The 2021 Audi Q2 and Volvo XC40 are a trendy pair of urban cruisers

The Audi Q2 (left) and Volvo XC40.
The Audi Q2 (left) and Volvo XC40.
Image: Waldo Swiegers

Preparing this spiffy German and Swedish pair ahead of a Sunday afternoon picture session revealed yet another downside to owning a crossover or sport-utility vehicle.   

These configurations make it mighty convenient for car wash operations to charge a heftier fee, even if, were you to compare exact dimensions, you might learn that your steed undercuts the average executive sedan in length and width.   

Oh well. Small price to pay for the other host of perceived benefits afforded by this fast-growing category of models with taller ground clearances and endearingly rugged outfits.  

And here we have a duo of especially stylish, youthful contenders from the premium compact class. Both represent entry into the sport-utility vehicle ranks of their respective households.

First launched locally in 2017, the Audi Q2 made access to the most adventurous letter in the brand alphabet a little easier. It was recently treated to a life-cycle refresh, but a rather subtle one at that.  

The Volvo came to market in 2018, wielding a boxy, urban-yet-outdoorsy visual persona, executed in a chic fashion typical of the Scandinavian brand.   

To be fair, it should be noted from the outset that the Audi Q3 is more of a direct rival to the Volvo XC40 in price: the former kicks off at R651,000 while the latter begins at R630,700.   

Size-wise, however, it just about trumps the Volvo in all aspects: length (4,484mm); height (1,616mm); width (2,024) and with a larger luggage capacity of 550l. The Q2, on the other hand, ranges between R545,500 to R581,500 – of course, those numbers quickly inflate with the addition of options. Dimensionally, the variance in how the model compares to the Volvo is clear on paper, even if they might look equally matched in the metal.   

It has a width of 2,009mm (Volvo: 2,034mm); its total length is 4,208mm (Volvo: 4,425mm); while height is 1,508mm and 1,652mm in the case of the Volvo.

How about interior space? With the rear seats in place, the XC40 will swallow 460l, while the Q2 will take 405l. Shoulder room in the front of the Volvo is 1,440mm and 1,389mm in the Audi. At the rear, you will find 1,345mm of stretching space in the Audi and 1,429mm in the Volvo.  

With that disparity in mind, consider this feature as something of an overview of two picks in the category, rather than an out-and-out comparison, in which the least expensive, albeit smaller of the duo would be the obvious winner.    

For 2021, the changes to the Q2 include a countenance with more prominent air-inlets, while the hallmark single-frame grille has been placed slightly slower. That really is the extent of it, beyond the addition of extra colour options. One of them is Apple Green, worn by our tester, with contrasting black Y-spoke rims painted black, for a particularly expressive result. In comparison, the metallic white XC40 looks somewhat demure, slightly redeemed by its diamond-cut alloys and black roof.

It might be conservative in the jewellery department, but the inherent design of the XC40 is something to appreciate. From its assertive, squared maw to its hockey-shaped rear lights and kinked side window apertures, it is an interesting piece of work.   

Although it is roomier, the interior of the Volvo has more of a snug, glove-like feel to it. The seats are amply-padded and embrace the body like a warm hug – Volvo pews are known for that. The door panels are plump, while privacy glass contributing to a cosy, nocturnal feel even though the sun was blazing.   

Its tablet-like touchscreen can take some getting used to and is a hotbed for fingerprints. Initiating small tasks – like deactivating the stop-start system - proved complicated. We liked the clear display and functionality of the fully-digital instrument cluster.

The Audi is decidedly less evolved when it comes to such trappings. Our car made do with a conventional analogue cluster, you know the type, with old-fashioned dials and stencilled numbers. A central screen, while of good resolution, features no touch functionality: the rotary controller is your conduit.   

Still, there is something to be admired about the tactility of it all. Buttons that click satisfyingly, rotary dials that turn with precision, all evidence of the quality for which Audi is renowned.   

Our testers both wore wheels of the same diameter and section, separated only by sidewall profile. But the Audi with its 235/40R19 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo rubber erred on the firmer side.  

Which was to be expected, since our test vehicle was replete with the S-Line treatment. The softer, more forgiving ride of the XC40, on Pirelli P-Zero tyres (235/50R19) made it more pleasant to live with, even if it lacked the dynamism of the car with interlinked circles. Both models are front-wheel drive and only the Volvo has an all-wheel drive version in the mix.   

Audi offers one derivative with the Q2: the 35 TFSI. It sports a 1.4-litre, turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol, which is good for 110kW and 250Nm. This is the same motor you will find in many applications across the Volkswagen Group. An eight-speed automatic transmission facilitates the transfer of power smoothly.   

Another reason for its sprightly feel in relation to the Volvo is a dramatic weight difference: 1,259kg compared to 1,615kg. Helping the Volvo shunt this additional mass is a bigger engine: also a boosted four-cylinder but with a 2.0-litre displacement, producing 140kW and 300Nm.  

An eight-speed automatic also serves here. After a week of town and freeway commuting, their consumption figures were not too radically far off. The Audi recorded 8.5l/100km while the Volvo was 9.9l/100km.

The base pricing of the Q2 35 TFSI S-Line is R581,500. With options such as a sunroof (R17,000), electric tailgate (R8,400), ambient lighting package (R6,100) and reverse camera (R6,200), the as-tested total goes to R619,200. A five-year/100,000km maintenance plan is included, as well as a one-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.   

The Volvo XC40 T4 Inscription we drove starts at R715,800. There is an options list too, with goodies bundled together, like a Harmon Kardon audio system and 360-degree camera (R32,500), a R23,500 driver assist package with the semi-autonomous Pilot Assist system, or a climate pack for R6,750 that adds heated seats and a heated steering wheel. The Volvo offers a superior warranty (five-year/100,000km) and a maintenance plan of the same duration.   

So, if you had up to R800,000 to blow on a compact sport-utility vehicle and wanted to add two choices to the short-list, there you go.