Big luxury SUVs are easily the most popular kind of vehicle in today’s market. Drive down the street, almost anywhere in the world, and you’ll spot at least two within the first mile or so. Luxury SUVs are so popular that they’re starting to come from automakers we’d never think would make them, like Jaguar and Porsche, just so they can get a slice of the highly profitable pie. But regardless of their merit, seven-passenger luxury SUVs are very important to the world market, so when automakers release new ones, it’s kind of a big deal. Which is why Top Gear put three of the best selling SUVs in the world, two are brand-new and one is about to be replaced, against each other to test them out.
Built on a version of the MLB platform, which will underpin everything from the Audi A4 all the way up to the Bentley Bentayga, the Audi Q7 is the newest car here. It’s fresh and modern and looks far better than its predecessor. The Volvo XC90 is also fresh-out-of-the-box, as it just went on sale. The XC90, also built on a scalable new platform, is far safer and higher-tech than its predecessor and is extremely cleverly built. The Land Rover Discovery (LR4 in the US) is the old dog in this test. Having debuted in 2009, the Disco is about to be replaced quite soon, but it’s still a worthy competitor as it brings a rugged off-road demeanor to the group.
The Audi Q7 should be on the short list for anyone looking to buy a luxury SUV. It’s lost around 600 lbs from the previous model, has all new engines and some of Audi’s latest and greatest tech. Audi’s Pre-Sense suite of safety technology, which includes an array of crash sensors and blind-spot monitors, Virtual Cockpit and its refined driving style give the Q7 a distinct edge over its competition, from a cockpit’s perceptive. The Audi Q7 was deemed the best driving car of the three and it isn’t hard to see why. However, the Audi falls down when it comes to being an actual SUV. It’s off-road manners aren’t even close to those of the Land Rover, its third-row seats are cramped and it doesn’t offer the practicality of the Volvo. So the Audi Q7 is a sharp driving, stylish and high-tech SUV that falls a bit flat in terms of family hauling.
The Land Rover Discovery was somewhat doomed in this test at the start. It’s by far and away the oldest car here, so its competitors have gotten far ahead. However, the Disco showed guts, as it’s still one of the best SUVs on the market. With a tough and rugged demeanor, go anywhere off-road abilities and a truck-like feel, the Land Rover Discovery is one of the coolest SUVs on the market. It’s also great looking, both inside and out, has the tallest roof which gives it excellent cargo space, has a fold down tailgate to aid luggage entry and has the most rugged interior materials to deal with the hazards of spilled drinks and muddy shoes from the children that will occupy it. However, those interior plastics can come off as a bit cheap, in comparison to the Audi and Volvo, and the Disco feels the heaviest of the bunch, because it is. The Discovery showed that it’s still a fantastic SUV, and that Land Rover knows what it’s doing, but it is in desperate need of an update.
The Volvo XC90 is an interesting car. The original was on sale for 13 years straight with almost zero updates, proof that Volvo knows how to make a great SUV. But the new model is far improved over the old. With an entirely new platform, Boron steel safety cell, high-tech safety technology throughout and one of the best touchscreen infotainment systems in the industry, the XC90 makes a case for itself in the luxury SUV segment. It handles well for such a big vehicle, though the air-suspension is a must have option or else it feels a too busy, and its clever four-cylinder engines make it both powerful and economical. The second row rear seats slide, the third row seats are the easiest of the bunch to operate and it has second best, but most usable, cargo space. The Volvo isn’t as stylish or as fine to drive as the Audi Q7, nor can it handle muddy bits as well as the Land Rover, but it’s a fantastic middle ground that offers everything people in the segment need with many of the extras that they want.
While the Audi Q7 is great to drive, looks fantastic and has a lovely cabin, it falls a bit flat in the practicality department and that’s kind of what the segment is all about. The Land Rover is practical and has the added bonus of being able to off-road far better than its competition, but it looks and feels old and needs an update. The Volvo XC90 seems to be the perfect blend of on-road performance, luxury and practicality. According to the folks at Top Gear, the Volvo XC90 is the winner, with the Land Rover Discovery in second and the Audi Q7 taking last place. Without driving all three, I can’t argue with the results, but it’s fair to say that all of these SUVs are fantastic in their own right.Top Gear]