step further and added an optional rear-wheel steering system which will turn the back wheels by up to five degrees – in the opposite direction at low speeds to aid manoeuvring and in the same direction at high speeds to help the stability. Some Audis in the past have had harsh rides so we’ll need to drive it to see if this is the case with the new Q7.

Value for money

We’ll have to call this one a dead heat because both cars start at around £45,000 for the lowest power diesels (215hp Q7, 222hp XC90) and top out at nearly £64,000. Judgement will need to be reserved until the Audi’s pricing is a little clearer but it seems that for broadly equivalent engines you’ll face no more than a £1,500 difference – about 3%.

They have the measure of each other for kit too, though you’ll need to be a bit wary of the options lists – you can overspend by thousands if you’re liberally picking from either.

Running costs should be pretty similar between the two cars – save for that thirsty T6 petrol in the Volvo – and we’re not anticipating any alarming news on secondhand sales, with at least 50% retained value from each after three years. They both have three-year/60,000-mile warranties, too.

Volvo XC90 vs Audi Q7 – verdict

This will be a hard choice for anyone in this position. Monetarily the cars are evenly matched, while performance and consumption figures are – at least on equivalent models – so similar that it’ll be hard to find much of a difference in the real world. Styling is too subjective to draw any meaningful conclusion either.

Unless you have sound reasons for wanting a petrol or a hybrid car – in which case the XC90 is going to win – it really comes down to whether you prefer a dynamic drive or outright comfort. The Volvo XC90 is a fabulously luxurious cruiser perfect for the cut and thrust of modern traffic, the Q7 strikes more of a balance between comfort and an exciting drive.

We’ll have to wait to see if the critics agree, but the new Q7 will need to pull its socks up as the old one managed a wowscore of just 7.1 – good, but nothing next to the XC90’s stunning 9.0. It looks like there might be a new king of the prep school car park in 2015…

Which would you have?

Let us know in the comments section below which of these you’d rather see on your driveway. Then head over to our car configurator to see how much you could save on your next car and check out our car deals page for all our latest discounts.

Volvo XC90

Class-leading premium SUV with room for seven adults
9.0
£47,350 - £64,555
RRP
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Audi Q7

Beautifully made large 4x4 can seat seven people
8.4
£48,455 - £54,540
RRP
Read review Compare offers
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