With mainstream automakers offering luxury-laden trims while prestige car brands attempt to democratize luxury, we organized four comparison tests to see who does posh better for a capped price of $40,000.
Details matter, especially when it comes to luxury. When you can get leather in a Ford Fiesta, those hoping to compete in the luxury space need to sweat the small stuff to succeed. Volvo and VW both have gotten the message.
Long viewed in this country as alternatives for luxury and mainstream buyers avoiding a “traditional” choice, both brands have been making major efforts toward increasing market shares. For Volkswagen, this has meant more premium trim levels and a new compact crossover promising German design and performance at a value price. For Volvo, it’s new CUVs that stand for the ideals of Scandinavian luxury.
The 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL TSI 4Motion and the 2018 Volvo XC60 T5 AWD represent this shift, and although one was designed to steal sales from Toyota and the other from Audi, there’s enough overlap that we decided it was a good idea to invite them to compete as part of our $40,000 “Is Luxury Worth It?” challenge.
For buyers looking for a more luxurious mainstream compact crossover, the new Tiguan is a pretty compelling option. VW has previously crossed the line between mainstream and luxury brands (anyone remember the Phaeton or W-8-powered Passat?), and with the top-trim Tiguan SEL, VW looks like it’s found the sweet spot. The Tiguan has attractive new sheetmetal and a lengthy list of standard features, including an Audi-esque digital instrument cluster and driver-assist features. It has the luxury front covered, too, with a heated steering wheel, heated seats, a Fender audio system, and a full-length panoramic sunroof. Our attractive white-on-black-on-orange Tiguan SEL tester stickers for $38,950, its only options being the $5,160 Premium package and the $500 third-row seat.
If any automaker has successfully challenged the established luxury paradigm, it has to be Volvo. Flush with cash after being purchased by Chinese automaker Geely in 2010, Volvo has invested heavily in new platforms, new engines, and new designers poached from Bentley and other companies. The result is visually stunning vehicles, among them our 2018 Volvo XC60 T5 AWD Momentum.
Well-equipped from the factory with leather, Volvo’s Sensus infotainment system, and a full suite of safety gear, prices start at $42,495, just over our cutoff. But once you get into the realm of decently equipped large-compact or small-midsize luxury crossovers, it’s hard finding a vehicle under $40,000. We couldn’t find a Volvo XC60 without options on dealer lots, so we asked Volvo to send us one representative of what you’d find shopping.
Our lightly optioned tester included metallic blue paint (white is the only no-cost color), the Vision package (which turns that active safety hardware into driver-assist tech), and an optional interior trim. Total price is $44,690, about $95 per month more than the Tiguan over the course of a 60-month loan. OK, so we bent the salary-cap rules. For some folks, an extra hundred bucks a month is a bridge too far. For others, it’s close enough that they’d at least consider it. This price gap also gives VW a $5,740 head start in our value comparison.
Both crossovers are about the same length and weight. They also sport similar drivetrains, but the VW is the less powerful of the two. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged engine makes 184 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque and sends its power through an eight-speed automatic to an all-wheel-drive system. Largely thanks to its low power and high weight, the Tiguan was merely adequate at the track, needing 8.9 seconds to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph and 4.7 seconds for the ever-important 45–65-mph passing test. Handling performance is competitive with its mainstream brethren, lapping our figure-eight course in 28.1 seconds while averaging 0.58 g. The Tiguan’s fuel economy ratings are competitive, too; it nets an EPA-estimated 21/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined and an 18.8/31.9/23.1 Real MPG score.
The XC60 is more powerful; its 2.0-liter turbo-four makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, which is routed through an eight-speed automatic gearbox to an all-wheel-drive system. The extra power helps the XC60, which weighs about the same as the Tiguan, perform admirably at our test track. It accelerates to 60 mph from a standstill in 6.2 seconds and is quick in our 45–65-mph passing test with a 3.4-second time. The Volvo is quicker in our figure-eight test, too, posting a 26.6-second time at 0.64 g average. The extra horsepower doesn’t seem to hurt fuel economy much; it’s EPA-rated at 22/28/24 mpg, and we achieved 18.5/31.0/22.6 Real MPG in our testing.
Sometimes a car doesn’t feel as slow out in the real world as it does on the track, but that’s not really the case with the Tiguan. “I’m underwhelmed by this drivetrain,” associate editor Scott Evans said. “Throttle tip-in is too sensitive; you get a shove in the back like when a roller coaster starts up the hill but then settles into a long, slow climb.” The Tiguan’s fuel economy–oriented eight-speed auto seems to pay off at the pump, but it doesn’t help mitigate the engine’s power problems. The Tiguan’s gearbox is frequently caught skipping up to eighth gear early, further hurting the VW’s poky performance. Shifting the VW’s eight-speed into its sport programming helps, but not much. Despite its acceptable handling performance at the test track, the Tiguan doesn’t really excite on the road in the same way most VW’s sedans and hatchbacks do. The Tiguan does at least ride nicely, but the downside is it leans a fair amount in tighter corners.
The XC60 is the sportier of the two. The engine feels powerful and responsive, and it hides any turbo lag well. Like the VW, the throttle is a bit overeager when leaving from a stop, but the eight-speed takes the edge off with smooth, quick shifts. The XC60’s ride aims more toward sporty, too, which like everything in life has its trade-offs. The upshot is that the XC60 goes around a corner wonderfully, with quick, direct steering. The downside is the ride is rougher than we’d otherwise expect from a Volvo. “The ride is a little heavy, like the springs are rather stiff,” Evans said. “It’s definitely sport luxury; I expected more magic-carpet luxury.”
Inside is where the VW earns back some points from the Volvo. The Tiguan SEL with the Premium package seems designed to make a great first impression. Hop into the driver’s seat, and it’s hard not to be impressed by the black and orange leather seats with matching door cards, the big digital instrument cluster and infotainment screens, the metal-accented Fender speakers, and the massive panoramic sunroof, all of which give the Tiguan a luxurious feel.
Spend more than a test drive’s length in the Tiguan, and you’ll learn first impressions are fleeting. Luxury interiors are all about the details, and it doesn’t appear VW paid enough attention to them. Take the cabin’s design for instance. If the Tiguan’s front seats are luxury apartments, the back are the city-mandated affordable housing units, complete with separate amenities and a back-alley entrance. The fantastic black and orange interior design that flows seamlessly from the driver-side door, across the dash, and onto the passenger-side door doesn’t continue into the rear seats. Instead of the fun black and orange accented with satin metallic trim, rear passengers get the cheap seats with featureless door cards made of hard black plastic. At least the outboard seats get orange leather.
The front half of the cabin, though great-looking, isn’t off the hook, either. The dash is trimmed in two gray-patterned pieces of plastic that don’t match, the armrests are padded in the same rubbery material that makes up the dashboard, and VW missed an opportunity to really drive things home with matching orange stitching. Mainstream buyers would likely be OK with this, but luxury buyers sure won’t.
There are some unfortunate ergonomic issues, too. “The front seats are comfortable, but the seating position is odd,” Evans, who stands 5-foot-9, said. “I feel like I have to get way up on the dash to reach the pedals.” The issue is amplified for taller drivers. The rear seats also aren’t the most comfortable. The sliding second row is surprisingly narrow and flat given the Tiguan’s footprint, but it does at least feel spacious enough for adults. The third row is $500 worth saving: difficult to access and only large enough for a small child. It also eats up precious cargo area. (Note: All-wheel-drive Tiguans get a choice of five or seven seats; front-drivers only come with seven seats.)
Getting into the Volvo feels like walking up the stairs into business class in a Boeing 747—you feel special. The interior looks gorgeous, with white leather seats the focal point along with piano black accents, satin metal, and wood trim playing equally important supporting roles. “Usually you’d worry about a stripped-down base-model luxury car, but this one is fantastic,” Evans said. “The materials all look and feel authentic, and they’re liberally applied.” The XC60’s touch points all feel expensive; even the plastics have a nice graining to them. Volvo went so far as lining the inside of the door cubbies with a soft foam and carpeting the center console tunnel.
The minimalist cabin’s few controls “all have a heavy, solid feel to them,” Evans said. With so few buttons, most of your interactions with the XC60’s cabin will be through its iPad-sized infotainment system, which works wonderfully. It’s snappy and intuitive, and like the VW, it includes standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
True to tradition, the Volvo’s seats, both front and back, are supportive and comfortable. The XC60’s big windows and panoramic sunroof give the cabin an airy feel. There’s plenty of room in back for adult passengers and behind them a spacious cargo area with a low load floor.
There are a few misses in the XC60’s cabin. The digital instrument cluster isn’t as intuitive as the infotainment system, but it gets the job done. The hard backs of the front seats—the only obvious sign of cost cutting in an otherwise impressive cabin—are also disappointing to see.
Both Volvo and Volkswagen cabins are quiet. The Tiguan’s cabin is louder, but not by much. At full throttle it registers at 23.0 sones to the XC60’s 21.3. At highway speeds the VW narrows the gap, with our meters registering 16.9 average sones at 65 mph to the Volvo’s 16.1.
Cost is a primary driver behind any vehicle purchase, so we asked our friends at IntelliChoice to run some numbers to figure out how much the Tiguan and XC60 would cost owners over five years. Despite VW’s price advantage, the five-year costs of ownership are close: the Tiguan’s $45,109 to the XC60’s $45,329. The Tiguan’s narrow advantage can be attributed to Volkswagen’s new 72-month/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, which brings repair costs to $0 over six years, a year longer than IntelliChoice data covers.
We started this exercise trying to answer whether the luxury badge was worth it for the same price. In this case, the loaded Volkswagen Tiguan SEL carries a nearly six-grand price advantage over the Volvo. The Tiguan put up a strong effort with its long list of features, attractive sheetmetal, and fun interior. But VW let us down with its lower-quality interior materials and cut corners. And although it could have put some of that price advantage to work on those features, VW failed to deliver the comfortably capable driving experience that all luxury cars seem to capture. And that’s a bigger issue. With the XC60, Volvo delivers on the details, big and small, that completely encapsulate the luxury experience. When it comes to the Volvo XC60 Momentum, luxury is definitely worth the splurge.
The Volvo XC60 drove away with the victory, but your luxury priorities might be slightly different than ours. If you need help making up your mind …
Get the Volkswagen if you:
- Need an emergency third row
- Like the peace of mind of a six-year/72K-mile warranty
- Need a ton of cargo space
- Need its slightly better fuel economy
Get the Volvo if you:
- Feel you deserve to treat yo’self
- Want something a little sportier
- Want a holistic luxury experience
- Have an extra $95 bucks a month to spend
Read our closing thoughts on all four luxury-versus-mainstream comparison tests here!
Read our other comparison tests right here!
|2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL TSI 4Motion||2018 Volvo XC60 T5 AWD (Momentum)|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, iron block/alum head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.1 cu in/1,984 cc||120.2 cu in/1,969 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||184 hp @ 4,400 rpm||250 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||221 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm||258 lb-ft @ 1,500 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||Not indicated (6,000 rpm fuel shutoff)|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||22.2 lb/hp||16.3 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, transverse leaf spring, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.4-in vented disc; 11.8-in disc, ABS||13.6-in vented disc; 12.6-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||7.0 x 19-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 18-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||235/50R19 99H (M+S) Pirelli P Zero Scorpion Verde||235/60R18 103V (M+S) Pirelli P Zero Scorpion|
|WHEELBASE||109.8 in||112.8 in|
|TRACK, F/R||62.2/61.8 in||65.1/65.2 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||185.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in||184.6 x 74.9 x 64.8 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||7.9 in||8.5 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||26.2/23.3 deg||23.1/25.5 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.7 ft||37.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,084 lb||4,077 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||55/45%||55/45%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||1,500 lb||3,500 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/M/R||39.6/39.1/33.8 in||38.0/38.0/— in|
|LEGROOM, F/M/R||40.2/36.5/27.9 in||41.5/38.0/— in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R||57.0/55.9/47.8 in||58.2/56.3/— in|
|CARGO VOLUME BEH 1ST/2ND/3RD ROW||65.7/33.0/12.0 cu ft||50.6/22.4/— cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||3.0 sec||1.9 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.7||3.4|
|QUARTER MILE||16.7 sec @ 83.8 mph||14.7 sec @ 91.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||124 ft||115 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)||0.87 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.1 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)||26.6 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,600 rpm||1,600 rpm|
|SOUND LEVEL† @ FULL THROTTLE||23.0 sones (max)||21.3 sones (max)|
|SOUND LEVEL† @ 65 MPH STEADY||16.9 sones (avg)||16.1 sones (avg)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$38,950||$44,690|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||6 yrs/72,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||6 yrs/72,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles||4 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.9 gal||18.8 gal|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||18.8/31.9/23.1 mpg||18.5/31.0/22.6 mpg < From SUoTY|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||21/27/23 mpg||22/28/24 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||160/125 kW-hrs/100 miles||153/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.83 lb/mile||0.80 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||Unleaded premium|
|† sones (est) from dBA; the sone is a linear measure of loudness that more closely corresponds to human experience|