BMWBLOG Audi Q5 Test Drive: Does the X3 stand a chance?

BMW X3 | May 11th, 2009 by 31
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With the introduction of the all-new Audi Q5 crossover, Audi of America launched a Driving Experience event which takes place in selected cities across U.S. …

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With the introduction of the all-new Audi Q5 crossover, Audi of America launched a Driving Experience event which takes place in selected cities across U.S. The event provides a hands-on driving experience to anyone interested in testing the Q5 and learning more about the technology of this new Audi crossover.

Two weeks ago, the tour stopped in Chicago, our home turf, and we decided to sign up for the Driving Experience. I’m sure many of you wonder why would we have done that since we are obviously a BMW-centric website, but before you jump to any conclusions – yes, we are still very much so in love with our bimmers – we can simply answer your question: we wanted to have a hands-on experience with the Q5 since it has been marketed as a direct competitor to the X3, the smaller BMW Sports Activity Vehicle.

Since I own a BMW X3 3.0, driving the Q5 would give me the opportunity to objectively compare the two vehicles from all the possible angles.

So armed with a camera and an open mind, we drove to Soldier Field, on the shores of Lake Michigan and joined the Audi team on a beautiful Sunday. There were more than thirty Audi Q5 vehicles waiting for existing, future or potential customers. The three hour program starts with a live video presentation of the Q5 and some of the Audi’s newest technologies and plans.


Shortly after, the group joins the Audi specialists ready to talk about the Q5 design and engineering. What we learned here is that the Audi Q5 measures 15.19 ft (4.63 meters) in length and 6.17 ft (1.88 meters) wide. It also measures 5.41 ft (1.65 meters) in height, making it one of the sportier crossovers when compared to its competitors and …..those are quite numerous: Lexus RX350, Volvo XC90, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK and Infiniti EX.

Many would expect the Q5 to resemble some Volkswagen model, but unlike the bigger Q7, the Q5 does not share the platform with another model. It also looks more compact than its larger brother(Q7), a much tighter design. It does somewhat resembles the A4 Avant model, but I wouldn’t go further than that with the design comparison. The belt-line crease seen in the newest Audi vehicles was being referred to by the Audi specialists as the “Tornado Line”. A second accent line starts at the cut-line of the hood and goes along the sides ending near the rear quarter window. The roof-line forms a downward slope toward the rear with the clear intention of giving the Q5 a more sporty look.

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At a first glance, the large grille seems your typical Audi design, but looking closer, I noticed that the Q5 and even the Q7 emphasize more the vertical bars on the grille, where the sedan and coupe models bring out the chromed horizontal bars. While the front-end is a winner, I can’t say the same about the blend rear-end design where the curves are far more pronounced that I would want them to be.


Inside, the Audi Q5 is more spacious than the current BMW X3, offering more front legroom, 41 inches vs. 40.2 inches in the X3 and also more front headroom: 39.4 inches vs 38.1 inches. Due to the larger dimensions, the Q5 offers more passenger volume than the X3 – 101.5 cu.ft vs. 90.1 cu.ft – and it is immediately noticeable by someone that is 6.2″ tall. We already know that the second generation BMW X3 due out in 2010, will increase in size to the dimensions of the first generation X5, so hopefully this gap will be closed by BMW in the new design.


The interior design is what you would expect from an Audi, high quality materials, from the dashboard trim to the soft and comfortable leather. But I did find a few things as being odd or…maybe done in a hurry. The two scroll buttons on the steering wheel make a quite noisy click when changing radio stations or tracks, a bit discordant wit the overall inside quiet atmosphere.

The in-car infotaiment system revolves around the Audi’s top Multi Media Interface (MMI), one of the most intuitive offered by an OEM. The navigation screen is a seven-inch, 800×400 sharp TFT display feeding information out of a 40GB hard drive and an NVIDIA graphics chip which Audi is especially proud of it. The chip gives the possibility of displaying 3-D city model including textured buildings and places of interest.

The navigation system also stands out with its voice activated commands. The system can be trained to your voice and it is capable of understanding many spoken requests, from “I’m hungry” where it starts giving you the closest restaurants in your area, to  “I need gas” and a list of fuel stations pop up on the screen. Very useful feature especially when driving in a congested city and have no time to play around with the navigation controls.


The audiophiles have not been forgotten and Audi includes a top of the line Bang and Olufsen audio system.

Engine, Performance and Dynamics

The Audi Q5 present at the event was powered by a 3.2 liter in V6 engine which outputs 270 horsepower and 243 lb-ft of torque, all of it coupled with the Tiptronic gearbox. The top X3 model features a 3.0 liter inline-6 engine producing 260 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque, but the new generation will most likely make use of the 3.0 liter 300 hp twin-turbo engine and more powerful diesel powerplants.

After the technical presentation, I was ready to move onto the driving experience, a far more exciting part of this event and an opportunity for myself to compare the Q5 against the X3. We started off with a quick test drive on the beautiful Lake Shore Drive, following closely our Audi guide. It was a bit difficult to really test the power and dynamics of the Q5 while driving at a legal speed limit and through Chicago traffic, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t push when I had the chance. What I’ve noticed during the highway ride was that the V6 lacks the low and midrange punch of the X3 3.0 liter inline-six engine, but once it “kicks in”, it is able to give you the feeling you’re looking for. I could say  that the Q5 feels a bit less athletic, mostly due to the larger size and weight. With the new X3 most likely to include the powerful 3.0 liter twin-turbo engine, Audi will be facing a tough challenge, especially keeping those customers who are looking for a more sporty, dynamic and powerful powerplant.

As far as the overall ride, the Q5 feels balanced and secured, a feeling expected from a sport utility vehicle. The ride is also smoother than my X3, which makes it very comfortable on those bumpy roads we have here in Illinois. The steering is not as stiff as you would see in a BMW, but some people enjoy this approach which gives them a more comfy driving experience. Of course, coming from a BMW background I became accustomed to the sporty steering wheels and the in-control feeling given by them.

As far as gadgetry, I was impressed by the Audi’s side blind spot sensors which triggers yellow LEDs mounted on the mirrors. The systems works as designed, but it took me a while to get used to the constant yellow flashes.

Going back to the main Audi setup area, we were ready to enter the last phase of this event: driving the Q5 on the mini-track assembled by the Audi folks. Now this is the part I was waiting for and I was ready to see how the famous Quattro behaves through the paces on a closed course. And boy….let me tell you how hard I have pushed the Q5.

Taking the car from 0 to 70 mph and then quickly slamming the brakes while going a 90 degree corner was extremely fun, BUT…..that wasn’t all. The Q5 handled itself superbly with almost no body roll and giving the impression that you’re riding a premium sedan rather than an SUV. The car definitely gave me the impression of safety and being in control, especially when the tires screeching sound could be heard from far away.

Since I went through the same closed course at least six times, I have pushed the Q5 more and more each time, alternating driving styles and braking situations. I could certainly say that the testing course designed by Audi was at least medium difficult and challenging, giving the drivers the opportunity to really test the ABS system and the Electronic Stabilization Program. The ABS system does an amazing job and it brings the 4,200 lbs Q5 to a stop faster than I expected.

Switching seats with my driving partner, gave me the opportunity to see how the Q5 handles through a different driving style and surprisingly again, it came out safe from a situation where the car starting to bounce left and right due to a late braking at 70 mph during the same sharp corner. I learned from the Audi presentation that the ESP and Audi Drive Select features are “responsible” for the improved handling. The new Quattro system is also RWD biased, offering a BMW-like approach of 40/60 front-rear split, which gives increased handling on the Q5.

Oh…did I mention that our car got the check engine light ON? It was quite funny, but probably due to the severe testing that the car went through.

Now going back to the X3, I have to admit that I’ve never taken my car on a race track or course, so it wouldn’t be fair to make an assessment on the body roll, braking and cornering, but hopefully soon I will have this opportunity during a test at the Performance Center. All I can say for now is that the X3 felt solid, secured and in control, on those rare situations where avoiding an obstacle on the highway was required.

Bottom line

I started this review by saying that I went in with an open mind and most important, willing to keep my biased BMW opinion for myself, and I fully kept my promise. Judging the Audi Q5 from a consumer/journalist/blogger perspective was important to this review and I am ready to tell you that Q5 is an amazingly well executed vehicle coming out of the Ingolstadt gates. It offers the package required by many SUV/Crossover fans: luxury, design, performance and safety.

While I am and will still be a BMW fan, I have to acknowledge that the current X3 needs to be replaced, it has been almost seven years since its first inception and it is time to bring out the latest BMW technology and most important, a new, more appealing design. This has been probably one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard from the BMW community.  But from what we heard in the past, the new 2010 BMW X3 will bring back the style, performance and quality expected in a top BMW vehicle.

I hope you enjoyed this review and I setup a goal for myself to put an Audi Q5 and BMW X3 through a far more extensive test drive, so stay tuned! Thanks to Alex for joining me at this event and also to Audi of America for accepting us during their last session.

31 responses to “BMWBLOG Audi Q5 Test Drive: Does the X3 stand a chance?”

  1. Andrus says:

    Q5 is a great car. It handles very good and is fun to drive. Only problem is that it looks boring…

  2. Buitaro H. says:

    @Andrus: Damn… What car you are looking???

  3. Gugo says:

    anyway looks better than current X3, don’t know about next gen but hope it’ll be better;)

  4. Matski says:


    (Although to be fair it is probably a better resolved design than the current E83 X3!)

  5. George says:

    Very good article. You are truly a gentleman. An unbiased review from a BMW fan, what can I say?

    As far as the Q5 design I will have to admit that it is boring. Nothing stimulating about it. I think that the current X3 still looks better than the Q5.

    As far as the driving qualities is concerned, I have read a similar review that no matter how much you would push the Q5, it would still make you feel safe. Audi has certainly raised the bar but I bet that the next X3 will certainly live up to the challenge. There is alot of “know how” from the production of the X5 M & X6 M.

  6. Giom says:

    Very good article Horatiu! I now know things about the Q5 that I was wondering about, and hearing it from a fellow BMW fan is the best thing. I find it very frustrating to read articles from the general auto press guys. You allready know what thye’re gonna say and how it will turn out.

    So, please continue bringing us articles like this!

  7. L1ndja says:

    Omg what is wrong with you people the Q5 looks boring?All of you blind or what?The X3 is probably the ugliest car bmw has ever produced and it isnt anywhere near the Q5’s design.Even though its hard to admit the Q5 is quite gorges.The only point i hate about it is the poor interior.I hate all audi’s interior i think Bmw build’s the best interior for cars.I really hope the new X3 will bee better looking because the current X3 isn’t a bmw…

    • nick says:

      the x3 is sooo NOT a BMW!!!
      A BMW is goodlooking, modern, and has an awesome and sleek interior.
      the x3 is none of them, so its not a BMW.

      P.S. Great review.

  8. Matski says:

    @L1ndja: It’s not so much that the Q5 looks boring, its that it looks like every other Audi, which means we’ve seen it all before and are therefore, getting bored of it.

  9. Horatiu B. says:

    @Giom: Thanks Giom. Those articles are always tricky, since it requires me paying attention to the people when they explain the car, no time for notes :) and also, the research afterward on all the technical details.

    And yes, I try to write them a bit different from the general auto publications, in a more personal way, less fancy words and connecting directly with my readers. I believe this is a reason why many people read our blog, a more personal feel and less formal.

  10. Alex Vintu says:

    Good Job, Horatiu!

    As his driving partner at the Q5 driving event and an Audi owner :) I agree with most of Horatiu’s comments and share his enthusiasm about the car – although I don’t think he’d buy one, haha. He is a Bmw fan afterall

    Styling – I think the back is a bit boring and perhaps they could’ve thrown some innovation to the front, rather than making it look like the Q7 younger brother.

    Performance – lack of torque/power at low rpms, but past that although not exhilarating it does the job, remember you’re not in an M car. I hope they will put the 3.0L diesel engine on it as it will bring a low more needed torque to make it more fun in the city.

    Handling – completely agree with Horatiu, we drove it pretty hard and on partially WET surface and although the car skidded a few times I never felt I lost control of the car – which inspires confidence at all times, thanks to the new Quattro system and decent suspension. Breaks we great too.

    Would I buy one? I would certainly give it a serious consideration after testing the competition, including the NEW X3 as the current one doesn’t stand a chance, other than perhaps better agility/performance.

  11. viper says:

    in terms of looks audi makes better cars….lets face it , X3 is freakin ugly , X5 boring , X6 interesting , Q5 looks fresh , Q7..a monster in every way…a true GL competitor….so in my opinion Q5 is much better than current X3

    • Babken says:

      Upcoming X3 is brilliant, X5 is super, X6 is uber. GLK is pathetic, ML is rubbish, GL is shit. Therefore,
      BMW eats mercedes for breakfast just like I’ve just slapped you in your pathetic face.

  12. BA says:

    Great article Horatiu!

    I live in Chicago and am a bimmer fan/owner and just last week saw the Black Q5 in person. Audi’s road map for design is definitely challenging BMW on day-to-day basis. Overall, I like the solid look of the Q5 and it draws upon a working look with clean lines. The next-gen X3 will definitely need to have a stand-out design to compete.

  13. L1ndja says:

    @viper: Dont agree with you dude, the only ugly/boring car bmw has produced is the X3,the X5 is gorges and the X6 is probably one of the best cars out there in terms of looks.I for myself dont really like the Q7 neither the GL theyre just to big,the Q5 looks a lot better on the front but at the back it isnt so good..Bmw 4Life.

  14. Horatiu B. says:

    @BA: I honestly have no doubt that the new X3 will rock it, judging from some renderings, it is quite attractive, reminding us of a smaller, but distinctive X5.

    By growing in size, it will appeal to even more people. Add the 3.0 twin-turbo, a 2.0 l diesel and a hybrid engine, and you have a winner.

    @Alex, and yes, you’re right, I would still buy the new X3 before the Q5…I guess I can say I’m biased there :)

  15. Otto says:

    “…the Q5 does not share the platform with another model…”
    The Audi Q5 DOES share the B8 platform with the Audi A4, just like the MB GLK and C Class share the same platform.

  16. Horatiu B. says:

    @Otto: With another VW model…the conclusion was implied earlier in the sentence.

  17. ferrarifan says:

    good job!

    this blog would bring in more readers if it gives out good and unbiased reviews like this. i’m one of those.

  18. Otto says:

    Right, so why didn’t you mention that the Q5 doesn’t share its platform with a Porsche model, as the Cayenne does with the Q7 and the Touareg, which imao looks much closer to the Porsche than the Audi. And by the way, Audi claims that albeit Q7 and Touareg share the same platform, there’s only 10% of the parts in common. And what a surprise that a SUV released 5 years after the X3 tops it in every way. Make a test drive of a MB GLK and you’d be amazed how it tops the X3 too.

  19. AlexGP says:

    I am glad I found this article, as I am a longtime BMW fan and owner, but I am considering the Q5. I actually own a first-generation X5 3.0 with Sports Pacakage, bought in 2001 and treated like a jewel. The car is a looker and has not given me any major trouble at all. But it is now 8 years old and I never had a car for this long (am afraid it will be worth little as trade-in if I wait another year or two). I am considering the Q5 because it is in my price range (which, loaded, is similar to what I paid for on the X5). Should I go for the Q5 or should I wait for the 2010 X3?

  20. kcsnayud says:

    GET THE 2010 X3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  21. Хорошо написано. А это все на основе личного опыта?Позвольте поинтересоваться :)

    • Babken says:

      Это все на основе того, что БМВ – лидер своего сегмента по обьему продаж, а мерседес и ауди борятся за второе место. Потребитель никогда не купит плохую машину. А любая модель БМВ – это произведение искусства и безоговорочный законодатель в своем классе.

  22. Jacques says:

    The Q5 beats the current X3 hands down. The car drives like a dream. Test-drove the 2.0 FSi 155KW mutitronic. It pulls like a rocket. Considering buying one. Something that BMW can learn from Audi is to do something about the Dash. The BMW one is very, very boring. The Audi dash looks very impressive with a nice radio with a big colour screen. It gives you lots of information. It is not optional like in the BM. It even has a SD card slot for MP3 music files. I just hope BMW gives us something nice with the new X3 and not something like the X1.

  23. Thefundu says:

    One thing I really like about you guys is that, you people tend to compare cars as they are. Even though this blog is based on only BMWs, but still you guys tested Q5 and told that it’s a good choice. Thumbs up for you Horatiu.

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