2015 Audi Q5Enlarge Photo
It's easy to understand why compact luxury crossovers such as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 are enjoying immense popularity. They're testimonials to economic realities, as families have turned to more sensibly-sized vehicles with less potential for budget-burning in times of high pump prices; compared to many larger alternatives, they're also more manageable, and more enjoyable to drive.
Within this group, which also includes the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Acura RDX, Volvo XC60, and now the Land Rover Discovery Sport as well, there's some tough competition. Yet the X3 and Q5 are two of the strongest entries that manage to keep their upscale pedigrees intact. Both are stylish, relatively fuel-efficient, and responsive. Yet when they face off, nose to nose, one's a clear winner, based on our numeric ratings.
Audi's Q5 hits most of the luxury targets squarely. It's one of the more cohesive-looking crossovers—not too SUV-ish, with a stylish simplicity inside and out that's the polar opposite of angular efforts like the GLK or the Cadillac SRX. The Q5 isn't just a baby Q7 (Audi's larger model); it stands up well on its own design merit.
The Q5 has met its match with the latest X3. BMW's ute is now built in America, and it's a major advance versus previous versions of this nameplate, with styling that's more expressive, adding up to a look that's less blocky and better proportioned. The cabin's been treated to a business-class upgrade with a clarified layout for controls and a higher grade of materials.
Both models offer diesel models (and in the Q5's case, a rarely seen Hybrid model), yet there are two main gasoline powertrains for each.
The base turbocharged four-cylinder in the Q5 is nothing to shy away from. The front-drive, 220-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four gets pretty good mileage, at 20/28 mpg. It's a gutsy performer with 0-60 mph times of just over 7.0 seconds, a bit slower and coarser than the six, but considerably less expensive in some trims. A 240-hp turbocharged four in the 28i model feels even a bit stronger than the base engine in the Q5, and whether you go for that or the six-cylinder 35i you get a new eight-speed automatic; by the numbers, it eclipses the Q5's straight-line performance and are better or on par with its fuel economy.
The 3.0T model gets a 272-hp version of the company's supercharged V-6; it's also very torquey, yet as you'd expect, somewhat thirstier; and at the top of the lineup, the performance-oriented SQ5 joins the lineup this year. Yet of them all, we still probably best like the exceptional acceleration of the 300-hp turbo six in the X3 xDrive 35i; at a 0-60 mph time of 5.5 seconds, it's the closest approximation of sedan performance in a crossover.
Both models handle very well; ride quality is excellent, and BMW's advanced all-wheel-drive system has a power bias to the rear that dials in more sporty response. While we enjoy the Q5's drivetrain performance, its handling isn't quite as impressive, especially when Audi's Drive Select package of electronic adaptive controls for the throttle, transmission, steering, and suspension is ordered. The Q5's steering doesn't feel natural, and ride quality in Sport mode can be pretty harsh—though compared to some other crossovers, the Q5 still comes across as more carlike.
In packaging, both of these models excel. They're far roomier inside than you might guess; although we think that the Q5 has a slight edge for real-world usefulness, especially in terms of back-seat space—thanks to a fore-and-aft sliding that allows you to 'game' the available legroom and cargo space a bit. In both cases, these models have a quiet, settled ride, and controls and switchgear are impressive. Accommodations in Premium Prestige Q5 models are top-notch—warmer than what you'll see in the X3. Although in all fairness, BMW has upped its appointments in the X3 once again for 2015 and we're eager to check back in with that model.
The Q5 and X3 start around $40k but they can reach past the $60k, well-optioned in their six-cylinder variants. Features aren't all that generous at the base level, although at the base level both models now include things like Bluetooth and a full-featured infotainment system (it's really a tossup between Audi's MMI and the latest version of iDrive in the X3). And if you're willing to dip into those options, the X3 offers just a few more tech possibilities, like a head-up display, a Parking Assistant, and the so-called Active Driving Assistant. Both have no lack of active-safety extras, although the X3 has an advantage now, with top-tier results from both the federal government and the IIHS.
Of course, you'll want to drive them head to head and compare for yourselves. If you place a high degree of emphasis on some of the nuance in the driving experience, the X3 might win you over, but for all of its other strengths, the Q5 noses ahead, with just a little more practicality and day-to-day livability than the X3.
|from $38,500||from $39,300|
|from $35,920||from $36,550|
|Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway|
|Front Leg Room (in)|
|Second Leg Room (in)|
|Read Full Specs||Read Full Specs|