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 interiors that could be considered mid-size by some assessments, and offer a range of powertrain choices and luxury upgrades. And 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; likewise, they both seem to be takeoffs, in equal parts, from compact sedans and larger SUVs.
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 at this point, the Q5 is near the end of its design cycle—and due to be redesigned within the next year or so—while the GLC is an all-new model, introduced this past year. Since a big part of luxury-vehicle ownership pertains to image, and driving the latest and greatest, we’d say that’s the nudge the GLC needs to make it far and away the clear winner in the styling and design department.
In performance, we also think that the GLC nudges a bit ahead of the Q5; although it’s definitely closer. Base power is comparable, with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in each—making 220 hp in the Q5 and 241 hp in the GLC300. In the Q5 you get an eight-speed automatic transmission, while the GLC has a nine-speed. Audi Q5 3.0T models get a 272-hp version of Audi’s 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine, as well as noticeably stronger performance, but gas mileage is quite a bit lower and it doesn’t feel all that much quicker. Both of the four-cylinder models offer highway ratings around the 30-mpg mark.
Meanwhile, top-performance SQ5 models seem worth the while if you have performance in mind, as they sub in a 354-hp version (0-60 in 5.1 seconds), plus other upgrades. The GLC-Class doesn’t offer a V-6 or a performance model in the lineup now, but we’re expecting that to change this next year. Both of these models, by the way, offer a very limited-availability hybrid model (the GLC350e Plug-In Hybrid or the Q5 Hybrid).
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 some of building blocks of the A4 sedan—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 it hasn’t yet been crash-tested by either of the U.S. agencies. Meanwhile the Audi Q5 continues to excel in crash tests, with Top Safety Pick+ status from the IIHS and four- and five-star results from the federal government. The GLC is a step ahead in features, as it includes, as a standard feature, Attention Assist, which helps identify drowsy driving and warns the driver. Both offer frontal collision-prevention technology.
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. 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.
So which is the winner? These models are still neck-and-neck in most respects—and that’s a testament to the Q5, which will soon be redesigned. But we’d say the GLC’s beautiful, welcoming interior is an advantage that’s hard to ignore.
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|from $36,224||from $38,038|
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