The Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class are two luxury utility vehicles that seem perfectly sized and designed for couples or smaller families.
Both measure around 183 inches long, with mid-size cabins and offer a range of powertrain choices and luxury upgrades. With no effort lost to rugged off-road ability, they seem to hit a sweet spot for Americans who still want maneuverability and parking ease.
To different degrees, both of these models have ushered in a new era of carlike grace and sporty, charming styling for compact sport-utility vehicles. It's no surprise, really, since each is a spin-off of a related car line.
We can't declare an outright winner—at least not yet. The Q5 earns a 7.2 on our new overall scale; we haven't yet finished crunching the numbers on the GLC-Class. Stay tuned as we figure out which of these two luxury SUVs takes the crown. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
These models add a lot of style to a vehicle segment that’s often lacking flair and flamboyance. On the outside, both the Audi Q5 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC are well-proportioned, handsome in profile, and nicely detailed. While the previous GLK was boxy and chiseled in its form, the GLC takes on a much smoother, more organic form—looking a bit like a sleeker yet slightly downsized take on the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class. The Q5, on the other hand, tends to draw its heritage on the outside from the A4 car family on up; at various angles, it can appear much like an A4 Avant (wagon) that’s been made a little more upright and squared-off.
While both of these models look modern and contemporary on the outside, on the inside the Audi Q5 is starting to look a bit dated, if not quite a bit more conservative. The Mercedes-Benz GLC shows it up with a swoopy, curvaceous cabin design and rich interior trims throughout. Although the GLC’s exterior probably might not be love at first sight, the interior is absolutely stunning, with inlaid metallic bezels, soft-touch materials, and a ‘bejeweled’ look, along with a standalone infotainment screen standing atop it. The inlaid metallic bezels and soft-touch materials add up to a bejeweled look that used to be reserved for M-B’s most expensive models. The dash itself is low, but there’s a freestanding infotainment screen standing atop it. In all, it’s probably the most expressive interior you’ll find in this class.
It’s important to note that the Q5 is all-new for 2018—while the GLC hit the market as a new model last year. Since a big part of luxury-vehicle ownership pertains to image, and driving the latest and greatest, which may be enough to push the Q5 over the top.
In terms of performance, it's a close battle.
For 2018, the Q5 is only available with a turbocharged 4-cylinder, but a V-6 model badged SQ5 will return soon. The Q5 once again sports a 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder as its base engine, but it has been upgraded to the automaker's latest unit. Nearly the same engine that also powers the larger Q7, the engine works well in this smaller application. It's mated exclusively to a 7-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive, which now disconnects the driveshaft going to the rear wheels to save fuel in most situations. Unlike rivals, however, Audi's system spins up in a fraction of a second to apportion power rearward when needed, and it can sense when a driver is beginning to encounter adverse conditions that require a little extra traction.
As for ride, handling, and roadholding, the GLC feels just a little more comfort-oriented than the Q5—without all that much of a difference in handling ability, based on our first couple of drives. We particularly like the GLC’s available four-corner air suspension, which makes the ride feel settled and more luxurious yet dials out natural body lean in corners, for better or worse. The Q5 corners in a more progressive way, but we’re bigger fans of the GLC’s steering feel and intuitive weighting.
These two models are actually built on quite different underpinnings—although they end up with interior configurations that are quite similar. The Q5 uses Audi's latest MQL architecture—fundamentally, a front-wheel-drive platform—while the GLC is built on rear-wheel-drive C-Class sedan underpinnings. In each case, the driving position is quite carlike—only higher—and both models have the sort of front seats that will keep fatigue away over many hours of driving. We’d probably give the advantage in back-seat space to the Q5—and its seat slides fore-and-aft easily. Likewise, the Q5’s seats fold down to a bit more cargo space, and especially toward the rear hatch its body feels noticeably taller, floor-to-ceiling, for fitting weekend finds and odd-shaped cargo items.
The Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class builds on the excellent new C-Class, although neither has been crash-tested by the U.S. agencies. The Q5 is a step ahead in features, as it includes, as a standard feature frontal collision-prevention technology (which is optional on the Mercedes)
In features, both of these models are high achievers, but for quite different reasons. The Q5 we still rank high for its connectivity and Multi-Media Interface (MMI), which is one of the better systems in its class, offering Google Earth maps and easy WiFi connectivity. Additionally, the Q5 offers the brand's Virtual Cockpit, a highly-reconfigurable LCD screen that replaces the conventional instrument cluster.
Mercedes-Benz has come a long way with its COMAND infotainment system, but we still consider it to be a little less intuitive than the Audi interface. Yet the GLC makes up for that by overdoing it on the options list. An Active Parking Assist system, an AC power outlet, a head-up display, heated rear seats, and a panoramic sunroof are all on the options list—but as with any model in this class, beware the bottom-line price that can skyrocket with options.
So which is the winner? We can't pick one until we've rated the 2017 GLC, but the Q5 sure puts up a strong fight.