Tech and Usability

Both these brutes get high-tech solutions for the ongoing automotive infotainment conundrum. Volvo goes for the clean look with a large iPad-like screen centre-stage that (allegedly) does away with the need for most hard buttons. It’s a slick set-up with three major menu screens – a finger swipe to the right or left calls up the secondary screens. I can understand where Volvo is coming from, as this interior is a work of art (in light hues, not so much this coal-bin black). The chic and simple Scandinavian aesthetic plays large here, and build quality is unassailable.

Sadly, the coolness wears a bit this when trying to tune radio stations, access presets or accomplish simple things like changing the temperature or fan speed. Too much distracting screen poking, and once the big panel is smudged in fingerprints, it literally loses its lustre.

How refreshing to get into the Audi where a pair of good old-fashioned temperature dials, a stylish rocker switch for fan speed and an array of radio preset buttons fall easily to hand. Being an Audi, this is also an exceptionally well crafted cabin, and while you don’t get the sense of being in a high-end Swedish furniture shop, its design and user-friendly ergonomics impress. On start-up, there’s a bit of theatre when the MMI screen emerges from a dash-top slot.

Being the Technik model, this Q7 gets Audi’s fab Virtual Cockpit – a 12.3-inch digital TFT screen that lives in front of the driver. Multi-configurable, it can go from traditional gauge display to full crystal-clear nav screen featuring a small speedo and tach in the lower corners. Steering wheel buttons easily call up the various views.

Both the Volvo and Audi feature head-up displays and a boatload of safety and driver-aid systems. With either CUV you will feel protected and informed, but the Audi wins for clarity and usability of its controls, and the groundbreaking Virtual Cockpit.

Luxury and Amenities

No one will be crying the first-world blues driving either of these optioned-up seven-seaters. And for these prices, you’d darned well expect, nay, demand that.

R-Design in Volvo speak is a visual up-tick package that adds 20-inch wheels, racy body bits, unique interior trim, and terrific R-Design Nubuck/Leather seats with extra bolstering that fit this writer to a tee. Volvo knows how to do seats. Other extras here included the $1,800 Vision Package (auto-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, blind-spot info and cross-traffic alert, retractable side mirrors, visual park assist and front “fish-eye” camera), $2,200 Convenience Package (park assist pilot and park assist front/rear, adaptive cruise and lane-keeping, Homelink, compass), and an impressive Bowers and Wilkinson audio system for $3,250.

While the Audi’s front seats weren’t quite as wonderfully supportive as the Volvo’s, they still proved mighty comfy and trumped the Volvo with the addition of ventilation and massage function courtesy of the $3,750 Luxury Package that also bestowed upgraded Valcona leather and power door closures. The $3,400 Driver Assist Plus added adaptive cruise, active lane-assist, head-up display, traffic sign recognition and high-beam assist.

Audi goes to Bang and Olufsen for their high-end audio needs, and this $5,100 system was truly spectacular.

Spec’d as they were, I’m giving this one to the Audi Q7, mainly because those ventilated seats literally saved my butt on the sweltering test day.

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