Subjectively, the Volvo feels the quickest, the fastest, and the most responsive. According to their manufacturers, however, the Merc wins the 0-to-60-mph sprint in 6.5 seconds, the Q5 comes second in 6.7 seconds, and the XC60 finishes third in 7.1 seconds. Nonetheless, inside your head, it's the Swede that leads the pack. It simply whips up more momentum as the revs build, and the impressive avalanche effect generated by the zero-lag turbocharger peaks at a commendably low 1500 rpm. The Volvo straight six spins to its redline like a turbine on steroids, but its six-speed autobox is over-eager and not quite smooth enough. All three vehicles can cruise easily at triple-digit speeds, although they'll each be limited to 130 mph in U.S. specification.
With every new generation of vehicles, automotive engineers seem to unearth a little more grip and traction as well as an extra dose of power and torque. In addition, they try to give us more space, added versatility, improved ergonomics, and new driver-assistance systems. But what the R&D departments often stubbornly ignore is progress in terms of ride quality and suspension comfort. Despite innovations like air springs, adjustable dampers, and pneumatic massage seats, many vehicles' chassis setups vary between firm and overly firm. This trend is evident in our three crossovers. In their ambition to make their vehicles outhandle and outcorner each other, vehicle line executives are resorting to spring and damper calibrations that are aggressive enough to rearrange your discs in the wake of one deep pothole or a single tall transverse ridge. Other contributing elements are low-profile tires that look great but tend to crush every bit of compliance they can find.
Even with the optional Drive Select set to comfort mode, the Audi, with its nineteen-inch Goodyear Eagle all-season tires, felt too stiff. Our Volvo was equipped with fat, nineteen-inch Pirelli Scorpion winter tires that gave it a tendency to tramline, but we've had more favorable ride-quality impressions in other XC60s shod with conventional rubber. Still, although the XC60 is in its element on supersmooth blacktop, on undulating tarmac it can develop too much yaw, pitch, and roll. The fail-safe handling is put into perspective by excessive early understeer, the inherently light steering stiffens during brisk changes of direction, and the chassis feels brittle on broken surfaces while providing too much seesaw motion over bigger obstacles.
Shod with modest seventeen-inch Pirelli winter rubber, our Mercedes test car turned out to be the smoothest riding and most relaxed soft-roader in this class. U.S.-spec GLK350s are offered only with standard nineteen-inch or optional twenty-inch wheels, but our stateside drives with the largest wheels also demonstrated good ride quality. Calm, composed, and almost cossetting, the GLK350 also deserves praise for its impeccable directional stability. It does not beg to be pushed, but when you do crack the whip, the Benz doesn't take long to enjoy life at the limit of adhesion. Having said that, the meaty steering is a tad on the heavy side, the brakes need a good stab to deliver, and the V-6 wants to be revved before it will show off. The Audi sports the best brakes, as far as effort and modularity are concerned.