Volvo XC90 vs Land Rover Discovery Sport

Volvo and Land Rover are already two of the most popular brands on the school run, both have new models vying for the aspirational family market in 2015.

The big XC90 is getting good reviews at the moment and, as a full seven-seater, finds itself taking the fight to the established larger SUVs. The smaller Land Rover Discovery Sport occupies no more road space than your average family hatchback, but has a pair of jump seats in the boot and the kudos of one of the most revered names in off-roading.

There are few more desirable cars around at the moment – but how do they fare against each other? We’re checking the facts and figures…

Volvo XC90 vs Land Rover Discovery Sport – styling

Both cars have adopted an evolutionary approach to their overall design. Though the details may be new, both have an unmistakeable look that puts you in no doubt that each car belongs to its respective brand.

The Volvo carries the restrained features that have permeated the Swedish manufacturer since time immemorial. It’s loads better than the previous XC90 and looks far more like an actual SUV rather than a jacked-up crossover, but it’s quite clearly a Volvo – if you’re closing in behind one you may confuse it with the old car. The new front end is pretty neat, with those great ‘Thor’s Hammer’ LED daytime running lights setting it off a treat.

You can’t accuse the Discovery Sport of being boring though. It strikes a far sportier pose than the bigger XC90 – the forward-leaning C-pillars make it look poised and purposeful. There are definite hints of Evoque and Range Rover Sport in there.

Volvo XC90 vs Land Rover Discovery Sport – interior

Volvo has pulled out all the stops on the XC90 to move it from the bland and sterile environment of old to one of the nicest and most neatly laid out interiors of any kind. It strikes all the right notes, with just enough leather and metal (wood is now an option rather than the default) in just the right places to carry off a blend of modernity and traditionalism. It’s very impressive indeed.

Despite Land Rover’s expertise with interiors, the Discovery Sport comes off as a bit boring in this company. It’s very linear, regular and regimented – it should appeal to those who love everything to be ordered, but there seems to be little joy in here. It’s well kitted-out, very comfortable and nicely screwed together, but it very much takes the fun out of functional.

Volvo XC90 vs Land Rover Discovery Sport – practicality

Volvo XC90 interior on the left, Land Rover Discovery Sport on the right

While both cars are seven-seaters, the Volvo has a significant advantage simply through being nearly half-a-metre longer. This means you can fit adults in all seven seats and a hatchback-shaming 451-litre boot at the same time – swelling to 1,951 if you fold everything flat.

The Land Rover isn’t quite as cavernous – the back row is much more of an occasional affair and you wouldn’t even like to stuff children into it for too long. The 194-litre space that remains in the boot won’t hold much, but in five-seat configuration there’s a healthy 981-litres on offer, and 1,698 litres if you fold the middle row too.

Volvo XC90 vs Land Rover Discovery Sport – engines

The Discovery Sport is one for diesel enthusiasts. In fact, there’s currently only the one engine, in the shape of Land Rover’s 190hp SD4. Depending on whether you stick with the six-speed manual or go for the newer nine-speed (yes, nine!) automatic, it’s good for a 0-60mph time of between nine and 10 seconds – with the advantage to the auto.

Both auto and manual Discovery Sports will do around 50mpg but, even though there’s only a single mpg between them (46.3 to 44.8 in the manual’s favour) it’s enough to tip them into different road tax bands – £175 a year for the manual and £200 for the auto. It’s not a terrific engine though – being loud and rough – so it may be wise to wait for the updated Jaguar-Land Rover units to arrive.

The XC90’s old diesel option was always derided, so there’s far more variety this time round. A turbodiesel, a twincharged (turbo and supercharged) petrol and even a plug-in hybrid will be offered. Even the least powerful and slowest option – the 222hp D5 diesel – will show the Discovery Sport a clean pair of heels with a sub-eight second sprint and still return 49.6mpg.

The petrol model isn’t quite so clean, but at 35mpg for nearly 100hp more it’s nothing to be glum about. The hybrid’s 113mpg claim is probably not readily achievable on the road, but the six-second 0-60mph time certainly is. Don’t forget the hybrid will not only cost you nothing in tax but get you £5,000 back off the purchase price thanks to the government’s plug-in car grant.

Volvo XC90 vs Land Rover Discovery Sport – driving

For two cars that are largely competing for sales, you couldn’t find a more different driving experience if you tried.

The Discovery Sport does everything well. You wouldn’t expect it to be an outright handling machine to match a low-slung, mid-engined sports car, but Land Rover has done an excellent job getting it to be responsive, feelsome and just plain fun to drive. If cruising’s more your style, it does that with ease too. What about off-road? Not a problem – this is likely to be one of the best cars in the class at getting you into and out of the middle of nowhere – though don’t attempt this in one of the front-wheel drive models that’ll arrive later in the car’s life.

Volvo hasn’t tried to make the XC90 quite the jack of all trades and has instead focussed on making the XC90 a competent cruiser. The old car didn’t do this particularly well, nor did it handle very well so Volvo’s had its work cut out in this department. The new car chews up motorway miles all day long with an extremely good ride. Cornering prowess isn’t really the point of the XC90 – it doesn’t lean or roll particularly badly but, if you enjoy enthusiastic driving, it’s not the most thrilling of companions. We’re sure it’d cope with a festival camp site or next winter’s cold snap, but since even Volvo makes no mention of its off-roading capability you should probably think twice before tackling unpaved roads.

Volvo XC90 vs Land Rover Discovery Sport – value for money

Volvo XC90 infotainment screen on the left, Land Rover Discovery Sport on the right

The relative sizes of the two cars makes a value judgement a little hard, but there is some crossover in price at the bottom of the Volvo’s pricing and the top of the Land Rover’s.

At this level, the Discovery Sport doesn’t look like terrific value. While it may be better in the bends and could probably drive over an XC90 on an off-road course, £48,000 seems a lot of money, even a Land Rover-badged car, with the same footprint as a family hatchback. The Volvo is considerably more car and, even at £46,000, entry-level specifications doesn’t seem to be wanting for kit.

Of course, the XC90 tops out at an alarming £64,000 for the top-spec T8 hybrid (or £59,000 after the grant), while the entry-level Discovery Sport is only £33,000 for now. New engines and the front-wheel drive model may drive that below the £30,000 mark.

Running costs between the two are broadly comparable at the moment – watch out for that thirstier T6 petrol in the Volvo, though – and both will be easy second hand sales, keeping around half their value after three years.

Volvo XC90 vs Land Rover Discovery Sport – verdict

On the face of it, the Discovery Sport doesn’t seem to have much to hold against the XC90 – the interior is a bit blander, there’s only a single choice of engine (and it’s not a very good one), performance is middling and it’s not as stylish as the XC90.

But, unless you really have to take six other adults places all the time, do bucketloads of motorway miles or need to tow a lot, the Volvo isn’t the right choice. The Land Rover is far more versatile and it’s not giving away much to the XC90 in any department – certainly not as much as the price difference suggests.

At present, it’s only the clunky diesel engine that sours the deal at all so, despite the poorer wowscore, we’d go for the Discovery Sport every time.

Decisions, decisions!

Which do you prefer? Why not let us know in the comments section below and, while you’re here, why not take a look at the range of fantastic deals we have on new cars then head over to our car configurator to see how much you could save on your next car.

Land Rover Discovery Sport

Seven-seat 4x4 SUV is a great go-anywhere family car
£31,095 - £46,510
Read review Compare offers

Volvo XC90

Class-leading premium SUV with room for seven adults
£46,850 - £64,555
Read review Compare offers
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