Will the 2021 Volvo XC90 be able to stand its ground against a 2021 Audi SQ7 in the race to be the best sport-luxury SUV? We find out.
Decades ago, if anyone would have said that Audi and Volvo would build and sell full-sized SUVs, people would have shamed them into obscurity. But today, not only do both sell a full-sized 7-passenger SUV, they also offer SUVs for almost any size. It’s as if they’re planning on replacing their sedans with a similar stair-step offering for your future dollars.
Yes, the Audi SQ7 and Volvo XC90 have an SUV-like exterior shape, but there are substantial differences in how each defines a luxury SUV. At first glance, these are some of the more beautiful and comfortable interiors you’ll find in an SUV.
You’ll also enjoy the way they deliver technology, safety, and luxury. But after some time with each model, you’re going to care for one over the other. We compared their style, performance, and utility. So let’s check out the merchandise and see what’s right for you – a 2021 Volvo XC90 or a 2021 Audi SQ7?
The differences between the Audi SQ7 and the Volvo XC90 are apparent when you walk up to them. While the Audi comes across as low to the ground, wider, and more powerful, the Volvo is stately, upright, and conservative. The Volvo’s visual presence seems to suggest that frivolous stuff like fast corners and speed are beneath it. We like the purposeful shape of the Volvo, but it seems to be for those who are older and seeking safety, security, and normality.
The front grille still holds on to the Volvo tradition of upright vertical bars, but is softened for looks and aerodynamics. Finally, we have to point out, what Volvo calls its Thor’s Hammer headlights. Yes, they’re impressive even without the name.
These days, its struggle enough to have an SUV, so we like that the Audi SQ7 looks as if it has a mean alter ego waiting to get out. One observation about the SQ7 is its strong family Audi DNA. Audi’s brand design is handsome, luxurious, hi-tech, and aggressive. But we would like some more from the SQ7 rather than just a larger version of the Q4.
With that said, the Audi SQ7 easily carries off the sport-oriented looks of its brethren around its frame. As a result, with its broad shoulders and squatty stance, it looks fast and meaner than the XC90. Although the SQ7 doesn’t have Thor’s Hammer anywhere, Audi likes to point out the Matrix (not named after the movie series) LED headlights and embedded turn signals. They’re nice looking and practical.
Once you step in, you’ll see why the 2021 Audi SQ7 and 2021 Volvo XC90 are solidly in the luxury car category, but they accomplish this in opposite ways.
Starting with the XC90, we’ve not seen seats like this in any vehicle. They are covered with the best napa leather and are a visual work of art. Using the touchscreen in combo with the seat controls, you have multiple adjustments available like side-bolster adjustment, thigh support adjustment, and other more standard settings. We don’t think you’ll find seats more comfortable than these, and they would fit easily in a vehicle twice the cost of the Volvo XC90.
The leather on the seat is also used on the console, dash, and door panels, which helps bring the interior together. The quality of fit, touch, and feel are excellent, but you’ll notice the design’s age. The instrument panel does have a nice 12.3-inch digital screen for the tach, speedometer, and other data. Moving over to the 9-inch vertical touchscreen, we appreciated the clean design of the user interface. However, while the infotainment system it has a clean and modern aesthetic that fits the seats, the same cannot be said about the dash.
Where there are knobs, they have a decent feel and work well. Without knowing what the knobs were made of at first, we thought the Orrefors Crystal shift lever was plastic masquerading as crystal. We did fall for the impressively remarkable panoramic roof that helped lighten up the cabin space. Every SUV should have one of these.
When it comes to the need to connect your phone, Volvo is a little stingy with its one USB port in the rear seats – may God help you if you carry your kids back there. Up front, you’re blessed with a wireless charging mat and USB connections. Overall, the Volvo XC90 interior carries a stately and serene attitude of comfort, dash design aside.
The Volvo successfully looks like old money luxury, but the Audi SQ7 has the style of a high-tech luxury home on the coast of Malibu. While the Volvo dash says 2015, the Audi one shows us the future.
Like the Volvo, the 2021 Audi SQ7 surrounds its passengers with high-quality leather and natural wood. However, Volvo throws shade on Audi with its better napa leather and seat design. As for those Audi seats, although the SQ7 has standard seats like its sibling SUV, it wouldn’t have cost Audi too much to make the optional and multi-adjustable Audi Sport seat standard on its $75,000 model. The highest non-SQ7 trim seats weren’t any different in design from the base trim. You had to pay thousands more for that privilege. At least the Audi SQ7 has very comfortable and body-hugging sports seats plus a massage function that we wouldn’t leave.
Overall, the Audi is significantly more hi-tech. Like the Volvo, the driver has a 12.3-inch digital gauge screen, but Audi’s virtual cockpit is infinitely more sophisticated and vivid than Volvo’s dated system. There are multiple view options from Sport modes to one that has the Google Maps navigation. The black panels of the center console light up with high-definition graphics, haptic touch, an impressive rear camera 360 system, and all of the entertainment controls on its horizontal 10.1-inch display. The 8.6-inch lower touchscreen display houses the climate control system and heated seat options. Both screens operating systems are fast, understandable, and well designed.
The backseat gets its own style with a bit more legroom than the Volvo, but you won’t notice it too much. Each rear passenger gets their own controlled zone of cooling or heating, available USB ports, and, like the Volvo, above them is a panoramic roof.
Also similar to the Volvo, it’s easy to collapse the second-row seats and get into one of the two rear seats of the Audi SQ7. The second row is fine, but make sure you put your adult enemies behind there. The third-row seating gets claustrophobic in the Audi SQ7 and Volvo XC90, but that’s pretty typical for this segment.
If you’re planning on taking large groups or hauling oversized items, you should really be looking at an actual full-size SUV like the Chevrolet Suburban. But it doesn’t mean that these luxury cars masquerading as utility vehicles can’t be useful still.
The 2021 Volvo XC90 can hold 12.6 cubic feet of stuff behind its third row. To give you some perspective, these areas in both vehicles are about the same size as a Toyota Corolla trunk at 13.1 cu-ft, but you have more vertical space here. Once you fold the third row, space increases to 35.6 cu-ft, and will all the seats down you gain 65.5 cu-ft of area in the Volvo.
Audi has a larger 14.2 cubic feet behind the third row and surprisingly similar 35.7 cu-ft with the third row down. With everything folded flat, you end up with a larger than the Volvo, 69.6 cu-ft. The Audi wins out with power-folding seats and a swing your foot automatic hatch. The Volvo uses a traditional button on the key fob and manual folding seats.
The standard 2021 Audi Q7 gives you two engine choices. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder puts out a pretty strong 248 horsepower, but seems to be happier in the Audi A3 Quattro than the Q7 with its hefty 3,000 lbs. The 3.0-liter turbo V6 48-volt mild-hybrid setup churns out a more fitting 335 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. For something ultra-speedy, you’ll want our SQ7 subject for today. Its engine bay is stuffed with a turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 rolling 500 horsepower and 568 pound-feet of torque, and it does 0-60 in 3.6 seconds. Every SQ7 comes with all-wheel drive, active air suspension, and an eight-speed auto.
The Volvo XC90 gives you a similar 2.0-liter four-cylinder base, but four different versions of it. The T5 four-cylinder is turbocharged, generates 250 horsepower, and comes in standard front-wheel drive or optional AWD. The T6 2.0-liter has the turbo, but also adds a supercharger to get rid of that turbo hesitation. The XC90 T6 has a respectable 316 horsepower and standard AWD. Finally, the T8e (a trim made to match the SQ7) is a plug-in hybrid that puts out a combined 400 horsepower and 472 lb-ft of torque. It’ll also roll around on EV power only for 15-27 miles.
Let’s talk speed, ride, and handling between these two. The Audi SUV in anything but the 2.0-liter turbo is a stoplight racing, corner-carving, sports car masquerading as a mild-mannered SUV. Its ride is comfortable with the active air suspension and, when called upon, will click into sports mode and run with the horses. Otherwise, even with the 22-inch wheels, the ride is tranquil and drama-free. You can crank up its lovely Bang & Olufsen sound system and use its semi-autonomous drive system to trundle around like a Toyota Prius rolling roadblock in the carpool lane.
The Volvo is rapid in the proper configuration. Specifically, the T8e Recharge Inscription does zero-to-60 in 4.9 seconds. Not as fast as the Audi SQ7, but still very quick. Other than the speed, and even with its air suspension, you won’t be searching for cloverleaf onramps or looking to embarrass sports cars on the local canyon roads. The Volvo XC90 knows its happy place as a supremely comfortable, drama-free, quiet, and luxurious cruiser. However, if you want to tune up some Bon Jovi on the XC90’s Bowers & Wilkins system and channel its inner speedster at a stoplight, we won’t blame you one bit.
Audi’s Q7 likes the premium fuel. The turbo-four will average 21 mpg with an EPA estimated 19 mpg city, 23 highway. If you choose the V6, you’ll sometimes see 18 mpg combined with 17 in the city and 21 on the highway. As for the 2021 Audi SQ7, it will reward you with a scary 14 mpg in the city or 21 mpg on the highway.
Volvo does better while also using premium fuel. The lower-powered T5, in front-wheel-drive, has an estimated 25 combined mpg with 21 in the city and 30 on the highway. The AWD T6 turbo/supercharged version gets 18 in the city, 26 on the highway, and 21 mpg combined with the T8 above it getting similar numbers. As usual, the mpg you get on the Audi and Volvo will depend mainly on your judicious use of the loud pedal.
Volvo is the safety king. It comes with more standard driver assists than the Audi. You get standard adaptive cruise control, lane assists, Pilot Assist, rear parking sensors, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, collision mitigation, and seat belt police on every seat.
While offering similar standard equipment, Audi unwisely only provides adaptive cruise control, traffic sign info, and blind-spot alerts on its most expensive trims. In addition, all trims get Audi’s pre-sense collision mitigation.
The 2021 Volvo XC90 starts at $58,045 in front-wheel-drive and the Recharge models starting at $63,450. Audi begins its Q7 pricing at $54,950 with the SQ7 starting at $85,000. The Q7 provides more standard luxury conveniences, but the XC90 offers more standard safety.
If you want old-school luxury with a blend of new technology, the 2021 Volvo XC90 is your car. The seats are amazing and, in the Recharge, you have the capability to have a hefty savings on fuel costs. However, the 2021 Audi SQ7 has an eye towards the future in its design – especially the interior – and is dramatically more fun to drive. If it were our money, we’d choose the Audi.