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. …


img 3071 1600x1200 498x373 BMWBLOG Audi Q5 Test Drive: Does the X3 stand a chance?

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.

Styling

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.

Interior

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.

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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.

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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.

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