The small SUV – or soft-roader – is no stranger to the world of motoring, a trend starting with manufacturers that already had experience with 4X4’s and which later spread to the premium brands. It’s not surprising really, especially in the local context, as our roads leave much to be desired and many of these vehicles are significantly more practical than a sedan or hatchback.
Audi’s Q5 is the latest in the company’s range of Q-vehicles and in some ways a smaller, more practical evolution of the gorgeously gargantuan Q7. Volvo’s XC60 does the same thing, taking the existing look and purpose of the XC90 to a new level. Renault’s Koleos is the odd one out here, firstly because of its quirky appearance, but also because it can actually venture off the beaten track.
Audi’s Q5 is instantly recognisable as an Audi, with the lines now more cohesive and less brutal than those on the Q7. It’s handsome and masculine, but with a strange new timidity that’s quite endearing. Single-frame grille and LED daytime running lights set the tone at the front, with striking taillights completing the picture. It also looks notably better when fitted with larger (optional) wheels.
The Renault Koleos is a decidedly different design in the sense that its lines take quite a bit of getting used to. It’s not ugly as such, but it’s generally rounded stance makes it look more amphibian than feline. There is method to the madness though. Built on the Nissan X-Trail platform and fitted with the exact same off-road prowess, its rounded shape gives it class-leading approach and departure angles when going off road.
In my opinion, the Volvo XC60 strikes the perfect balance between purpose and appearance. It’s svelte in every sense of the word, and although odd in places, brings a modern twist to an existing design language to make it more sedate and broaden its appeal. It’s also said to be unofficially the safest car in the world, with a whole article required to truly explain the merits of Volvo’s brilliant City Safety system.
Inside, Audi’s Q5 leads the way with material quality and ergonomics, and you are immediately comfortable behind the wheel. It’s the same basic set-up as in any other Audi, which certainly has merit. The Koleos undoubtedly has one of the best Renault interiors I’ve seen in a while with the fit, finish and materials used proving to be a very pleasant surprise. Everything is where one would expect it to be (which isn’t always the case in a Renault), numerous nooks and crannies included. I loved the more rugged fabric upholstery as it’s undoubtedly more practical in a vehicle of this nature.
The XC60 again impresses with its simple, elegant and functional interior. Seats are covered in leather and the plastics used of excellent quality. The floating centre console remains beautiful and uncluttered, and all functions are easy to find, understand and use. The panoramic sunroof is a welcome addition (and included as standard specification, unlike in the Q5 which will set you back R16 800).
For this particular test we wanted to focus on the entry-level diesel models of each range, and as such we gratefully accepted a Q5 2.0 TDI and XC60 D5 Geartronic. Renault only had a 2.5-litre petrol Koleos available for test at that time, but a 2.0 dCi model is also available.
The XC60 is powered by a 2.4-litre diesel engine that delivers 136 kW of power and 400 Nm of torque at a low 2 000 r/min. It’s fitted with Volvo’s familiar Geartronic automatic gearbox that, unfortunately, isn’t the bees’ knees. On the open road and under hard acceleration it works a charm, but in urban traffic – where 80% of driving occurs – it’s sluggish in its changes. Acceleration to 100km/h takes 9.8 seconds, with a top speed of 210 km/h.
The Q5 is powered by Audi’s familiar 2.0-litre diesel engine that delivers 125 kW of power and 350 Nm of torque at a low 1 750 r/min. It’s fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox that works significantly better than in the A4 2.0 TDI. Acceleration to 100km/h takes 9.7 seconds, with a top speed of 200 km/h.
The Koleos’s 2.5-litre petrol engine delivers 126 kW of power and 226 Nm of torque, making it less powerful than both the Q5 and XC60. It’s also fitted with a 6-speed manual gearbox that’s smooth yet supple. Acceleration to 100km/h takes 10.3 seconds, with a top speed of 191 km/h. (The Koleos 2.0 dCi, incidentally, has 127kW and 360Nm of torque – more than the Q5).
While I am positive the Renault Koleos 2.0 dCi is a good car, it’s difficult to give a true impression without having driven it. The Koleos does however polarize opinions, and as such it will probably appeal to non-conformists and fans of the French brand. It also the only one in the trio to have 4×4 capabilities. It certainly offers exceptional value for money at R305 000 (R369 000 for the 2.0 dCi), but I doubt it will appeal as broadly as the Q5 or XC60, even though they are premium offerings.
The Q5 is a brilliant attempt by Audi that delivers on all its promises. Its biggest downfall is however its options list that contains many items I think should be included as standard. Our test model was fitted with R126 000 worth of options, pushing its base price of R409 000 up to a whopping R536 000… Still, it’s selling like hot cakes and was the sixth best-selling SUV in April.
For me, however, the XC60 is the best deal you’ll find. It’s attractive and capable, has excellent standard specification and fuel consumption that is quite simply superb. At R481 000, it’s more expensive than the Q5 2.0 TDI but cheaper than the 3.0 TDI (at R533 500), finding a middle ground in which Audi doesn’t compete. Add to that its comprehensive safety package and there’s really no arguing about value for money.