Audi Q7 3.0 TDI 272 S line
List price £55,905
Target Price £51,010
Our current favourite luxury SUV is roomy, comfortable and, with a powerful V6 engine, ultra-smooth
Land Rover Discovery 3.0L Td6 HSE
List price £58,795
Target Price £58,495
A classic reborn; the all-new Discovery promises to be more luxurious and versatile than ever
Volvo XC90 2.0 D5 PowerPulse R-Design
List price £51,005
Target Price £48,440
Superb value, but can the XC90, with its smaller engine, mix it with these more powerful rivals?
Anyone thinking the Land Rover Discovery is getting a bit too fancy these days would do well to remember that the original, launched in 1989, had an interior sculpted by Terence Conran, who was briefed to design it as a ‘lifestyle accessory’.
However, the all-new, fifth-generation Discovery is undoubtedly the plushest yet, with bundles of new technology and an ever more Range Rover-like style.
That’s because its rivals are no longer agricultural vehicles augmented by some token leather trim; rather, they’re genuine luxury cars – as demonstrated by the Audi Q7, currently our favourite luxury SUV.
The Volvo XC90 is another cracking option, especially when you factor in its lower asking price. So, can the new Discovery really eclipse such tough competition?
What are they like to drive?
You’re probably thinking that the 2.0-litre XC90 won’t be able to match its more powerful 3.0-litre rivals, aren’t you? In fact, it gets off the line more smartly than the Discovery and has pulled out a clear lead by the time 60mph comes up.
Both the Discovery and the XC90 deliver perfectly adequate performance, but the Q7 is in a different league, firing itself from 0-60mph in a hot-hatch-like 6.1sec. Impressive stuff.
Once upon a time, you’d expect an SUV to have a clattery old diesel engine and a clunky automatic gearbox. How times have changed, because all three of our contenders have smooth-shifting eight-speed autos, while the six-cylinder engines in the Q7 and Discovery are silky smooth. By a whisker, the Q7’s is the quietest here.
It’s the same at higher speeds, the Q7 suppressing wind and road noise better than most limousines. The XC90 is the loudest in all situations, though – mainly due to the drone from its big tyres, an issue that can be quite wearing if the surface is poor. With just four cylinders, the XC90’s engine is the most vocal of this trio, too.
Tick the air suspension option (£2000) for the Q7, then set it to Comfort mode and you waft along in remarkable serenity, both in town and on the motorway. The Discovery’s standard air suspension gets close to matching the Q7 for suppleness; it’s just fractionally busier on rippled roads and reacts with more bounce over big bumps, such as sleeping policemen.
On its standard steel springs, the XC90 rides tolerably well most of the time, but because it’s noticeably more stiffly suspended than its rivals, ragged potholes in town or razor-edged expansion joints send nasty jolts through the car. We wouldn’t bother adding optional air suspension, because it doesn’t significantly improve the ride.
On the upside, the XC90 is the most agile in corners; its body leans the least, making it the most fun to thread along winding roads. Firm up the Q7’s suspension by selecting Dynamic mode and it still rolls slightly more than the XC90, but it grips just as well and its steering is similarly precise.
You can’t hurry the Discovery, though. Keep the pace relaxed and it cruises along happily enough, but push harder and it sways about disconcertingly and its front tyres quickly run wide of your intended line. However, if you venture off road, or need to tow a caravan out of a muddy field, the Discovery is king.
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