Audi and Volvo aim for Millennial buyers, but one is more successful
It’s a good time to be a millennial. I mean, not in the socio-economic sense—we’re underpaid, overworked, and can probably forget about retirement. But when it comes to cars, our generation is finally being catered to. From affordable and fun Subaru BRZs, to the tech wizardry that is the Tesla Model 3, it seems that there’s a car out there to meet each and every individual desire. For the more fortunate among us, the subcompact luxury SUV space is chock-full of little 4x4s designed to meet our needs. Two of the newer ones are the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40, and so we gathered both SUVs up in attempt to see which panders caters to Gen Y best.
On paper, our testers are pretty evenly matched. Our 2019 Audi Q3 Quattro Prestige S line and 2020 Volvo XC40 T5 R-Design are both sport-oriented subcompact luxury SUVs with all-wheel drive, efficient but powerful turbocharged four-cylinders, and technology to keep even the most discerning millennial happy.
Both start in the mid-$30,000 USD range ($35,695 USD for the Q3, and $35,690 USD for the XC40 in its base front-wheel-drive form). As tested, they cost just over $40,000 USD: $44,745 USD for the Prestige-trimmed Audi and $46,995 USD for the XC40 R-Design. Both SUVs get their power from 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4s paired with eight-speed automatics, and both engines make 258 lb-ft of torque. The Volvo makes more horsepower, though, with 248 on tap to the Audi’s 228. If you’re the type who couldn’t be bothered to leave the house to go shopping, the Q3 and XC40 may seem like an even match for each other, but in the metal and on the road, the differences couldn’t be more apparent.
As is usually the case, the Q3 and XC40 start separating themselves at the test track. Thanks to its 20-horsepower advantage and sporty suspension tune, the XC40 absolutely dusts the Q3 in all of our instrumented tests. The Volvo is snappy off the line, accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and through the quarter mile in 14.8 seconds at 92.0 mph (148 km/h). The Audi trails well behind, hitting 60 mph a second and a half later and finishing the quarter mile in 16.0 seconds at 87.1 mph (140.2 km/h).
Although the Q3 out-brakes the Volvo in the 60–0 mph emergency stop test (116 feet versus 123 feet for the XC40), the Swede still manages to out-handle the German. The XC40 lapped our figure eight in 26.8 seconds at 0.64 g average, whereas the Audi needs 27.4 seconds to run a lap while averaging 0.62 g. Adding insult to injury, the EPA says the faster Volvo is more efficient than the Audi. The XC40 is rated at 22/30/25 mpg (10.7/7.8/9.4 L/100 km) city/highway/combined to the Q3’s 19/27/22 mpg (12.4/8.710.7 L/100 km) rating.
The gap between the Volvo and the Audi only widens when we escape the test track and hit the streets. The Q3 is the more mature of the two in the sense that its powertrain would prefer you to drive like your parents are in the backseat. The Audi’s 2.0-liter turbo-four is laggy and lackadaisical off the line, with an acceptable though not impressive amount of midrange passing power, making it less entertaining than the Volvo. The Q3’s eight-speed automatic transmission helps make up some ground with fast up- and downshifts, but you’d be better off doing the shifting yourself because when left to its own devices the transmission is either in too high or too low a gear.
Given the Audi’s MQB platform underpinnings—shared with the Volkswagen Golf GTI—we had high hopes for the Q3’s performance on winding roads. Unfortunately, not much GTI DNA bled through. Steering is light, which we like, but it never quite firms up, leaving the driver guessing as to what’s going on at the front wheels. We’re no fans of the Q3’s body control, either, as its suspension never really settles. The Audi hits bumps and then continues to seesaw off its front and rear axles long after you’ve driven past the impact. It’s not what we’d call punishing, but it isn’t particularly nice, either. “It feels like the mass of the Q3 isn’t very well controlled,” associate online editor Nick Yekikian noted.
Volvos have never been known for their handling prowess, but despite this, the XC40 is pretty impressive. With its wheels pushed out to all four corners, the XC40 drives much like a tall, tippy Mini. Turn-in is quick, steering is responsive, and the Volvo’s firm but not harsh suspension helps keep the XC40 nearly flat through bends. “A fundamental understeerer” if you give in to temptation and push too hard “but not a punishing one,” testing director Kim Reynolds said.
Resisting that temptation to push the Volvo can be a bit difficult, considering its surprisingly engaging powertrain. Left to its own devices in its default Comfort mode, the Volvo’s turbo-four has just the slightest bit of lag off the line before the turbo spools up and the boost hits like a sledgehammer. “I love that you can hear the turbo whooshing away as you snake down a good road; it feels way more immediate than the Audi,” Yekikian said. Ignoring the Volvo transmission’s frustrating instance on needing to be tapped multiple times to shift into gear (from park, tap down on the shifter twice; to go into reverse, tap up twice), the XC40’s transmission is well tuned with quick and decisive shifts.
Not only does the Volvo feel better on the road, but it’s a more compelling luxury product, too. The most successful luxury baubles—whether they be cars, guitars, watches, or shoes—are successful because they have an inherent authenticity. A Gibson SG isn’t trying to be a Les Paul; a Rolex Oyster Perpetual (Google tells me that’s the “cheap” one) isn’t just an inexpensive version of its big brothers, it’s its own distinct entity.
The Q3 lacks this authenticity. For better or worse, inside and out, it looks every bit the baby Q5/Q7/Q8 mash-up that it is. On some level this is a good thing—the Q3 is certainly attractive and unmistakably Audi, but it’s not exactly original. Ultimately, it winds up looking and feeling more like scaled-down paint-by-numbers facsimile of an Audi.
The Q3’s cabin is just as sober as its sheetmetal. The vast expanses of black leather and plastics are broken up by just a sliver of metallic trim, some screens, and a random slash of brown wood on the passenger side of the dash that doesn’t relate design-wise with anything else in the cabin. Material quality itself is a mixed bag, too. Everything above the waist at least feels premium, even if it doesn’t look it; below, however, you’ll find VW-grade plastics and switchgear.
It’s not all bad, though; the Q3 is unquestionably a segment-leader when it comes to infotainment. “The tech is the best part. Changing stations is a cinch, wireless Apple CarPlay works great, and the whole system is so easy to use,” Yekikian said. Virtual Cockpit—Audi’s name for its fully digital dash—is also among the best in the business, putting pertinent driving data and Google Maps right inside your eyeline.
The Volvo may lack the Audi’s stellar infotainment suite, but it more than makes up for it in exterior and interior design and quality. The XC40 shares its “Thor’s hammer” headlights and grille with the rest of the Volvo lineup, but it could never be mistaken for any other Volvo. Its bulldog-like stance and sporty, Air Jordan–like styling is matched inside by a trio of black leather, Alcantara, and gorgeous orange felt, plus neat etched metal trim. “There’s an air of fun and youthfulness to the Volvo—a sense of humor I didn’t know the company had,” Yekikian said.
There’s also an air of thoughtfulness in the XC40’s cabin. Its front door cards are sized for laptops, and the center console features a neat little wastebasket. Its cargo volume may be slightly smaller than the Audi’s with its rear seat in place, but it makes up for it with a nifty cargo divider system.
After spending a couple weeks with the Audi Q3 and Volvo XC40, picking a winner proved to be quite simple for this proud millennial panel. The Audi Q3 does lots of things right—it’s relatively affordable, roomy, and offers one of the best infotainment user experiences this side of a Tesla. But it’s no Volvo XC40. It’s a dirty little secret that most luxury vehicles in the $30,000–$40,000 USD price bracket aren’t particularly luxurious, but the XC40 is the exception to that rule. From the way it looks and feels inside and out, to the way it drives, this Volvo is among the most convincing luxury vehicles at this price point. Many automakers pay lip service to what millennials want, but the Volvo XC40 actually delivers.
|2019 Audi Q3 quattro S-Line||2020 Volvo XC40 T5 AWD R-Design|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$44,745||$46,995|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.0L/228-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4||2.0L/248-hp/258-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,923 lb (57/43%)||3,934 lb (59/41%)|
|WHEELBASE||105.5 in||106.4 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||176.6 x 72.8 x 64.1 in||174.2 x 73.3 x 65.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.8 sec||6.3 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.0 sec @ 87.1 mph||14.8 sec @ 92.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||116 ft||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)||0.84 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.4 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)||26.8 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||19/27/22 mpg||22/30/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/125 kW-hrs/100 miles||147/109 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.88 lb/mile||0.75 lb/mile|