Most of motoring journalism surrounds brand-new cars, obviously. Let’s face it, though, most of the enthusiasts that read this stuff wait a few years and buy the cars on the second-hand market. On the used market, $40,000 can buy you a lot of car from just a few years ago, cars that once wore price tags of nearly double that. Especially luxury SUVs, whose values usually fall off cliffs after their first few years. In that price range, you can find some great examples of genuinely fantastic luxury SUVs, such as the F15-gen BMW X5, Volvo XC90, and Audi Q7. But which is best?
For $40,000, you can find great examples of each of those aforementioned luxury SUVs, ranging from 2016-2019, with good miles and great options. All three SUVs are great choices, with their own strengths and weakness. So let’s take a look at the specs, designs, and, in some cases, driving dynamics, to see which one is the best buy.
F15 BMW X5
The F15-generation BMW X5 isn’t the oldest car in this test but it feels like it. All three cars debuted at around the same time, in 2014 and 2015, but the F15’s design is the one that’s aged the quickest. It’s still a good looking car but the XC90 and Q7 both feel a bit fresher today, especially the Volvo, which is still gorgeous. Inside, the F15 BMW X5 still looks great but its tech is dated compared to BMW’s newer stuff. It’s still perfectly functional and easy to use but, if you’re used to seeing BMW’s best on this site, it might feel like a big downgrade.
As for the driving dynamics, the F15 BMW X5 was and still is a good driving experience. It’s a bit too soft and numb to be fun, something that BMW remedied with the newer G05-generation X5, but it’s a great luxury car. It’s comfortable, quiet, and rock-solid at high speed. I still remember driving three friends, two of which were photographers, to and from a photo shoot and all three falling asleep while for an hour while I was driving at very, very high speeds. It’s like a bullet train, the F15 X5.
If you’re look at one for under $40,000, the sweet spot is the BMW X5 xDrive35i. While you can find an xDrive35d (diesel) or two and some xDrive50i models with the big V8, you’re better off looking for a X5 xDrive35i. The straight-six is the perfect blend of power, smoothness, and efficiency and, because it’s cheaper, you’ll be able to get one with lower miles. It you want something that’s quick, relatively fun to drive, quiet, and comfortable, the BMW X5 is a great jack-of-all-trades. Though, it doesn’t really excel at any one thing over the others.
Volvo’s first-generation XC90 was on sale from about the Jurassic period until 2015, when the brand finally updated it to the second-gen car. What an update it was, too. The second-gen XC90 is still a gorgeous, elegant looking SUV with an interior that’s as soothing as a Swedish massage. In terms of pure style, there’s no question, the XC90 is the best of the trio.
It’s also a very comfortable car, with a great ride, quiet interior, and tons of interior space. Though, it’s not exactly fun to drive. Admittedly, that’s never really been Volvo’s thing, so it’s hard to hold that against it. Still, if you want something that can feel a bit sportier, the XC90 probably isn’t for you. However, if you want something a bit more relaxed, something to shuttle the family in and take you to and form work everyday, it’s probably the best choice.
The XC90 also has another trick up its sleeve — safety. When the XC90 first debuted, it was a safety revelation, earning such high marks with the IIHS, it was considered the safest car in the world. If you’re concerned with keeping your family as safe as absolutely possible, the XC90 is the choice of this bunch by far.
Much like the second-gen XC90, the second-gen Audi Q7 was also a bit leap forward. Its sharp, modern design still looks great today, although the facelifted Q7 does make the pre-facelift car look a bit dated, and its interior is still a lovely place to be. The interior design is as fresh as it was in 2015 and its Virtual Cockpit, despite being six years old now, is still better than most digital gauges in the industry, including BMW’s current one. However, its MMI tech looks and feels ancient now. So if you’re a techy, it’s probably not the best choice.
In terms of the way it drives, the Audi Q7 was and still is a great driving car. When it was new, I compared it against the X5 and found the Q7 to be quite a bit better. It has lovely steering, great athleticism for such a large SUV, and a comfy ride. In terms of driving dynamics, the Q7 is probably the best of the bunch. Its engine is a bit of a fuel-hog, though, as it’s a punchy supercharged V6. It’s nice to use and makes good power but it guzzles gas and isn’t as refined as the other two engines in this bunch. Though, its Quattro all-wheel drive system is the best of this group.
Like the XC90, the Audi Q7 also has a little trick up its sleeve — a standard third row of seats. While a third row was optional in the X5 and XC90, it was standard in the Q7. More importantly, it’s actually a surprisingly usable third row, with power folding seats. If your family is large enough to make good use out of those two extra seats, the Q7 could be the car for you.
All three are great cars and all three have reasons why you should buy them. The BMW X5 isn’t really the best at anything in this group but it’s not the worst at anything either. It’s sort of jack-of-all-trades that won’t blow you away but it also won’t let you down. The Volvo XC90 is a comfortable, great looking, and incredibly safe SUV but isn’t super fun to drive. While the Audi Q7 is a great overall vehicle with a standard third row, and fantastic looks but has the worst infotainment system and the worst engine.
If it were my money, I’d probably go with the Volvo XC90. It excels at everything you need a luxury SUV to; it’s great to look at, great to sit in, has a lovely ride, and will keep your family safer than the others. Sure, it’s not brilliant to drive but, honestly, none of them are. I can see why anyone would choose the other two instead, and there are good reasons to do so, but my suggestion would be the Volvo.