From our vantage point, there’s barely a volume carmaker of note without a small crossover SUV – a high-riding hatchback with attitude designed for young up-and-comers and well-funded downsizers in equal measure.
Two of the most obvious and well-credentialled options are tested here, the familiar Audi Q2 – a more playful and chic alternative to the grown-up Q3 – and the relatively new-on-the-scene Volvo XC40, a veritable frisson on wheels for any fan of all things Swedish (aided by China).
This pair of upscale Euros fight against other contenders such as the Mercedes-Benz GLA, the BMW X2, Jaguar E-Pace and upcoming Lexus UX. At the same time, their price points around $60K once optioned up may cause the practically minded to return to their drawing boards.
We’ve chosen the Audi and the Volvo because they share some key traits: angular design language, premium positioning, and a focus on cabin materials and design nous. There seems to be a natural alignment. But which one would we want in our driveways?
Price and specs
The entry point to the Q2 or XC40 line-ups is $41,800 and $47,990 respectively, but the two variants we had on test were a little higher up the figurative food chain.
The German entrant is the Q2 2.0 TFSI quattro, with a list price of $48,500 before on-road costs. However, as is so often the case, the plethora of optional extras fitted – some essential, some just potential deal-sweeteners – took the RRP to $59,240. No small sum.
Hardly out of the ordinary, though, given our XC40 in T5 R-Design Launch Edition guise has an RRP of $56,740, with a couple of options padding the as-tested cost to $57,890. Eep!
Common equipment includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, LED headlights, leather seats, an electric tailgate, satellite navigation, and CarPlay/Android smartphone hookups.
As you’d expect given the price differentials before options, the Volvo offers more equipment as standard at this spec level.
Whereas the Audi has cruise control with speed limiter, the Volvo has active radar-guided speed-mirroring. The Audi has a reversing camera, the Volvo a 360-degree overhead view with rear cross-traffic alert. The Audi’s 7.0-inch screen is smaller than the Volvo’s 9.0-inch unit, and the Swede gets auto parking software, a Qi inductive phone charger, keyless entry/start… You get the drift.
Volvo’s AEB also recognises cyclists and big animals, and its lane-assist partial autonomy tech is standard. The short-lived days of the company charging extra for active safety are winding down.
Once the Audi Q2 is optioned up, though, the equipment differential dissipates. As it should!
The Assistance Package ($990) adds active cruise, lane assist, auto high beam, side assist, and auto parking. The Comfort Package ($1900) gets you keyless entry and go, auto-folding mirrors, heated seats, auto lumbar support and various storage nets and solutions. And the Technik Package ($2500) adds the brilliant digital 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster and that lovely flat-bottom leather steering wheel.
‘Our’ Q2 also had sexy 19-inch alloy wheels with a five-arm rotor design and black/silver finish for $2100, the mystifyingly overpriced DAB+ digital radio for $550, and a pumped-up audio system for $500 to fight the XC40’s standard Harmon Kardon set-up.
At the end of the day, neither of these cars are particularly good value. But then, if money-for-metal was the priority, you’d be looking at a Mitsubishi, Nissan, Hyundai or even a Mazda. Right?
2.0 TFSI quattro
T5 R-Design Launch Edition
AEB w/pedestrian detection
7.0-inch rotary dial control
9.0-inch touch control
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Inductive phone charging
Quantum Grey paint $800
Metallic pearl paint $1150
Titanium Black styling $900
Orange floor and door inserts NCO
Manhattan Grey finish $500
Assistance Package $990
Comfort Package $1900
Technik Package $2500
19-inch Audi Sport wheels $2100
DAB+ digital radio $550
180W sound system $500
Fans of either brand will find few surprises in the respective cabin layouts. There’s a cost-driven design homogeneity in most cars today.
In fairness, Audi has made some effort to distinguish the Q2 from something a little more prosaic such as the A3, the most obvious elements being the deep-red plastic inserts on the doors, dash and transmission tunnel. There are various trim options, by the way.
In typical Teutonic fashion, everything is screwed together flawlessly, and every surface is pleasantly tactile. Quality pervades the second each door thunks closed. And man do they thunk. I’m a sucker for frameless rear-view mirrors too…
The familiar layout includes a floating slim tablet screen with menus navigated via a knurled metallic rotary dial, set among shortcut buttons taking you to the mapping, phone, media, radio or home menu pages.
The nods to its TT style leader come via the circular air vents, slick little steering wheel (with ample adjustment) and the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display, which lets you view maps on a ginormous scale, or other types of driving data.
If you want more data, there’s the option of a dinky little flip-up glass screen onto which a head-up display projects, and an extra-cost Qi wireless smartphone charger in the console. Storage areas include decent bottle holders in the doors, a large felt-lined glovebox, a small centre console, a set of cupholders and small nook under the seat. On the topic of seats, they’re heated but have manual adjustment. Outrageous…
The back seats offer acceptable head room and leg room for two average-sized adults, though this is hardly the most capacious crossover, and the big C-pillars restrict outward vision. There are outboard ISOFIX anchors and top tethers, if you’re carrying young kids.
Above and in all sets: Q2 top, XC40 bottom
The back seats fold 60:40, but there are no amenities such as rear vents, USB points or a flip-down armrest. Just reading lights. And they’re not even crisp white LEDs…
The boot is a pretty pokey 355L, which is on a par with the average little hatchback, while under the loading floor there’s a space-saver spare wheel.
So what about the Volvo? This is a company that’s clearly determined to bolster its luxury credentials through interior design. The quality of build, surface textures and ergonomics are at Audi level, and the design is certainly fresher and more interesting.
Highlights include the portrait-style touchscreen with swiping and a stacked-tile submenu layout, though unlike the rotary-controlled Audi you’ll cover it with finger smudges in no time flat. And we don’t like operating AC controls this way, either… Not all buttons are evil.
There are tasteful hints of cold steel, checker-plate highlights, gorgeous leather/suede seats and a sense of tasteful minimalism – like the decor in holiday houses on a Swedish archipelago – though the optional orange carpet and door inlays are… Polarising.
The digital instruments aren’t as flash as Audi’s, but the key essentials – crisp instruments, a digital speed display, route guidance and trip info – are all there.
The Volvo is clearly the more practical of this pair, its tall roof giving more head room despite the standard panoramic glass roof robbing space, more leg room, rear air vents, LED lights and superior outward visibility. It also has two levels of boot storage (460L max) and flat-folding back seats.
Given the Volvo’s 11cm longer wheelbase, one should not be surprised that it’s the more practical contender here. Indeed, only the BMW X1 matches it in this class, and that car has nowhere near the flair.
Both cars on test can rightly claim to offer hot-hatch levels of performance, at least in a straight line. The Audi Q2’s 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine makes 140kW of peak power between 4200 and 6000rpm, and 320Nm of torque over a wide part of the rev band, 1500 to 4200rpm. As that might suggest, it’s tractable, muscular just off idle, and almost always willing to respond to throttle inputs the millisecond you plant your foot.
Audi claims a 0–100km/h sprint time of 6.5 seconds, and combined-cycle fuel use of 6.5L/100km on a dyno, though we yielded 7.7L/100km. The gearbox is a seven-speed double-clutch auto with rapid-fire shifting on the move, plus the odd moment of hesitancy if you drive with a point-and-shoot style around town.
As the quattro nomenclature suggests, it sports variable all-wheel drive, offering ample traction on slippery surfaces, though it lacks the gearing and clearance for any serious off-roading. Stick to snow runs.
By contrast, the Volvo’s 2.0-litre turbo makes a meatier 185kW, and 350Nm of torque between 1800 and 4800rpm, though because its larger frame means it weighs 190kg more than the Audi, its 0–100km/h time is only one-tenth quicker at 6.4sec.
It’s a little thirstier too, with its claim being 7.7L/100km and our drive yielding 8.4L/100km.
It uses an eight-speed automatic gearbox that’s not quite as crisp on the move as the Audi’s, but smoother in the urban jungle, and the paddle-shifters are so tactile you’ll find any excuse to use them. The on-demand AWD system like the Q2’s is there to bolster on-road traction or gravel sure-footedness, nothing more.
Both of these little crossovers are simultaneously tasked with offering their occupants an ever-so-slightly elevated driving position – something the Volvo does slightly better – along with a sporty feel (Audi wins) tempered by urban comfort and plushness (XC40 does this better). Tough call.
The Audi sits lower, and really does feel like pedalling any other hatchback. The Virtual Cockpit is wonderfully informative, the electric steering well-weighted, the body control on song, directional changes very dynamically adept, and the ride suitably firm, albeit devolving into busyness over sharp hits thanks to its steel springs, fixed dampers and 19-inch wheels on low-profile rubber.
We also commend the effectiveness of the AEB in reverse, which saved us from embarrassingly clipping a recycling bin hidden in our blind spot when reverse parallel parking (by ‘us’, I mean ‘me’).
The Volvo by contrast sits a little higher, feels a smidgen less agile – though it’s far from being a roly-poly barge – and cossets occupants over humps and bumps a little better, rarely pushing its dampers to the limit of compression. It’s a little quieter over coarse-chip surfaces, too.
Additionally, there are various driving modes to cycle through, which is a good thing considering how numb and video-gamey the steering is until you dial in more resistance. Some have criticised the ride quality on its 20s, but I disagree. It’s comfortable indeed.
Fittingly, there’s every piece of active safety tech you can imagine fitted, though the lane-assist system is flaky at best and needs some fettling to better recognise road lines. The digital dash is also comparatively bereft of submenus, and a head-up display would be a nice accoutrement.
Both brands offer service packages covering three years or 45,000km of travel (intervals are annual/15,000km, whichever comes first). It’s no coincidence that these cover the standard warranty and roadside periods.
Audi charges $1590 for its package of three visits, while Volvo has two packages called SmartCare ($2165) and SmartCare Plus (an eye-watering $2980, which gets you extras not usually included in service plans such as two sets of wiper blades, a new set of brake pads and a wheel alignment).
Volvo offers greater transparency, with a five-year/75,000km package there for $4030, equating to five visits at $806 a pop, or $6345 for SmartCare Plus. That most certainly isn’t cheap…
Both of these cars are fashion accessories wearing premium price tags, though each offers a heap of desirability. Just look at them…
The Audi gets a tick for its sportier driving feel, more reasonable running costs, more manageable opening price and that Virtual Cockpit. It’s easy to see why you might go for one over a Golf GTI, or downsize from a bigger SUV for something smaller and more chic.
But the Volvo has come out of nowhere to steal everyone else’s thunder. Just like the bigger XC60, the XC40 balances the company’s once-defining penchants for practically and safety, with polished driving manners and sublime design, albeit tempered by a high price to entry and those servicing costs.
Those weaknesses aside, the Volvo floated this writer’s boat more than the Audi, though I dare say your proclivities will guide you as much as our hot-take will.
2.0 TFSI quattro
T5 R-Design Launch Edition
2.0 turbo petrol
2.0 turbo petrol
6.5L/100km, Euro 6d
7.7L/100km, Euro 6d
7 DCT (auto)
8 AT (auto)