Finding a Family Car in 2017

Finding a Family Car in 2017

We needed a new car. I was initially skeptical, but was beginning to see the validity in the argument. My wife and daughter have not ridden together in my car since the latter was born, as we simply can't fit all three of us; and as we talked about adding even more child seats, there appeared to be a convincing argument in favour of getting a larger vehicle.

  • One that would fit the dogs (now two golden retrievers).

  • One in which a 6' passenger could comfortable recline, while the vehicle was loaded for a family trip.

  • One which did not have a manual transmission.

Essentially, a vehicle in which my wife could both comfortably drive and be driven comfortable. It'd be great if we could fit family when they were around in town, too, we decided. Also, we didn't want a minivan.

So we began looking into three-row SUVs. This was a class of vehicle I always disliked, despising them as they pulled-up on the street to turn in the opposite direction and block my view of the on-coming lane. My entire experience driving an SUV having been a Ford Explorer while on my learner's permit, my impression was of a huge unwieldly monster with lose turning and large engines that still struggled to move forward with any alacrity.

Since I was primarily going to be driving this, I wanted it to handle well. Since we were looking for something that my wife would like, we were looking for something that was comfortable. Setting a budget in-line with our last two purchases (roughly $30k for the Subaru in 2006, and roughly $60k for the Volvo XC70) we arrived at $90k. One item which I added high on the nice-to-have list, after screaming toddlers requiring a quick reach for a dropped snack or toy, was semi-autonomous control; another after circling the parking deck at Logan airport after several flights recently was either a hybrid or electric drivetrain.

Short Listed 2017 SUVs

Volvo XC 90 T8 Audi Q7 Mercedes GLS 450 Model X 75D Model X 100D
Front Leg Room 40.9" 41.7" 40.3" 41.2"41.2"
Rear Leg Room 37.0" 38.8" 38.5" 38.4" 38.4"
Cargo Volume (standard)15.8 cu. ft.14.8 cu. ft.16.0 cu. ft.19.2 cu. ft.19.2 cu. ft.
Cargo Volume (max)85.7 cu. ft.71.6 cu. ft.93.8 cu. ft.77.3 cu. ft.77.3 cu. ft.
Curb weight 5059 lbs 4938 lbs 5394 lbs 5185 lbs5421 lbs
Towing 5000 lbs 7700 lbs 7500 lbs 4960 lbs 4960 lbs
Wheelbase 117.5" 117.9" 121.1" 116.7" 116.7"
Length 194.9" 199.6" 201.6" 198.3" 198.3"
Width 79.1" 77.5" 84.3" 81.5" 81.5"
Height 69.9" 68.5" 72.8"
Clearance 10.5" 9.6" 12.5" 5.4" 5.4"
EngineI4 2.0L twincharger hybridV6 3.0L superchargedV6 3.0L twin turbo n/a n/a
EPA Fuel Economy (City/Highway) 26 19/25 17/22 93 89
Range (highway miles) 470 563 580 237 295
Estimated cost for fuel for 19k mi (City)$617$3,170 $3,543 0 0
Time spent annually refilling for weekly commute 5h26h 26h 0 0
Boston to Orlando (time, with refueling) 25h 25h 25h 29h 26.5h
0-60 5.0s 5.7s 5.7s 4.6s 3.9s
1/4 mile 13.9@97.1mph 14.3s@98mph 14.2s@98mph 14.1s@100mph 13s@105mph
Price (configured) $77,000 $84,000 $94,000$100,800 ($88,100)$117,300 ($104,600)

The price cap at $90k meant the Volvo and Audi were within the budget, but options on the GLS 450 brought it quickly up from the base MSRP of $68,700. Likewise, only the smaller capacity Tesla was within the same budget, after accounting for tax credits. None of the cars could match our current Volvo XC70 for space when all three rows were up, but they would fit two extra people that way. All of the options provided better driving dynamics and performance.

All of the short-listed models had some degree of self-driving or advanced cruise-control. Through coïncidene, the dealerships were aligned cheapest to most expensive, so that's the orde in which I looked at the them.

Vovlo XC90

The Volvo XC90 was the first of the set that I test drove, dropping my WRX off at the Subaru dealer to replace the Takata airbags, and stopping in the Volvo dealiership just before opening. The salesman there greated me, and pulled an XC90 T8 Inscription around for me to test drive. It drove much better than I'd expected given my past experience with large vehicles, and I suddenly felt that a new, large, car might not necessarily be as bad as I had feared.

After Tesla, Volvo also seemed to be making the most hay of their driverless car work, which looked promising. They along with Mercedes also looked to have the largest focus on safety, although some of the Mercedes featuers were upcharges while the Volvo features included most safety features as standard. Finally, the 360-degree camera view seemed like something I'd not want to live without after getting used to it.

Audi Q7 Prestiege

After work, I stopped in at the Audi dealership across the road from the Volvo dealer, and asked to test drive the Q7. I'd done a lot of reading on the Audi as well as the Volvo, and a lot of feedback on-line was that the Q7 would be the better driving machine; after all it came with a three-litre V6, rather than that small two-litre I4 in the Volvo. I talked to the salesman, whom I told I'd just driven the XC90 T8 that morning, that I was looking at a Mercedes GLS as another option, and that I wanted to test drive the three-litre Prestiege model of the Q7.

So he brought around a 2.0L I4 Premium Plus. When I mentioned I reiterated that I was hoping to drive the 3L Prestiege model, he said I he liked to suggest this model as the better value. Rather than argue, and being more interested in getting a general feel for the vehicle, I got in and we drove; but things didn't get better. Unique to the Audi, it has a well-received Google Earth integration which appears in the driver's instrument panel. The annoying thing is, this comes with a limited-time trial after purchase, and then costs something like $15/month. The dealership apparently wasn't paying on their test-drive cars, and I never got to see the extent of the technology built into the car (which was also missing any driver assistence features, like lane-keep assist or traffic-jame assist). Its engine, which was a 2.0L I4 like that found in the XC90 T8 if you removed the supercharger and the rear electronic motor, felt under-powered, and the vehicle felt heavy. Unlike the 5.0s 0-60 the XC90 would do, or even the 5.7s of the 3.0L V6 I had wanted to test, the 2.0L Premium and Premium Plus models crawled to sixty in 7.0s and did the quarter-mile in 15.4s (ar around 90mph).

While I said my good-byes shortly after that, there were some good elements to the car. There were five ISOFIX (LATCH) attachment spots, unlike the four found in the XC90. The middle and rear seats weren't bad, generally. It was much more capable of towing than the Volvo (at least with the 3.0L engine). It was a little longer tha the Volvo, but not as wide, which meant leg room was better but overall cargo space was the smallest of the candidates.

Mercedes GLS 450

The Mercedes GLS 450, the base model when I looked, although a lower-end 350 was listed as coming soon, was only feature-wise competitive with the Q7 and XC90 when adding a bunch of features (which I would note mostly came standard at the higher levels). The Mercedes was by far the most spacious, and the only model with automated folding—and with a nearly an adult-sized—third row.

That's what I could gather about the Mercedes GLS 450 from my time in the Mercedes-Benz dealership around the corner from the Audi dealership. That, and apparently I wasn't the type of person to buy a Benz: those people make appointments. Walking in, I was asked if I had an appointment, and when I said no, they found someone in a back corner for me. I said that my wife and I were interested in the GLS, and for the next 15 minutes my assigned researcher looked for any used models they had on their lot, ocassionally indicating she found a low-mileage 2015 or barely used 2016 550. I found this a little odd, considering I hadn't at any point mentioned whether I was interested in a used car (smart money would always buy a used Benz vs. a new Benz) and at no point did she ask for any information about for what I was looking afte I mentioned the GLS. After having been there for 35 minutes, and not having made any progress, I decided to play the one card I'd been trying to avoid, the I'm doing research and my wife isn't here card and just asked to see the inside of the GLS 450 since I no longer had time to take a test-drive anyway.

DISTRONIC PLUS with Steering Assist, PRE-SAFE Brake with pedestrian detection, BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist, Active Lane Keeping Assist and Speed Limit Assist.

The GLS 450's self-driving did not appear to live-up to the calibre of Tesla and Volvo from what little information I cound find online, and given the higher price, it was looking like an also-ran. However, reducing some options, and it becomes quite competitive, offering the largest available space for either cargo or passengers.

Tesla Model X

Going Tesla was always going to be go big, or go home. I had range anxiety, and I knew it; worse, I expected my wife to have range anxiety: and that ruled-out the Tesla. We'd actually had this conversation, and pure-electric was just too scary as we planned on driving more than recent years, where most of our travel had been by air. The 100D may have been an option, and part of me wanted to get it, where even the non-performance model did 0-60 in 3.9s with a roll-out and the 1/4 mile in 13s flat; both handily beating my WRX.

Planning for the Volvo XC90

That night, I mentioned the four options to my wife, and we discussed our options, weighing the strengths of each one.

I've limited it down to the Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, and Mercedes GLS 450. You're looking at a Volvo? Yeah, you mentioned it, and we seemed to like the XC70; and it turns out it's a pretty nice car. The Volvo. Don't you want to hear the trade-offs between the options? Not really. Do they all have three rows? Yes. The Mercedes has more space, but is more expensive. What about the Audi? Well, it can tow more. It's a bit fanicer than the Volvo? There's an option to make each of its wheels turn instead of just the front two? I don't really have a good reason to choose the Audi; supposedly it drives better, but that wasn't my experience. Although, they guy at the dealership also choose the lower model, so who knows.

Oh, and with the Volvo, we can pick it up in Sweden. The Volvo. We're going to Sweden!

From four finalists down to one clear choice: ordering the XC90 for overseas delivery.