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Benchmarking: Volvo XC60 v Audi Q5
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Benchmarking: Volvo XC60 v Audi Q5

Aninda Sardar

Benchmarking: Volvo XC60 v Audi Q5

It’s a game of numbers really. Selling stuff in a competitive environment. How much can you offer at what price, that is what it eventually boils down to. You could be peddling TV sets, washing machines… or SUVs. In this particular case, we’re talking about Audi’s new generation Q5 and the new Volvo XC60. Of course Q5s of the past have set the benchmark in the segment and Audi will of course expect the new Q5 to replicate the same, but with the vastly improved Volvo XC60 also eyeing a slice of the same pie, can it?

“Dimensionally they aren’t very different with the Volvo XC60 being just a shade wider, longer and taller than the Q5.”

On paper, the two are fairly evenly matched. Both are powered by two-litre turbo-diesels, and cost near about the same. Well, the Audi Q5 Technology Pack we have here is a bit costlier at Rs 57.6 lakh, ex-showroom vis-à-vis the Volvo’s Rs 55.9 lakh price tag, but that difference isn’t night and day. In the overall scheme of things it is less than five per cent of the cost of either of the two SUVs. Dimensionally too they aren’t very different with the Volvo XC60 being just a shade wider, longer and taller than the Q5. Numbers, unfortunately, don’t tell the whole story for what they cannot convey is experience. For that, you’d have to stop what you’re doing, get out there and put yourself in the driver’s seat.

Before you get to the driver’s seat, or even the door on the driver’s side, you’ll first have to look at the two vehicles. And we don’t need to tell you which of the two, packs in better styling. Audi says that the Q5 has been to the fitness studio, and it shows. The new gen SUV is leaner and sleeker than it has ever been. The single frame grille looks imposing too with its strong frame, large air intakes and stylish LED headlamps. This new Q5 is even more handsome than the one it replaces.

“Park the Volvo next to the Audi and seven out of ten times you will find your eyes drawn to the Volvo.”

Unfortunately, its silhouette is all too familiar. Sure it’s updated but it doesn’t feel brand new. In fact, it mostly looks like a shrunken Q7, despite differences. More importantly, it lacks the Swede’s panache. Park the Volvo next to the Audi and seven out of ten times you will find your eyes drawn to the Volvo. There’s something about those Thor’s hammer LEDs flanking the large grille with the safety belt drawn across it that makes you look at the XC60. Logically, this shouldn’t have been the case because the Thor’s hammer design is something we’ve already seen in the Volvo XC90 and then the S90 whereas the Q5’s headlamps are genuinely all-new. But the overall visual impact that the Volvo makes is stronger; it is cooler, has more flair and the taillamp graphics are just stunning. Given its slightly larger dimensions, the XC60 stands out a bit more and once you add up the parts, the sum is more stylish and attention grabbing than the far more sober Audi. But it is the Q5 that feels more robust than the XC60. The doors seem to shut with a slightly more reassuring thud and everything feels like it has been built to last for a really long time. It’s not as if the Volvo feels flimsy. It’s just that the Q5 feels more solid.

Get into the driver’s seat and the story changes subtly. Here, both the Audi and the Volvo feel like they have borrowed the interiors of their bigger siblings and then hit the fit-to-page button. That is not to say that the interiors of the Q5 are identical to the Q7’s or the XC60’s are the same as that of the XC90, but the resemblance and the familiarity in each case is close enough to cry out for some individuality from the likes who sample them all the time. Space wise there isn’t much too choose between the two either. Both can seat five fairly comfortably. Where the Q5’s rear seat feels better, the Volvo’s front seats seem more comfortable. And then, it’s time to strap yourself in and get going.

“Surprisingly, despite the power and torque deficit, it is the Q5 that feels more responsive initially, probably thanks to its brilliant seven-speed dual clutch transmission.”

The Volvo of course is more powerful with 232bhp and 480Nm against the Q5’s 188bhp and 400Nm but the Audi hits back with refinement. Something you realise as soon as you press the starter button on the Q5 and twist the jewelled knob engine start switch in the Volvo XC60. At idle, the Audi’s 1968cc straight four turbo-diesel feels instantly smoother than the Volvo XC60’s 1969cc twin-turbo in-line four. Surprisingly, despite the power and torque deficit, it is the Q5 that feels more responsive initially, probably thanks to its brilliant seven-speed dual clutch transmission. The Volvo on the other hand makes do with an eight-speeder. Get past that DSG however and things swing very quickly in favour of the Swedes who claim a 0-100kmph run in 7.2 seconds, 0.7 seconds quicker than the Q5 and a top speed of 230kmph compared to the Audi’s 218. So, there’s no question that the Volvo will leave the Audi behind in an outright drag. But what happens when the roads start to turn?

Slowly but surely you start to feel the evening out of the scales. Push them hard around turns and the Audi feels more composed and confidence inspiring. Both SUVs are equipped with all-wheel drive and understeer when caned around curves and neither offers much feedback from their helm. The Q5’s suspension however is a little less soft than that in the Volvo, which even in the sporty Dynamic mode, feels soft and cushy. As a result, the Audi rolls around less than the XC60 and is able to hold its line through a turn much better than its rival. Even on that drag, it is the Audi that feels more surefooted. Volvo quickly hits back with better ride quality with the XC60 offering an extremely plush experience. The overall prize for balance between ride and handling however will have to go to the Audi.

“The XC60 has been packed with an equipment list so intensive that features overflow from its gills. “

With the odds loaded against the Audi, we sat down with the list of equipment that each of these two SUVs get. The result is a comprehensive rout with the Swedes bringing in everything they could lay their hands on to this streetfight. The XC60 has been packed with an equipment list so intensive that features overflow from its gills. There’s a handy heads up display, massage function for both front seats, the 9-inch tab like touchscreen that controls most cabin related functions, a similar touchscreen for the rear climate control and of course more safety kit than you’d find in an average fire engine. The vehicle has enough electronics to ensure that the XC60 sticks to its own lane without guidance. Like the XC90 and the S90, it will adjust steering input when it detects a curve in the road ahead but no corresponding steering input from the driver. It will also apply the brake and stop you from crashing into something in front, in case you forget to use the middle pedal at a crucial moment.

This it will do, only after it has already warned you both aurally (with loud pinging) and visually, with a flashing warning graphic on the HUD. In comparison, the Q5’s MMI system with its rotary knobs and minus a touch function for its screen, seems spartan. But there is an upside to the Audi’s lack of swank because it’s a lot easier to use. Thanks to the use of physical switches and knobs the Q5’s controls feel more intuitive and using them without taking one’s eyes off the road is much easier than trying to do the same with the Volvo’s touchscreen. Even the steering mounted controls on the Audi feel more user friendly than the Volvo’s. In the game of who’s got more however, there’s no doubt which of these two have the numerical superiority.

“A story of Swedish victory over German dominance.”

Pitting these two very different competitors against each other it becomes very clear that, like every exception to a rule, numbers here do tell a story. A story of Swedish victory over German dominance. After all, the Volvo XC60 does have more power, more creature comforts, is more head turning, equally spacious and is cheaper than the top-end Q5 that we tested. Even if you took the other Q5, which is cheaper by about a lakh and a half rupees than the Volvo XC60, the Volvo would still offer more bang for your hard earned buck than the Audi.

So does that mean the Audi isn’t in the contention anymore? Not quite. If you are a playful sort of person who likes a bit of tang in the flavouring then you’d be disappointed with the Volvo’s character. The Volvo XC60 is a mature adult. It doesn’t have the agility and sharpness of youth. It isn’t incapable but its attitude is more in tune with grown up golfers. If you’re the sort that plays football or enjoys a racy T20 match, then you’re better off with the Audi. It just doesn’t set the benchmark that it once used to.