The Audi Q5 and BMW X3 are the most sensible vehicles in each German automaker’s lineup. They’re family-sized, but not too large; they’re somewhat sporty, but fundamentally designed for comfort while driving. They’re stylish, relatively fuel-efficient, and responsive.
In the niche of mid-size luxury SUVs, there’s also the Volvo XC60, Land Rover Discovery Sport, and Mercedes-Benz GLC to contend with. And yet, the X3 and Q5 remain two of the strongest entries in this class–both deliver the SUV’s promise of all-around utility, while keeping their upscale pedigrees intact.
When they face off, nose to nose, one’s a clear winner, based on our numeric ratings. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
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, especially as it was just redesigned from the ground up for 2017.
The Q5 rides on a new platform and features major technologic advancements inside. Even though its exterior is derivative, Audi has carried over little more than a few nuts and bolts from last year’s model.
The Q5 has, however, met its match with the latest X3. BMW’s ute is built in America (the Q5 is sourced from Mexico), 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.
MORE: Read our 2017 BMW X3 and 2018 Audi Q5 reviews
Each of these vehicles has an exceptionally strong performance range, with BMW showing off its usual sporting edge.
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.
A 240-hp turbocharged-4 in the BMW X3 28i feels about on par with the engine in the Q5, but the BMW also offers a 300-hp inline-6. Regardless of engine, both BMW variants include an 8-speed automatic. The 4-cylinder is offered in rear- or all-wheel drive, while the 6 sends power to all four wheels regardless.
We can’t stage a fuel economy battle just yet, however, as EPA figures for the Q5 are forthcoming.
Of the three, we 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. The Q5 is less sporty in its base form, emphasizing smooth ride over cornering tenacity. While it’s certainly confidence-inspiring and precise, it’s not quite as entertaining as the BMW—even when its Drive Select system is set to Sport mode.
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 upped its appointments in the X3 once again in 2015 and it did improve some materials.
The Q5 and X3 start around $40k but they can reach past the $60k, well-optioned in their 6-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 Q5 offers more tech possibilities, like a head-up display and a multi-configurable LCD screen that replaces the instrument cluster. Both have no lack of active-safety extras, although crash data is incomplete on both.
Of course, you’ll want to drive them head to head and compare for yourself. 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—not to mention a lot more tech.