Compared: Audi Q5 Vs. BMW X3 Vs. Mercedes-Benz GLK

June 12, 2009
2009 BMW X3-Series 30i

2009 BMW X3-Series 30i

2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK

2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK

For your shopping pleasure, three German SUVs--each one spun from the parts bin at their respective automakers to satisfy an emerging demand. What do buyers like you want? Sport-utility convenience, without the sheer bulk of the full-size utes falling out of favor with every rise in gas prices. A nice badge with some street cred wouldn't hurt., either.

What do these three have for you? Seats for five passengers, six-cylinder engines, all-weather capability and distinct personalities to go with their semi-lofty pricetags--not to mention the ability to slide easily into normal parking spaces.

Which one ranks best? Sounds like time for a comparison from between the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK.

By now you know rates vehicles for styling, performance, safety, comfort and utility, and features. From there, we arrive at an overall score, based on each vehicle's individual merits and on its competitiveness in its class of cars, vans, trucks or SUVs. We also let you compare cars of your choice, side by side, to see how they stack up in price, fuel economy, and by our editors' ratings.

We also do our own comparisons based on our experts' hands-on road tests. For example, TCC's editors have driven each of these vehicles in various forms, in locations around the country and in Europe, to be able to explain the ratings and to help you make your own decision.

Which of these three is best for you? First, know that each of these three compact luxury SUVs has been introduced or revamped in the past two years. The BMW X3 was refreshed in 2008 with an improved ride and a smoother shape; the Audi Q5 emerged brand-new in 2009; and the Mercedes-Benz GLK arrived late last year as a 2010 model.They're state of the art, in the small-luxury-ute segment. They're similar in size, equipment, and mission, too. Each of these compact utes has a six-cylinder engine, an automatic transmission, and available four-wheel drive (it's standard on the Q5 and X3, an option on the GLK). Maybe most important to you, each wears a luxury-brand badge that conveys a certain standing in the world far more effectively than the badges on other very pleasant vehicles like the Volvo XC60, Infiniti EX35, even the Acura RDX.

Among them, one tops the TCC ratings by a small margin. Of Germany's most prestigious, pint-sized SUVs, which one is the most highly rated by

We'll compare Audi Q5 vs. BMW X3 vs. Mercedes-Benz GLK shortly. But first, the basics:

2009 Audi Q5

2009 Audi Q5

2009 Audi Q5

The basics: 3.2-liter V-6 with 270 horsepower; six-speed automatic; all-wheel drive standard

Price: $37,200

Fuel economy: 18/23 mpg

Rating: 8.4 out of 10

The Audi Q5 is new for 2009, and scores highly for its suave looks and its spacious interior. Editors liked its appealing style, inside and out; the quality feel of cabin and controls; its ample V-6 power; and its standard all-wheel-drive.

On the flip side, the Q5's Drive Select system feels gimmicky when one setting for ride quality would be fine. Steering is too heavy in all modes of Drive Select, and with that $2950 option and others, the Audi Q5 becomes a pricey addition to the class, with a $50,000 sticker possible.

Our Bottom Line? The 2009 Audi Q5 sports the sleek lines of a sweet German sedan, a date-worthy cabin, and good but gimmicky, hefty handling.

2009 BMW X3-Series 30i

2009 BMW X3-Series 30i

2009 BMW X3

The basics: 3.0-liter in-line six with 260 horsepower; six-speed manual or automatic; all-wheel drive standard

Price: $39,700

Fuel economy: 16/23 mpg

Rating: 8.2 out of 10

The revamped BMW X3 is substantially improved, and editors have noted how the settled-down ride and upgraded cabin make the X3 feel more luxurious than prior versions. Strong acceleration, a smartly styled cabin, standard all-wheel drive and the availability of a manual transmission are all pluses for the X3.

Negatives for the 2009 BMW X3 include a tight back seat, choppy styling outside, and handling that comes close to but doesn't match the enviable responses of BMW’s cars. Fuel economy is lower than the Audi Q5's as well.

Our Bottom Line? The 2009 BMW X3 is a more rugged alternative to a sport wagon, but it's not as much fun to drive.

2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK

2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK

2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK

The basics: 3.5-liter V-6 with 268 horsepower; seven-speed automatic; all-wheel drive available

Price: $34,900

Fuel economy: 16/22 mpg

Rating: 8.2 out of 10

The 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK sport-ute bears a strong resemblance to the larger GL-Class, and that is a good thing--for the most part. Our editors like the upright styling, but it simply looks less upscale than the curvy Audi Q5 or the Volvo XC60. The GLK's smooth ride quality, carlike acceleration and grip defy its SUV shape, but the roomy cabin and cargo area confirm its utility even before you load it with people and stuff.

Like other SUVs in this class, the GLK's steering can feel light for a vehicle of its size and height. It's pricey, for sure, not compared to the other Germans but to economy-brand sport-utes in the same size class. Of all these vehicles, only the GLK is offered in rear-drive form, which cuts the price but could also affect resale value, depending on your geography and weather. And even with an extra gear in the transmission, the GLK gets the worst fuel economy in this select group.

Our Bottom Line? The smaller, nimbler 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK sport-ute has come to America at just the right time for Mercedes; where's our diesel version?

2009 Audi Q5, Covington, Ga.

2009 Audi Q5, Covington, Ga.

The Winner: 2009 Audi Q5

The 2009 Audi Q5 sports the sleek lines of a sweet German sedan, a date-worthy cabin, and good but gimmicky, hefty handling.

The Competition

You might not think the Audi Q5 is exactly the right car for you--and the other German SUVs may not fit the bill, either. So what's left in this size and price class? If you're still looking for rugged lines and all-terrain travel, Land Rover’s LR2 is a square-jawed niche player in the group, with true four-wheeling bred in its blocky silhouette.

The next pair, the Acura RDX and Infiniti EX35, share Japanese heritage, but feel radically different. The RDX’s pulsing turbocharged four-cylinder feels at odds with its mission, while the EX35’s teensy cargo area leads to questions about its SUV classification.

Last, the soft and comfy SUVs in this group include the Lexus RX, a luxury favorite with little driving feel and a hybrid model; the new Volvo XC60, a sleek and fairly quick-footed SUV with a marvelous interior; and the Cadillac SRX, a new entry in this size class with crisp styling and good on-road maneuvers.

Compare Cars

You can view this comparison chart at our Compared: Audi Q5 Vs. BMW X3 Vs. Mercedes-Benz GLK page.

Also, you can compare cars of your own choosing at Just stop at our car comparison page, select your choices for vehicle type, price range, model year, and brands, and then choose up to three to compare on a single page.

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