Volvo’s strategy for fuel saving is the employment of a puny (for this size of vehicle) 2.0-litre four-cylinder that is pressurized with both supercharging and turbocharging, thus covering all regions of the rev range. High-tech stuff. Rated at 316 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque at a low 2,200 rpm, this engine punches way above is weight class. Hooked to Volvo’s own eight-speed auto, it does a commendable job of moving the XC90 down the road with gusto. But there are a few hiccups.

As with all small displacement engines running with multi-geared transmissions, you can be waiting a few beats for the revs and the right gear to find each other. We encountered a bit of lurching and hunting as well, and the little four doesn’t run with the smoothness or relaxed nature of competitive V6s.

The Audi Q7’s 3.0-litre supercharged V6 kicks out a more robust 333 horsepower and 325 lb-ft at 2,900 rpm. This is a wonderfully linear engine, and here, hooked to Audi’s eight-speed auto with paddle shifters, it makes for confident, relaxed and quieter motoring. This drivetrain is always at the ready too – calls for acceleration get quick compliance. The transmission shifts smoothly and always seems to be ready with the right gear.

Both the Volvo and Audi have selectable drive modes that bring more sport or economy to the table. With its smaller engine and 170 kg advantage (2,304 kg vs 2,134 kg) you’d expect the Volvo to be more frugal. However, on our extended suburban and highway loop, the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7 scored an identical 11.6 L/100 km. Both require premium-grade fuel.

Audi takes a decisive win here.

Practicality and Flexibility

The XC90 is slightly shorter in length than the Q7, but it is wider and taller, resulting in more cargo space than the Audi, be it behind the third-row seats, with the third-row seats folded, or with both second and third rows down. Additionally, the Volvo’s third-row perches are slightly more accommodating, being better padded and raised up so prisoners, er, occupants have a decent view forwards.

Access is tight, but in the Volvo’s favour, the second-row seats slide forward with one motion. The Audi’s require two operations – a lever on the side flips the seatback flat and then another lever has to be yanked to flip the whole assembly forward.

However, the Audi counters with powered third-row seat-backs – much easier to manage than the Volvo’s that require a long reach. The Audi also has three sets of child seat anchors in the second row to the Volvo’s two.

Nonetheless, the Volvo gets the nod here for its extra cargo room and quicker access to its marginally more comfortable third row.

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