Thanks to their utility and ever-improving MPG, the current automotive trend is an increased interest in crossovers and SUVs over sedans.
It’s therefore no surprise that demand for the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 is sky high. The Q5 sits between the subcompact Audi Q3 and midsize Audi Q7, whereas the X3 sits between BMW’s subcompact X1 and midsize X5. While the other SUVs are popular, the Q5 and X3 are the top-selling models for these two German automakers in the US.
Some drivers have a strong, almost obsessive preference for either the Audi or BMW brand, but most of us simply want to go with the better vehicle. And in the case of the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, the choice is extra difficult because the similarities are so extensive.
So to clear things up, let’s compare the Q5 and X3 head-to-head and crown one of these compact luxury crossover SUVs as the winner.
The Audi Q5 is the BMW X3’s closest rival and there’s no clear winner. The BMW X3 is the more fun car to drive, but the Audi Q5 makes up for it with a more modern interior and new exterior styling changes for 2021.
The Audi Q5 is available in 3 trims: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. All three feature the same 2.0 liter engine and quattro all-wheel drive, but higher-end trims add extras like a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control and improved sound system.
The base Audi Q5 trim, the Premium, costs $43,300.
The BMW X3 is also available in 3 trims, but each trim is mechanically different from one another. The $43,000 rear-wheel drive sDrive30i, the $45,000 all-wheel drive xDrive30i and the plug-in hybrid xDrive30e, which starts at $49,600.
Standard features are also very similar between both Q5 and X3, so from a price perspective they’re neck and neck.
In 2018, the second generation of Q5 was finally born, completely overhauling the exterior and interior. The BMW X3 also had a generational change in 2018 with the release of the third-generation X3. With no redesigns likely to happen till 2024 at the earliest, it’s still prime time to purchase either SUV.
However, for 2021 the Q5 received a light makeover. An updated grille with new front and rear bumpers, as well as sharper headlamps and taillights give it a fresh exterior appearance.
BMW hasn’t had any such visual update, but it still presents an attractive package with BMW’s signature dual-kidney front grilles and sporty lines.
Both crossovers look terrific in their own right and don’t have any glaring styling faults so it really comes down to personal preference.
When comparing luxury SUVs, the interior quality is one of the key aspects to consider.
Both the Audi’s and BMW’s interiors offer upscale soft-touch materials, exquisite detailing and various luxury conveniences.
While the sportier interior inside the BMW will appeal to some, Audi definitely knocked the ball out of the park with the interior of the Q5. Audi paid incredible attention to detail, from the precision of the knurled dials to the perfect angularity on the indicator stalks. It just feels a touch more modern and classy than the X3’s interior.
While Audi previously held the upper hand when it came to in-car technology, BMW have stepped up their game for 2021 and offer Android Auto and SiriusXM satellite radio, which were previously unavailable.
However, Audi still delivers better infotainment, especially with a rather impressive 10.1-inch screen coming as standard on all 2021 models.
Comparing the exterior sizes of the two, the X3 is slightly bigger. It is 185.9 inches long (vs. 183.6 inches) and its wheelbase is 1.8 inches longer than the Q5.
As we would expect from the bigger exterior, the BMW X3 has more interior space for cargo. With the rear row of seats upright, the X3 can hold up to 28.7 cu-ft of cargo, whereas the Q5 can only hold up to 25.1 cu-ft.
The difference is even bigger when the rear seats are folded down. The X3 then has a cargo capacity of 62.7 cu-ft, whereas the Q5 has a lower capacity of 53.1 cu-ft. To put that into perspective, you can load an additional large suitcase into the back of the BMW X3 when the back seats are folded down.
While the BMW X3 has significantly more space for cargo, the Audi Q5 does do something to make up for its inferior cargo capacity with a very slightly roomier cabin.
The difference between the cabin room of the two crossovers is tiny compared to the difference in cargo room. However, for those who very rarely fill out the trunk, the slightly bigger cabin room might be a bigger deal.
While both SUVs can seat five passengers, the X3 does a better job of accommodating 5 passengers because its middle seat on the rear row is more comfortable than that of the Audi Q5.
Concerning the quality of the seats themselves, both are equally luxurious. Both feature leatherette upholstery and power-adjustable front seats. The Audi Q5’s rear seats can also slide back and forth for extra rear-passenger legroom.
Each crossover SUV has rear-row LATCH connectors for child safety seats. IIHS rated the Q5’s LATCH system higher than the BMW X3’s, giving the Audi another small win in the seating comparison.
Both the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 have turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four engines. They used to both have 248 horsepower, but for 2021 the Q5 receives a 13-hp boost to 261 horsepower as well as a 12-volt hybrid system as standard.
Regardless, both the Q5 and X3 perform almost identically when it comes to speed and acceleration. The Audi Q5 accelerates marginally quicker, going from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds, whereas the BMW X3 takes 6.0 seconds. Both crossovers are speed-limited to 130 mph.
The BMW’s engine is matched with the legendary ZF 8HP 8-speed torque converter gearbox, whereas the Audi Q5 has a 7-speed S-tronic dual-clutch DSG.
Both gearboxes present the driver with the option to manually shift between gears, and downshifting and upshifting is very smooth on both. However, the general consensus is that the ZF 8HP is a slightly stronger and more reliable transmission, so we’re going to give the X3 the edge here.
The slowly improving fuel efficiency across compact SUVs means that these vehicles are no longer the gas guzzlers they once were.
The Audi Q5 achieves a gas mileage of 25/28 mpg (city/highway) and has a combined EPA estimate of 24 mpg. By comparison, the BMW X3 sDrive30i gets an almost indistinguishable fuel efficiency of 25/29 mpg (city/highway), though the figure drops to 23/29 mpg if you go for the all-wheel drive xDrive30i.
Both the Audi Q5 and the BMW X3 are rated for towing payloads up to 4,400lbs.
Ride and Handling
Concerning ride quality, both SUVs have a very comfortable ride with absorbent suspensions and quiet cabins.
However, BMW have built their reputation around delivering the ultimate driving experience, and unsurprisingly the BMW X3 is the more exciting SUV to drive. Despite not being quite as fast as the Q5, things like more responsive steering to louder growls at higher revs means spirited drivers will prefer the X3.
Crash Testing Scores
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash safety testing, both the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 have excellent safety. Both models achieved perfect five-star ratings across all frontal and side crash tests, and were awarded five-stars overall. They both earned 4-stars in rollover testing, with the Audi Q5 being very slightly less likely to rollover between the two.
Moving onto testing carried out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), both crossovers again fared very well. They both earned the highest rating of ‘Good’ across all crashworthiness tests and got the highest rating for their frontal crash prevention systems.
The 2021 Audi Q5 has a rear view camera and various standard safety features in the base-level Premium trim (Audi Pre Sense Basic). New for the year, you also get lane-departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, and blind-spot monitoring on every trim. However, Audi Pre Sense City features (pre-collision braking, pedestrian warning and forward collision warning) do not come as standard.
The X3 offers an equally generous safety feature package. For 2021, every model now comes with the Active Driving Assistant package, which packs features like lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring.
The Audi Q5 is definitely an Audi with its refined manners and neutral looks. It beats the BMW X3 in some aspects, namely a superior interior and more recent exterior makeover. Passengers will also appreciate the extra bit of leg and headroom it provides.
However, the BMW manages to score points with a larger cargo capacity, a more enjoyable drive and more safety features as standard.
Looking for a decisive winner? Unfortunately we haven’t got one for you. Both SUVs are closely matched, and whether it’s through brand preference or a test-drive, ultimately you’ll need to find your personal preference.
If you’re looking for other luxury SUVs in this segment, there are several models that spring to mind. Another product of Germany, the Mercedes GLC is often included in comparisons which involve the Q5 and X3. The Volvo XC40 is another European offering that exudes class, while a Lexus NX 300h is a compelling alternative if you’re looking for a hybrid compact SUV.