Cars: Q the rivalry: how Audi fares in head-to-head
Q7 wins and loses some of the battles
Comparison is the life of conversation. We never tire of arguing our case for the better hurler, footballer, runner, jumper, golfer. Cars are no different.
Yet every so often a particularly keen rivalry emerges. For some reason that has quickly become the case with the new Audi Q7 luxury SUV. It is instantly linked to, and compared with, the new Volvo XC90.
Not so much the BMW X5 or Range Rover Sport, or the Mercedes GLE. All worthy contenders in their own right, but for some reason the Volvo is the one pushed into the ring when comparisons start.
It's weird, because the two cars work on different premises. Audi couldn't wait to get the new slimmed-down motor (325kg off) on the road. Improved fuel consumption (5.7l/100km), lower emissions/road tax and a starting price €5,000 below the old one made a compelling case.
They'd taken a fair bit of grief over its forerunner being such a gargantuan presence on our roads, reminiscent of all the excesses of the old boom.
The Volvo, the first on a brand new platform, makes a virtue of its blunt-nosed dimensions and is not at all ill-at-ease with the physical footprint demanded. However, its entry price went up and now mirrors the Audi's starting figure.
The new Q7 is more reminiscent of a large, tall estate; the Volvo leaves no room for such a comparison. It's a big SUV.
Visually I think the Q7 beats it. I have not been impressed with, and still can't laud, that blatant Volvo nose. While the Q7 is more muted, it is a better view from the front. Maybe less so from the rear and they are equal in profile, but the Q7 gets the nod. It is a bit unfair to compare them on engines tested. My Q7 had a wonderful 272bhp 3-litre 6cyl diesel; the Volvo has a 225bhp 4cyl but there is a 218bhp Q7 too so that will level the playing field.
The Audi was seamlessly quiet and powerful. I loved the way it just pushed and pushed. It was composed and so assured with its quattro all-wheel drive and, in my test vehicle's case, adaptive air suspension. It was like driving a car. I say that in praise, not criticism. I enjoyed it a lot - it had a wonderful driving position and fed back loads of energy.
The XC90 is less of a drive, though it too has AWD. A big improvement on the previous, but it does not match the Q7 or the BMW X5 in ability to bring the verve drivers of these cars regard so highly. Both SUVs have three rows of seats, with the two in the rear not leaving that much space for luggage; I thought the Volvo fared better in that area. But it felt a lot bulkier than the Audi. Some might find that reassuring. I'm not so sure. The Audi was easier to park.
At this level, you are always looking for fine distinctions, especially in the cabin and whatever about a car's looks and performance, that's where you spend most of your time.
As far as I'm concerned the Volvo wins this hands down. It has, by some distance, the best all-round cabin in this class. One word of caution: be careful what mix of upholstery and colour you get - some combinations don't do it justice.
The Q7 was immensely comfortable too but it failed to captivate like the XC90. On its own it was excellent: slim dash, clean lines, loads of room and great seats. But the XC90 was still better for me.
And now to the most evenly-contested part. Audi's 'virtual cockpit' is exceptional. It lets you switch between every element - satnav, radio, phone, etc - seamlessly. I'm a huge fan and I loved it in this. The satnav is an experience.
Volvo's interface is easy to work and follow; it's more like a tablet than an instrument panel. Brilliant but maybe a little fussy.
I have to call it evens on this.
And so to price. Both start around the same but shoot up with extras - watch out!
So, even after a brief sweep of key areas, you can see there isn't much between them. But I'm going for the XC90 for its super cabin and all-round ability even though I'd miss the Q7's power drive.
Facts & figures
Audi Q7 quattro, 7-seat, S Line, 3-litre 6cyl diesel (272bhp), 8spd Tiptronic, 5.9l/100km, 153g/km/€390 tax; 21ins wheels = 163g/km = €570 tax.
Standard spec: air con, 20ins alloys, electric 3rd row seats, cruise control, park assist front/rear, MMI Navigation Plus/touchpad, S Line bumpers/exterior/sport package, Valcona leather, sport seats, virtual cockpit. Options: 21ins alloys, 4-zone air con, 85-litre fuel tank; 24-litre AdBlue tank, adaptive air suspension, Audi Connect.
Range: €72,125. S Line: €89,190. Options: €15,186. Total: €104,376
My side of the road
First he was 10 metres away, then 20m, then 50m/60m. The little lad was dinging it on a tiny pushbike, oblivious. Mum was preoccupied with baby and pram. Traffic was cascading past. It was a narrow path. The child could have gone anywhere. For a minute he was on his own. It's a scene repeated many times, many places. Please keep children on bikes close to hand.