There is a foregone conclusion in some tests. A car that, before you’ve even read the story, you would bet good money on winning. Take the Porsche 911 GT3 RS, for example.
But this isn’t one of those features. Any of the three cars here is capable of winning this test, and I know this because, even as I write, I’m not convinced that I’m sure on which car’s bid the hammer will fall. The three cars in this test are among the most different in character yet most competitive set of cars that I’ve tested in a long while.
The reason that they’re lined up at all is, of course, the arrival of the latest Volvo XC90, the new flagship SUV from the revitalised Swedish company. So revitalised is Volvo that although the XC90 is currently its newest model, it’ll be its oldest in just four years’ time.
Still, compared with the previous-generation XC90, which remained on sale for some 13 years, at a mere four it’ll still seem like a stripling. In four years’ time, there will be plenty of other car makers still only beginning to adopt Volvo’s way of doing things – most notably, the way it saves money.
Volvo is cutting the number of platforms it uses to just two scalable ones that will underpin every model it makes. More significant still, it’ll make no engine with more than four cylinders or of more than 2.0 litres, and its petrols and diesels will share as many components as is possible.
This D5 model, then – a nomenclature that would once have bagged you a five-cylinder diesel of large capacity – is a 2.0-litre four-pot turbodiesel making 222bhp and 347lb ft of torque. It drives all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox and, at this car’s launch a few months ago, I concluded that all of the above, plus a world-class interior, made it a remarkably likeable thing. However, the test cars at its launch rode on air springs.
This one is sprung by ‘real’ springs (steel coils on the front, a novel composite leaf spring on the rear). We’ll see whether that makes a difference, but the short of it is that it’s a £50k-ish SUV.
Today, it goes up against two cars of a similar ilk. To be honest, you can largely overlook the trim levels and optional equipment they arrived in and with and assume that, at £50,000, all three are available in likeable forms. We liked the Volvo’s rivals a great deal when they were launched and time has not withered their appeal.
BMW’s X5 is most like the XC90 in ethos. It, too, has a steel monocoque, and this 25d model also has a 2.0-litre turbodiesel driving all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic. Its engine makes 228bhp and 369lb ft of torque.
And then there’s the oldest stager here, Land Rover’s Discovery. It survives from a time when Land Rover’s braces-and-belt combo gave it chassis rails that were topped by a monocoque, which was exceptionally strong but gave it a kerb weight of 2504kg. The claimed kerb weights for both the BMW and the Volvo are half a tonne lighter, at 2040kg (X5) and 2009kg (XC90).
The Land Rover’s engine is also 50% bigger, toting two extra cylinders that give it an additional litre of capacity. Its 3.0-litre V6 makes 253bhp and a monster 443lb ft, but don’t think that gives it any kind of straight-line advantage in this company. The claimed acceleration time from 0-60mph is 8.8sec for the Land Rover, compared with 0-62mph times of 7.7sec for the BMW and 7.8sec for the Volvo.
Should you blame the fact that it’s old tech? You can a little. Land Rover hoped we’d note that the Discovery is a car that’s nearer the end than the start of its lifecycle, and we do, but it’s not something a buyer necessarily would. Most likely they’d only notice that, if they plumped for a Discovery, they’d be getting a car that is taxed on 213g/km of CO2 emissions, whereas the X5 (156g/km) and the XC90 (152g/km) are not.