Executive Xovers

An incident with the back of a van meant that my time spent with the illustrious (and unique) Mercedes CLS Shooting Brake came to an end abruptly. Not that I had that much experience, but the CLS was a stylish and surprisingly agile machine that also offered good space and reasonable running costs.

Rather than replacing it directly with another CLS or even another estate car, the owner decided that he’d like to take a look at the latest crop of posh SUVs that have sprung up in the last 18 months, and I happily volunteered to go along for the ride(s) to have a good nose for myself. I’ve summed up my initial impressions below…

Audi SQ5

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Admittedly the Audi SQ5 (and indeed the standard Q5) is not a car that my friend really intended to take a serious look at, but I found myself having a good look at it nonetheless. The basic design of the car is now approaching 8 years old, which is a long time in such a competitive market, but the reserved styling and small updates have ensured that it doesn’t look outdated, especially in sporty SQ5 guise.

The SQ5 gets a very plush cabin, and to my eyes it’s also held up well against direct rivals in terms of fit and finish. The extra leather and flat-bottomed steering wheel of the SQ5 add to this effect, but the standard Q5 shouldn’t feel too dated. Space was a little less impressive, though, as despite being more or less the same size as my X5,space for rear passengers seemed noticeably less – the raised transmission tunnel in particular was a bug bear, though boot space was large and well shaped.

As with most of the other cars here, I didn’t get the chance to drive or ride in the SQ5, but at least in price terms I did find that there are notable discounts available if you shop around…I saw a recent comment that somebody bought a Q5 2.0 TDI S-Line Plus (essentially the model most people want) for around £28k. That’s a good price for something with an Audi badge, but the £45k+ price of the SQ5 is a bit harder to swallow.

Audi Q7

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As a big fan of the previous generation Audi Q7, I was quite disappointed when Audi released pictures of its replacement – the squarer lines and hunkered down body reminded me more of an estate car than an SUV. However after seeing a few on the roads (and using Audi’s online configurator a lot), I’ve warmed a fair bit to the Q7’s looks…although I wasn’t keen on the deep purple paint scheme of the model in Audi’s Hatfield showroom.

What really impressed me with that model, though, was the beautifully made and designed interior of the new Q7. OK so the one in the showroom was fully loaded, but the Virtual Cockpit was really cool, as was the new MMI controller. Every button seemed to have a purpose, and there was tonnes of room inside for 5, even if the rear seats were seemingly built for midget amputees…I was only able to fit with my legs positioned diagonally and the middle row slid all the way forward.

The closest I got to seeing how the Q7 drives was by playing with the self-lowering air suspension at the rear of the car, but what I was pleasantly surprised with was the potential value that the Audi offers. Currently it’s possible to get around £6k off the price of a Q7 without any hassle, meaning that you can get a well-specced SE model for under £45k – that’s a heap cheaper than it’s main rivals, and it comes with a V6 engine, too.

Mercedes GLC

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You’d be surprised at just how tricky it is to take a look at a GLC. It may be Mercedes’ latest model and a late entry into a very competitive market, but it took me three tries before I was able to take a close-up look at the car, and even then I had to ask for it to be unlocked! However, judging from the number I see on the roads, this may be from lack of supply rather than reluctance of Mercedes to plug their surprisingly large crossover.

I’m not 100% sold on the GLC’s styling, as it also looks a little like a raised estate car rather than a pure off-roader…I guess because of its lower roofline and slightly droopy nose. But it’s arguably prettier than its main rivals, and that’s half the battle anyway. Inside it’s also prettier than the Q5 and X3, being based on the well received C-Class and featuring a tablet-style infotainment system. Space is good as well, but there’s still a transmission hump like in other vehicles this size – something that would put me off a bit.

The 2.1-litre diesel in the GLC is the same as the one you’d find in the CLS, and although it’s by no means bad, it’s overdue replacement by Mercedes’ new 2.0-litre diesel engine, although the 9-speed gearbox is a nice touch. Value is pretty good, with £349/month payments being advertised by Mercedes at their dealerships. In terms of prices, there’s a good £2-3k saving available if you use websites like carwow.

Mercedes GLE

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The GLE is basically just a facelift of the previous ML model, not a car I was particularly fond of. I originally sat in the new Coupe model, which is very fancy and expensive looking, but a little too pricey compared to the other models here. The updated front-end styling is much improved over the older car, but the rear end still looks a mess and is enough to put me off the car, especially if it lacks the large AMG-Line wheels.

Inside is a slightly better story, but it’s clear to see that Mercedes has yet to give the GLE’s cabin the same sort of overhaul that it has to the GLC and the impressive new E-Class – it’s a little embarrasing that Mercedes charges a minimum of £70k for the same interior in the new GLS. Space is big enough, but not at the same level as the other SUVs we saw, and only a half step in front of the GLC…I’d expect the next GLE to grow a bit.

I had also expected the GLE to struggle a little bit with the 204hp ‘250d’ engine that’s also found in the GLC and CLS, as well as many smaller Mercedes models. However after spending an hour in an ML 250d (more on that in another post), I came to the conclusion that for most drivers it’ll be just fine. It just irks me that Mercedes see fit to charge well over £50k for the GLE 250d AMG Line…perhaps the reason why dealers are offering discounts of £8k!

Volvo XC90

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I’d seen the new XC90 in the metal once before and had been left very impressed – I was a big fan of the original and the current model just improves on its spirit on every single level. I wasn’t keen on the original spy-shots of the second generation car, but on reflection it looks a lot tougher and modern than the old car, especially in attractive R-Design trim.

Inside is arguably even more successful, with the large SENSUS touchscreen being a game changer in terms of infotainment system – it’s nearly at iPad levels of usability and is a lot more intuitive than systems in rivals. Space is also a lot better used, as all 3 rows can be sat in by adults – with the middle row slid forward it’s possible for a 6’4ft person to sit in the third row, and there’s a good amount of space behind them too.

I’ve actually now driven an XC90 and you’d never know that the engine under the bonnet is only 2.0-litres in displacement – it has more power than my X5, and although being a little bigger it’s also quicker and notably more economical. The only black mark against it is price – admittedly it’s priced a little cheaper than rivals, but there’s virtually no possibility of a deal, making it a good £5k more than the Q7 and GLE.

Others…

There’s actually a number of vehicles that compete in this segment, but the above were the ones that really made the final cut. The BMW X3 is a little low rent, and the X5 is on the pricey side all things considered, despite being older than the other cars here. Land Rover offer a comprehensive line-up of potential candidates, but most are too expensive, and the Discovery is just too outdated and uneconomical to compete on anything but image. The new Lexus RX450h is a little pokey inside, and the Porsche Cayenne/Volkswagen Touareg siblings are too expensive/low rent respectively. If the Jeep Grand Cherokee was priced more wisely then it’d have been a contender, but awful residuals and poor fuel economy make it only for the brave, and the Jaguar F-Pace already has a long waiting list.

What happened?

Well after seeing the Volvo XC90 for a second time, everything else seemed to pale in comparison for my friend. A call to another local dealer found a good spec Momentum model with delivery miles and fancy wheels for a reasonable price…so far it’s been returning just under 40mpg.

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