Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Devon is impressed with the Volvo XC90

The previous generation XC90 was our favorite luxury 4x4. It wasn’t as sharp to drive as a BMW X5 and the interior wasn’t classy like an Audi Q7 but it had a charm that was hard to ignore. Now the newer XC90 really does have a lot to live up to; not only in terms of helping Volvo stay afloat but also stamping it’s mark in the ever crowded ever serious luxury 4x4 segment. Tough gig!

Volvo does start off on the right notes with the new XC90 because both the exterior and interior looks are absolutely stunning; both help the XC90 leap light years ahead of the previous generation. Dare we say the XC90 is the most handsome 4x4 in this segment? But how does this all translate onto the road?
The sole engine choice for now is a 2-liter turbocharged and supercharged four-cylinder pumping out a hearty 315hp with standard all-wheel-drive. You might think that a tiny four-cylinder isn’t up to the job in the XC90 but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how flexible the engine really is. We haven’t tested the XC90 fully laden but we are pretty sure that it won’t struggle thanks to a maximum tow rating of 5,000lbs.
Our tester car came equipped with air suspension and 20-inch alloys and the ride quality is actually good. Large bumps won’t even send shutters into the cabin. Handling is okay it won’t defy logic like a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne but it holds its own well. Steering is smooth and offers excellent feedback. Refinement is good in the XC90, when at relaxed speeds you can barely hear a peep out of the engine and road noise is virtually unheard of. There is a bit of wind noise around the side mirrors but it’s far from intrusive or annoying.
Volvo has the best seats in the auto industry hands down. These seats provide enough comfort for drivers of all sizes. The infotainment system is actually quite easy to use and of course you get a full nine-inch display which adds a bit of class to the overall look and feel. All the controls are within easy reach and your view forwards and backwards is good. Boot space is okay with the third row seat in place. Fold the third row seat down and you’ve got even more space, fold down both rows and you have so much space that you would need a transit van if you find the space lacking.
The third row seat is actually quite roomy for adults, even though most will only tolerate it for short journeys. The second row space is generous too, in fact this is one of the few seven-seat 4x4s we’ve ever driven where the balance between utility and people carrier is so good that we have to give it a standing ovation.
T6-AWD gets navigation system, rain sensing windshield wipers and lane departure warning. T6 R-design adds integrated body-kit with 20-inch alloys and full-LED headlights. T6 AWD Inscription adds Nappa leather seating, ventilated seating surfaces and keyless entry with hands-free tailgate opening system. The amount of kit you get standard for the money is actually much more generous then what you would typically get standard on a BMW X5 and Mercedes ML.
We challenge you to find a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne with the same equipment for similar money and what you’ll find is all the reasons why the XC90 is the better buy. It may not have the resale value of both brands yet but this XC90 looks promising and we do predict that the value will hold very well. Running costs are similar to that of the BMW and Porsche and even though Volvo doesn’t offer a diesel engine it will eventually offer a plug-in hybrid option which is predicted to be one of the greenest seven-seat 4x4s on sale until the Tesla Model-X arrives of course.
Interior quality is superb and many of the plastics feel classy and upmarket; a far departure from the previous generation. Volvo has scored above-average in reliability and we do see this being a new trend for years to come. If Volvo had a middle name it would be safety and everything that you could ever possibly want in terms of safety kit Volvo has it. The most notable of these systems is the city braking which works at speeds up to 30mph, by slowing you down and bring you to a complete stop if the driver so happens to take his or her eyes off the road.
When you think of luxury 4x4s most will venture to the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne because well both are good in their own right. However, the XC90 is better than both in its own way. It may not be as sharp to drive or defy logic, but it is a comfortable cruiser with an outstanding interior and can really fit seven people aboard. Plus it is one of the most handsome looking 4x4s we have ever seen in a while. Volvo really did tick all the right buttons and play all the right notes with the new XC90. Hopefully the new looks and well equipped trim-levels will lure buyers in because passing one up without giving it a real gander is a real shame because this 4x4 is a gem.

Devon’s pick: T6 AWD R-design is where our money would go. It feels like you get a lot of car for your money and still somehow you undercut the X5 and you’re still way below what you would have to pay if you picked the Cayenne. It’s classy and stylish plus we just love those LED headlights.

Like: The XC90 is the most handsome 4x4 in the segment and that style carries inside too. Infotainment system is easy to use and those seats are the best. It can really fit seven people aboard and somehow manages to undercut the heavy hitters in kit and price.

Dislikes: The auto gearbox is a little sluggish to react.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Devon test drives a compact Mercedes Crossover (GLA)

The Mercedes GLA may be a good deal on paper but can it shake the image that the CLA seems to be tarnished by?

Standard GLA250’s turbocharged four-cylinder is good for 208hp while the top of the GLA45 AMG’s 355hp is wicked fast. Pick of the range is simple and the most logical choice, even though we do enjoy how fast the AMG form is, we’d have to say the GLA250 is the only way to go. It’s the more affordable of the two and the running costs are actually quite good. It’s hard to fault it too because there’s decent turn of pace around town and on the highway, plus you can option it with all-wheel-drive if needed.

On the road the GLA does feel more composed than you’d think. There’s plenty of grip with the 4-matic all-wheel-drive system and steering feedback is pleasantly good. The AMG form has a lowered suspension and its setup is more aimed towards agility. However, you’ll be surprised that there is a fair balance between body control and ride comfort; at least the GLA lives up to the Mercedes badge with very minimal wind and road noise to complain of.

There is plenty of space for the front passengers and rear passengers. Headroom and legroom are both decent. The boot space is decent too but nothing to brag about. The infotainment system is too fiddly to operate while on the move, and there are far too many menus to look through for simple functions. Plus we aren’t huge fans of the screen that sort of just pops out the dash instead of raising and lowering into the dash like in the Audi Q3.

Bluetooth audio streaming, 14-way power driver’s seat with memory, power lift gate and eco start/stop system all come as standard. You’ll have to pay extra for navigation system, bi-xenon headlamps and 4-matic all-wheel-drive. Both options that are great but all depends if you really have to have them. Our tester car came pretty decked out and also came with a pretty decked out price tag as well.

The GLA price tag is enticing but you’ll have to walk away with a very sparsely equipped GLA. Even if it does offer decent kit at a decent price, you’ll have to overlook the Q3 which does have a bit more kit standard and of course the more dynamically appealing X1. Getting the GLA to a desired level of kit means you’ll be paying more for it and it becomes even harder to justify especially when there are so many indirect rivals that are larger roomier and has more standard kit too.

Mercedes reliability record is spotty even though Mercedes does enjoy high customer satisfaction scores. The interior materials do feel up to Mercedes par, but the overall reliability of the electronics should be something to look at long term wise. But at least Mercedes doesn’t short change on the safety with collision prevention assist plus, driver attention assist, and adaptive braking technology. Seven airbags are standard; and an alarm system with engine immobilizer is fitted to keep theft at bay.

The GLA is one of those crossovers you’ll either love or loathe. We like the low starting price and the overall badge appeal that comes along with owning a Mercedes, however you will feel short changed with the GLA just like the CLA. Its indirect options are much better and that raises the question is it really worth it? If you have to have a Mercedes yes; otherwise there are better indirect rivals that cost similar money and offer way more.

Likes: AMG form is wicked fast. It’s a practical hatchback on stilts with a low starting price.  Low running cost.

Dislikes: Low price goes bye-bye when options are added. Infotainment system is fiddly to operate and there are too many distracting menus.

Devon’s choice: GLA 250 4-matic all-wheel-drive. If your heart is set on having a GLA this form is the best way to go. You’ll want to keep the options list light with just one or two options added on. Both are a bit pricey but are worth adding; 4-matic all-wheel-drive for the added traction in sticky situations and Bi-xenon headlamps for the added luxury car appeal.

Performance: Standard form is good but AMG form is wicked fast. ****

Ride & handling: Both are surprisingly good. ****

Refinement: Up to Mercedes standards. ****

Buying & owning: Some versions can get expensive but holds value well. **

Quality & reliability: Quality is good but reliability record is spotty. ***

Safety & Security: Comes with all the gear needed for avoidance and in event of accident. ****

Behind the wheel: Comfortable front seats; infotainment system too fiddly. ***

Space & Practicality: Decent space for five; boot space nothing to brag about. ***

Equipment: Decent kit but options are expensive. ***