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Comparison: Volvo XC60 vs Audi Q5 vs Mercedes-Benz GLC

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You cannot have more vastly different contenders all vying for the same title

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Be different. Think outside the box. Go beyond boundaries. Push the limits. These are not just little quotations that you see printed on the walls of nearly every working space these days. Before these phrases attained mass-produced-mass-consumed popularity, entrepreneurs (back when the term actually meant something) would actually look upon these as codes to live life and achieve success by.

I am sure, when it comes to car companies, most would have their own set of rules and they all aim for different results. The important thing then is the end result and who it would cater to. So, here we have three SUVs – Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Volvo XC60 – with vastly different DNA but all competing in the same segment. The Volvo XC60, Audi Q5 and Mercedes GLC. What we aim to do here is find out which SUV suits which buyer best. Because while the Volvo may be the only car to offer massaging seats, for some of you, the Audi’s well-rounded ride could be more desirable; yet others could find the Merc’s styling irresistibly attractive.

So, the plan was to drive down to Rajasthan from Delhi. Down the truck-laden, dusty highways where temperatures in March would still be a manageable 30 degrees.
Let’s start with first impressions – the thoughts that raced through my head as I walked up to each of the cars. 

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The Q5, in the flesh, looks pleasing enough. Macho, butch design cues teamed with sharp lines to give it a sporty poise. That was until I was muscled off my lane by a Q7 (one of the many tinted-windowed, political party sticker bearing SUVs in Delhi). I have to say with some level of disappointment, carmakers, you’ve got to step up your game when it comes to styling. Nearly every auto major today has the “family resemblance” thing going. I mean, it’s one thing to have trademark bits and another to have just various sizes of the same basic form as an entire range of vehicles.

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And this is precisely the reason why I was quite impressed by the XC60 seeing as how Volvo has made an effort to differentiate its mid-ranger from the flagship XC90. That said, Volvo’s smaller footprint here may be one reason why the XC’s appearance was refreshingly distinct on the streets.

In this scenario, the Mercedes GLC may not turn heads wherever you go but people are going to recognise it for what it is. It’s a balanced, safe design that no one can take offense to. It is clearly playing to the audience here.

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Time to step inside. The Q5’s cabin is outfitted in typical Audi fashion – prim and proper and there are a fair number of upgrades over the older car. There’s also virtual cockpit now, which we’ve experienced in the bigger Q before. The GLC, on the inside, is as it is on the outside. It’s all good quality materials and craftsmanship but maybe not quite next generation or something that will etch in your memory. This is something the XC60 excels at. That huge smartphone-mimicking touchscreen on the dash, bucket loads of technology, it’s all very exciting and mesmerizing.

Of course, when it comes to space and comfort, all three contenders have an ample supply in both rows and the cavernous boots swallow up all the weekend luggage a small family can muster.

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When it comes to driving, the Q5, with its dual-clutch auto ’box, 188bhp 2.0-litre diesel mill is quite capable. The gearbox is quite intuitive and responds well. On the highway, there’s always plenty of shove to get past those lumbering goods vehicles and the ride is pretty sublime too. Broken sections are dealt with a firm hand (no really, no pun intended) and not much disrupts the proceedings inside.

There are different drive modes on offer including one for difficult terrain and these actually alter some of the vehicle settings such as suspension. I wish, they’d done more about the steering though, it’s quite bottled up about what’s going on with the wheels. The refinement is something to be mentioned.

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The GLC has the largest heart here but makes the least amount of power. Not that it puts it at a serious disadvantage only a minor one, thanks to the nine-speed torque converter gearbox handling the spin well. Unlike the other two though, it doesn’t have a dedicated drive mode for off-road situations; Merc realizes that probably only about 2 percent of owners will actually take this into the wilderness. And while the GLC handles broken roads nearly as well as the Q5, it is a bit softer sprung and there tends to be quite some body movement when going around corners and over uneven ground. While overall refinement is quite stellar in this case, it’s possibly the loudest of the oil burners on this cross-country drive.

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Inside the Volvo, one thing I noticed immediately was how much stiffer than the other two it was. The highway jaunt back from Rajasthan to Delhi was not the kindest on my back. Lucky then, that the XC60 came with massage seats. The 2.0-litre oil burner is the most powerful here, making 230bhp and 480Nm, and it’s pretty evident in the way it goes off the line. The XC is also the only one which actually raises ride height in the dedicated ‘off-road mode’. Being a Volvo, there’s also a host of safety tech systems on board, some of which are actually quite a “distraction” when driving in our country. Volvo’s IntelliSafe tech has some features such as lane keeping assist, collision avoidance, auto park, etc. Aside from driver input, these functions are also dependent on how other traffic on the road is behaving, which is where the trouble begins. Sadly, in our country, we’ve still some way to go before these safety aspects can be properly implemented; as of now, to me most of them feel like driving deterrents rather than aids.

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So, where did we stand with the verdict at the end of the 3,000-odd-km road trip? Like I said before, more than a competition, this adventure was about picking the right car for the right person. If you’re the kind who makes calculated, logical decisions and errs on the side of caution, go with the Mercedes. The GLC has been our benchmark in the segment and for good reason. It’s easily identifiable for what it is, has all-round capabilities that provide a satisfying premium SUV experience. For those who are a bit more adventurous, the Audi would be a better fit. It’s a little more edgy, a lot better to drive and even has a smidgeon of off-tarmac prowess. The Volvo, however, is the one to watch out for. This one would also be for those owners who would do a little bit of wandering off the road and do it with themselves at the wheel. Yes, the sporty drive (compared to the others here) does come at the cost of comfort but there’s no compromise on safety. There’s a tonne of gadgetry which (although it can get a bit annoying with its intrusions) is helpful both on and off the road and it all comes for a couple of lakhs less than the Audi. Personally, I’d have the Volvo as the pick of the litter here. If not for all the cutting edge tech, then the sporty driving manners and the fresh, distinctive look.      

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