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Driven: Worthy challengers VW Touareg & Volvo XC60

Two new premium SUV crossovers make a compelling argument against the establishment

When it comes to premium SUVs, the Teutonic cartel of Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Porsche has ruled the segment in our market. And with good reason: the Q, GL, X and Macan/Cayenne vehicles all roll off their production lines with superior German engineering and build quality forged into their DNA. Add to that an extra layer imbued with the individual design and handling attributes that characterise each brand, and you have a tough automotive package to beat.

The Brits have a go – the Jaguar Land Rover stable also offers excellent propositions, although they often lose out on pricing – and, from the East, Lexus offers high-quality alternatives in the NX and RX, despite their angular styling being a little on the divisive side.
Recently, however, two brands have served up some contenders that certainly have the ability to take on the establishment. One is from Sweden; the other, treacherously, is from the motherland itself. Let’s start with the insurrectionist.

VW TOUAREG V6 TDI LUXURY

Squint your eyes a little and you’d swear the distinctively long-and-low silhouette before you is an Audi Q7. Relaxing one’s ocular muscles may subsequently highlight the main differences – the VW’s wide, chrome-louvered grille and more angular rear – but otherwise you are indeed looking at the same vehicle. Like its cousin from Ingolstadt, the Touareg is also underpinned by the VW Group’s MLB-Evo platform and powered by the same turbodiesel V6 (albeit with an extra 7kW in the VW).

And this can only be a good thing – when it comes to refinement and comfort, the MLB platform is as good as it gets in the segment. (It even underpins the uber-luxe Bentley Bentayga.) Our test car also came with the optional height-adjustable air suspension that, in comfort mode, morphs just about any road surface into billiard-table-smooth asphalt; that mode is one of seven different on- and off-road drive modes available at the twist of a rotary dial.

The suspension, along with the meaty 285/45 20-inch tyres, does a remarkable of job of keeping the big VW composed – and make no mistake, despite being lighter than its predecessor, at more than 2,2 tonnes this remains a hefty vehicle. Also doing an excellent job of disguising that bulk is the powerful turbodiesel powerplant. With 600Nm underfoot and a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic gearbox, highway-speed overtaking is effortless thanks both to the prodigious power and the wide band that it’s available in.

As ever in a segment like this one, the interior is at the very least as much of a critical selling point as the powertrain or exterior design. This is where the new Touareg has really stepped up its game. In terms of build quality and ergonomics, it is right up there with its Q7 rival – even bettering it if you tick the Innovision Cockpit option (R74 000) with a 12-inch virtual binnacle cluster and a 15-inch central display. Few cars can match the sheer grandeur of this hi-tech, driver-centric cockpit with its functionality and crisp display.

There is no questioning this latest-generation Touareg’s abilities. It’s a large SUV crossover of the highest quality that boasts the largest range of assistance, handling and comfort systems ever to be integrated into a Volkswagen. But that too is its biggest challenge. As well-specced as it is, badge equity is a factor, and some South Africans may be reluctant to spend that amount of money on a VW – especially when its priced on par with its Audi equivalent (the Q7 is R1 094 000).

KEY SPECS
ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 turbopetrol
POWER 190kW
TORQUE 600Nm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed auto
TOP SPEED 235km/h
FUEL ECONOMY 7,1L/100km*
MAINTENANCE PLAN 5 year/100 000km
BASE PRICE R1 024 800
*claimed

 

 

VOLVO XC60 D5 AWD MOMENTUM

The Swedes are on a roll. The smaller Volvo XC40 is the current European Car of the Year, and the one you see here is the reigning World Car of the Year. It sits in the middle of Volvo’s XC range, slotting in below the bigger XC90 – then-chief designer Thomas Ingenlath’s opening salvo in a raft of new models that have been universally praised for their handsome looks, stylish interiors, practicality and premium build quality.

The previous generation XC60 was also Volvo’s global bestseller, remarkably selling more in its final year of production than any previous ones – all the provenance, then, to persuade anyone in the market for a mid-size premium to look beyond the usual suspects.

And you really should, because if you’re among the growing number of Volvo fans, know that this XC60 really is the sweet spot on the brand’s SUV range. It improves on the XC90’s lauded design DNA, its more compact dimensions and rounder lines allowing for a silhouette that’s more lithe and sinuous than its boxier bigger brother. Built on the same scalable SPA platform as the XC90, the XC60 is longer and wider than its predecessor, with a 90mm longer wheelbase that affords this new-gen more interior room. And it’s an interior that certainly matches the more expensive XC90 in both sophisticated minimalist design and build quality. Constructed around the best infotainment system around in Volvo’s

Sensus Connect, the attention to detail and craftsmanship throughout the cabin is superb.
Of the four engine derivatives available (two turbodiesels and two turbopetrols), it’s this D5 oil-burner that’s the one to get. With 480Nm of torque from as low as 1 750rpm, there is plenty of low-down grunt and virtually no turbo lag thanks to Volvo’s Power Pulse technology, which uses compressed air to spool up the turbo.

Given its similar outputs to the XC90 D5 (in fact, the bigger Volvo only has 470Nm), performance in the lighter XC60 is particularly punchy: it feels noticeably more athletic in its handling than its bigger brother. There’s plenty of grip from the big 21-inch rubber and BorgWarner all-wheel-drive system, and the eight-speed automatic transmission – standard on all XC60s – is wonderfully smooth in its shifting patterns.
Being a Volvo, it naturally comes with a raft of advanced safety functionalities. Introduced on the XC60 are steering assist functions linked with both blind-spot lane changes and City Safe collision avoidance, as well as a new oncoming traffic avoidance system that will steer the vehicle back into the correct lane should its scanners pick up a potential head-on collision situation.

Basically, if there ever was a reason to choose an alternative to the Germans, you’re looking right at it.

KEY SPECS
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel
POWER 173kW
TORQUE 480Nm
TRANS 8-speed auto
TOP SPEED 220km/h
0-100 7,2 sec*
FUEL ECONOMY 5,5L/100km*
MAINTENANCE PLAN 5 year/100 000km
BASE PRICE R743 036
*claimed

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