December 18, 2013
2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Platinum vs 2014 Audi Q5 TDI Technik. Click image to enlarge
Review by Jacob Black, photos by Jeff Wilson and Jacob Black
The sheer amount of variation among SUVs is proof positive that the genre is here to stay. Small, medium, large; sport, luxury, super-sport; diesel, gasoline, hybrid – where once there was just SUV, now there are dozens of sub-categories and sub-genres.
There are also many different reasons people buy them. For some it’s about a perceived level of safety, for others it’s about the added space which allows them to carry their family in comfort; for some it’s about all-weather capability, and for others it’s pure style.
At the time of our luxury compact SUV Comparison, the XC60, though highly competitive in the class, was unavailable, and we were curious to see how it stacked up against the best in the segment.
Fuel economy is probably the least likely reason for a family to opt for an SUV, but Audi’s Q5 TDI seeks to change that. On the safety front, the perceived safety of an SUV is paired with the proven safety of Volvo in the XC60.
Both are premium level cars, mid-size in the SUV market, both with an impressive list of features and driver aids.
Both also have their own style identity.
And both can be had for around the same base price. The 2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Platinum supplied for this test comes in at $52,850 before options/PDI/tax etc., the 2014 Audi Q5 TDI Technik $53,200.
For that money you get 240 hp at 3,750 rpm and 428 lb-ft of torque at 1,750 rpm from Audi’s 3.0L V6 TDI. The Polestar-enhanced Volvo delivers 325 hp at 5,600 rpm and 354 lb-ft at 2,100, configured as a transverse mounted inline-six. The result is a better launch from the Audi, but I found that the Volvo was a lot stronger once speeds began to climb. The engine note of the Volvo was cleaner than the muted diesel rumble from the Audi, leading to a much more enjoyable and spirited drive experience. The Audi in turn delivered effortless, smooth driving in almost all conditions.
The TDI, as expected, turns in better fuel economy, too. The EPA combined rating is 8.7 L/100 km for the TDI versus 11.8 for the Volvo. On our test day we were hampered by misadventure (more on that later) but scored a 9.2 in the Q5 and an 11.1 in the Volvo.
Part of that was due to the Q5’s well-sorted eight-speed tiptronic, which powered all four wheels via Audi’s fantastic Quattro system.
2014 Audi Q5 TDI Technik & 2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD. Click image to enlarge
The XC60 was equipped with an equally well-sorted gearbox, also complete with flappy-paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but this one is “only” a six-speed. Neither box is a dual-clutch — both are regular torque-converter equipped automatics.
I never noticed the loss of two gears, even if the fuel gauge did. But like I’ve already said, the Volvo’s is more enjoyable, the Audi more effortless.
Of course, that is the case when you’re on regular roads — a bit of bitumen, maybe some snow, a little loose gravel here and there.
But our story didn’t take us down those roads. Oh, no.
2014 Audi Q5 TDI Technik, safely parked. Click image to enlarge
“I’ve found a road on Google Maps that looks like it will test the AWD and off-road ride,” Jeff Wilson told me. And so I followed dutifully, he in the Q5 and I in the XC60.
As we turned onto the muddy gravel road, I thought it seemed rougher than necessary but decided to trust in his judgement – after all, I was in the Volvo, whose soft ride and warm-hug seats had me feeling all floaty and calm.
No sooner had I thought, “Oh, this isn’t too bad” to myself than all hell broke loose.
The gravel road descended rapidly and without warning into a washed out floodway with thick, deep mud and clay, ruts that came up to my shoulders, and tree branches strewn throughout.
Jeff, using his experience and talent, did what I should have done — he floored it. When in doubt, power out! The Q5 bucked, kicked and snapped sideways. I could see Jeff’s arms flailing over the wheel through the passenger side window – which I was all of a sudden aimed directly at. The Q5 kicked again and snatched back in the right direction just in time to prevent him from burying the Audi’s smooth little front end in a large tree.
Having witnessed that display, I made two bad choices.
Before and after. Click image to enlarge
One: I dodged the rut he was in so as not to be snapped sideways the way he had been. Volvos may be renowned for safety, but I hear my Senior Editor has a solid right hook. I didn’t want to test either.
Two: I decided to slow down.
Everyone reading this right now is screaming the same thing my brain was screaming at me: “Nooooo! Don’t lift off! You’ll just bury the fr…”
Oh, dear. The XC60’s beautiful pearl-white paint was covered in mud and rubbish, the front end plunged deep into a thick bank of clay, and it seemed to be sinking.
Here we were, somewhere in Niagara Region on some poxy dirty road, and I was stuck. Bogged.
I got out of the car. Squelch. Now I was stuck, bogged, and missing one of my good shoes.
“Ah, bugger!” (Edited for family reading.)
I took a step – well, I tried to take a step. Now I was stuck, bogged, missing one of my good shoes and face down in a bed of clay.
Jeff was on the other side of the quagmire, the Q5 parked proudly on the firm part of the road. I saw a bright flash. “Is he taking photos?!” He was.
Comparison tests are always a little difficult. There are often slight changes in circumstance from car to car, and differences of opinion. Jeff was convinced Audi’s decades of AWD engineering experience that went into the Quattro system was the reason he had made it through, the German marque’s in-house AWD prowess coming to the fore right when the chips went down. The system transfers torque from 70:30 to 15:85 front to rear depending on conditions.
Volvo’s own AWD system is also a permanent AWD system. It’s a Haldex unit that splits torque anywhere from 90:10 front to rear under normal conditions up to a maximum rear bias of 50 percent (50:50 split). So Volvo’s system won’t dial in as much rear torque as Audi’s system, but I still don’t think that explains the XC60’s failure.
My suspicion is that the organic component was to blame.
2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD. Click image to enlarge
Frankly, I deserved to lose that shoe.
Luckily, AJAC Testfest was on nearby, and two of the participants were able to come over and tow us out.
On a related note: Never use your back-up camera to monitor the tow car when being extracted from a flooded road. At 10 km/h, it will cut out and you will collide with the tow car, puncturing his bumper bar and damaging the lower-rear fascia of the press car you’re in. (Or so I’ve heard.)
2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD. Click image to enlarge
Speaking of fascia, the Volvo XC60 is by far the prettier of these two cars in my opinion. I’ve spoken previously about the Q5’s looks in my Audi Q5 TDI First Drive. I think it is handsome but a little conservative.
I find the Volvo XC60, on the other hand, downright inspiring. There is no point in feigning objectivity here. When it comes to interior and exterior styling, I’m a Volvo fan-boy. The XC60 has dynamic lines and an intriguing profile. Those exaggerated shoulders, common across the Volvo range, are excellent.
Inside, the Q5 is well-packaged and efficient. Audi’s MMI is among the best sorted there are with an easy-to-use rotary control, plus touchscreen and hard buttons to manage a wide host of intuitive settings. The Volvo has a floating console with a neat bank of hard buttons nestled around a nine-digit number pad and the same three-button man I named George in my Volvo S60 T6 AWD Test Drive.
This one was clad in the brushed aluminum inlay with its wonderful ridged finish. It’s a beautiful space. Volvo’s touchscreen display has a more modern feel than Audi’s MMI screens, which are due for a visual refresh.
Size and Cargo Space
The XC60 also has a larger cargo space, 872 vs 824 L with all seats in place and 1,909 vs 1,623 L maximum capacity.
Both cars are nearly identical in size, but the XC60 is 56 mm higher overall, all of which is accounted for by greater ride height. I couldn’t detect any difference in the front or rear roominess of either car – both were spacious.
Despite being shorter, the Audi weighs 114 kg more (2,030 kg to 1,916 kg). The Audi can tow more, though (1,995 kg versus 1,497 kg for the Volvo).
2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD. Click image to enlarge
These Premium SUVs are about ride comfort, and both marques step up to the plate with their impressive suspension packages. The Audi offers more adjustment and a better range of sporty to comfortable, but the Volvo achieves its pillowy ride by focussing on the comfortable range. The result is a less nimble car with a larger turning circle — but in cars like these, who needs it?
The Volvo simply floats over the road, absorbing bumps and dips with nonchalance. It is aided in its quest for extreme comfort by its seats. While the Audi comes equipped with beautiful leather seats that have excellent support and shape, the Volvo is again a step above. In one, you sit in a very comfortable chair. In the other, you settle happily into your own personal cocoon. It’s just as well the engine is so lively – otherwise you might fall asleep.
2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD (middle & bottom). Click image to enlarge
All those controls and buttons operate the almost incredible list of tech features and gadgets in both cars. Both come with available blind spot assistance, adaptive cruise control, cross-path warning, park assist, back-up camera, and heated seats.
They also both get auto-dimming rear-view mirrors – but in the XC60 the side mirrors are auto-dimming, too. Volvo trumps the Audi in the gadget stakes with its pedestrian and collision warning systems, which have full auto-brake, while the Audi punches back with its active lane-keeping system (Volvo only has an audible alarm). But Volvo has the last word because while Audi’s adaptive cruise control cuts out below 20 km/h, Volvo continues right to a full stop and takes off again. So, you can follow stop-start traffic for kilometres on end without ever using the pedals in the XC60.
And the Winner is…
And that kind of sums up why the winner for me is the XC60 – I just found it more enjoyable to drive and live with. In the doldrums of daily commuting, the adaptive cruise control and sensational seats wafted me into a place of relaxation and calm. When it came time to get busy, the T6 offered up more of the good stuff with greater eagerness. The Q5 arguably does off-road better than the XC60, but in the application these cars spend 98 percent of their lives in, the XC60 does better. It is warmer and more evocative than the Q5, too – comforting, engaging, and capable. What more could you want?
Pricing: 2014 AudiQ5 TDI Technik
Base Price: $48,700
Base Price Q5 Technik: $53,200
Options: Adaptive Cruise control – $1,700, Navigation Package with Parking System – $3,200, S line Sport Select Package – $3,100, 20-inch 5-arm Design Wheels – $1,000, Bang & Olufsen Sound System – $1,000, Daytona Grey Pearl Effect – $800
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $66,095
Pricing: 2014 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD Platinum
Base Price: $47,950
Base Price T6 AWD Platinum: $52,850
Options: Technology Package – $1,500 (Adaptive Cruise Control with Queue Assist, Collision Warning with Full Auto Brake, Pedestrian and Cyclist detection with Full Auto Brake, Lane Departure Warning, Road Sign Information), Blind Spot Information System – $1,000, Active Dual Xenon Headlights with Headlight Washers – $1,000, Polestar Performance chip – $1,495.
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $59,040