Only last night, I had got the Toyota Fortuner, Mitsubishi Pajero and also the Ford Endeavour to slug it out amongst themselves and today I have got two of the most selling SUVs in the premium segment and those are the BMW X3 in India and the Audi Q5 in India. Not only do these cars promise their owners instant attention, they also ensure that the owners travel in style and pomp. The Q5 had got a heart transplant recently whereas the BMW X3 is due for a revamp soon. Its bigger brother, the X5 got a revamp last year however the X3 that we have now is the old one that still sells in India. Inevitably a buyer looking out for a SUV in the Rs 50 lakhs segment would be eyeing these two SUVs. Earlier on, I remember having compared the Audi with the Freelander and Volvo XC60 where the Volvo significantly trumped the others out. Only this time, it would be traditional German rivals fighting it over in India. Curtains drawn, the battle is about to begin now. For once, we have got the oil burning versions of both as it is said that the diesel versions outsell the petrol ones as far as the sales charts are concerned.
Both the Audi Q5 in India and the BMW X3 in India are scaled down versions of their bigger brothers, the Audi Q7 and the BMW X5. Both these cars from a distance can definitely be identified as Audi and BMW SUVs but ask someone who has seen a Q7 or the X5 in flesh and heads on, even he wouldn’t be able to distinguish the difference between them. Its only when you draw closer to both of them, then you realize that these SUVs are smaller than your presumptions. However for once, the Q5 doesn’t seem as intimidating as the Q7 and therein lies the crux. If you want a more intimidating vehicle, then the Q7 it is. Move onto the sides and the Q5 looks normal and not huge. The BMW X3 looks very much like the BMW X1 and the Skoda Yeti mix. More of the latter’s design towards the rear. Chop off that long snout and the BMW would look like the Yeti. Though BMW is a master in creating niches, Audi seems to have taken the cue and created the Q5. 17 inch tyres are available on both with the Audi having an option to upsize it to 19 inch ones. The wheel design or rather the alloy wheel design however leaves a lot to be desired. The BMW X3 acquits itself from off-roading duties by having its fog lamps placed near the head lamps cluster. The rear windscreen space in both the cars is almost the same while the X3 has split tail lamps, the Audi has got its tail lamps stamped on the boot, much like elder brother Q7. While the X3 has Fortuner like boot, the Q5 looks the same as its bigger brother and is more of a rounded design. The tail pipe barely peeps out from under the bumper of the X3 whereas the Q5 boldly displays twin tail pipes. Moreover the reflectors on the bumpers of the Q5 look far more elegant than the ones on the BMW X3.
For its rounded and more friendly design, it would be the Audi Q5 which comes out in trumps. Not only does the Q5 look bold, it also makes heads turn. I am sure people would dismiss the BMW quickly as “any other BMW on the road” attitude. The BMW’s design is also likely to age very soon while that of the Audi would age more gracefully.
The BMW X3 in India has got a plain Jane looks to its interiors while the Audi Q5 in India is more of flamboyance as compared to the X3. The Audi has got one of the better interiors in its segment save for the Volvo XC60 which has got a bit more of freshness to it. The Q5 is based on the Audi A5 and the A4 platform. However the Q5 is slightly shorter than the latter but then some wizard from Audi’s designing team has managed to liberate more space inside the cabin. The Audi immediately makes you feel at home while the X3 makes it look like you have just entered a hen coop. Not because of the interiors but the overall package as a whole is a let down considering that the radical design themes outside the cabin have restricted the space inside. The Audi also has more features as compared with the BMW. While Audi is quick to offer the MMI or Multi Media Interface system with quick access menus, BMW haven’t offered their Idrive system for the BMW X3. The cabins also differ in the way the materials have been used. The overall upholstery theme with the Audi brand is a light grey one whereas the BMW brigade uses darker wood trim but with a hint of beige to it. Certainly the BMW’s cabin may be sparse as compared with the Audi but it fights back with a nicer looking cabin, ergonomics be damned. The second row of seats is also more comfortable in the Audi than the BMW. However the BMW offers slightly more of boot space than the Audi. Equipment wise, the Audi Q5 in India gets 2 SD card readers, adaptive Xenon head lamps, Bang and Olufsen audio system with 14 speakers attached, 40 GB hard drive and also DVD screens at the rear. Moreover the Audi has also got a Bluetooth connectivity option and also the biggest panoramic sunroof in its class. The BMW can hardly boast of any such features though the music system in the BMW matches up with the one in the Audi quite effectively as far as sound quality is concerned. Though the Audi might offer better overall space, it is the BMW which has got a rich feel coming out from its seats.
The Audi Q5 wins this round since it is the more plusher of th e two plus also offers more equipment level than what the BMW can currently offer.
Handling and ride quality
Audi have been projecting the Audi Q5 in India as a sporty SUV. Now, this is certainly a dig at the BMW X3 and as of late I have noticed that most of the manufacturers in this segment carry forward sporty pretensions to even their brochures and advertisements. The Audi Q5, is based on a saloon’s chassis and this ensures that it has some sort of agility as compared to the traditional SUVs built. The all wheel drive system or as Audi calls it, Quattro, makes this SUV a nice handler. It also has a sort of direct steering wheel which is ultra light overall rendering it a nimble feeling around in town. While the Q5 may look ponderous from outside, its not so. The ride quality is a bit stiff but never too intrusive. Its like the proverbial sports car setup with a soft suspension. NVH levels are also down with the 2.0 liter TDI engine. You would be hard pressed to tell if this is a diesel or not. However once the speeds go beyond 130 kmph, the diesel drone is quite evident. However when it comes to corners, there is no beating the BMW X3. It not only carves corners but is more inclined towards apex hunting. Infact it can teach a lesson or two to sports saloons. BMW’s permanent all wheel drive system called as xDrive is present in this SUV and it helps the X3 to grip the tarmac like a leech. However tarmac is the X3’s forte and it has no off-road credibility other than the all wheel drive system. The BMW’s engine has an NVH comparable to the Audi but overall, it feels a bit better than that of the Audi. However all this corner carving comes at the expense of ride quality. The reason for this is the stiff suspension package is because as always, BMW wants to make this SUV a driver’s delight (which it is) but they conveniently forgot the passengers comfort. Ride quality is bone jarringly stiff and at the end of the drive, I did come out with a sore back. The steering wheel seems to lose its assist in town which makes parking a heavy chore however it is well weighted on the highway and lets you know what exactly are the front wheels upto. Off-roading can be better handled by the Q5 since it has a hill hold assist function which regulates the speeds at which the SUV climbs or descends inclines.
The X3 is the one to have if you live in a hilly region and do more of driving chores whereas the Audi for its overall dynamic abilities. My bet would be on the Audi since the BMW’s ride quality is nothing home to write about.
Engine, performance and fuel efficiency
Since I am comparing a diesel with a diesel, the 2.0 liter diesel motor from the BMW X3 is a borrowed one from the BMW 320d. It makes 175 Bhp of power and 350 Nm of torque. BMW has employed a 6 speed automatic transmission to handle the gear shifting duties for this 2.0 liter engine. The gearshifts are on the smoother side of automatic transmissions. Downshifts are also very conveniently done. The engine is also a gem since it doesn’t have to be revved too hard to extract performance from it. The BMW moves from standstill to 100 kmph in only 8.8 seconds whereas its top speed is 208 kmph. What the BMW can do is comfortably cruise all day long at speeds of 130-140 kmph. Audi however has a trick or two more than the BMW in the crucial engine department. The recently Audi 2.0 Tdi Quattro gets a 2.0 liter engine with 170 Bhp on tap and 350 Nm of torque. It is aligned to a 7 speed automatic transmission and one which has twin clutches to aid shifting duties. Though the shifts may not sound as refined as the ones in the BMW, the DSG box is right upto the task with its correct blip of the throttle when downshifts happen. Upshifts are also met with more urgency than conventional boxes. 0-100 kmph comes up in only just above a shade of 9 seconds. The Audi however has a better top speed chickening out at 213 kmph.
Brakes on both the cars are fantastic with various braking aids available. The safety features are also similar in both the SUVs and both promise that the occupant would come out the least scathed, were an accident to happen. Fuel efficiency is one more place where BMW strikes back at the Audi with its overall mileage figure of 11.8 kmpl to the Audi’s 11.2 kmpl. Being a diesel means both are easy on the pocket given the rising prices of crude.
The BMW X3 in this one with its better fuel efficiency and also performance figures goes one up against the Audi. The Audi however is not a laggard and performs decently with its better top speed than the BMW.
While the BMW X3 has been thoroughly beaten up by the newest variant of the Audi Q5, it still has some strong selling points. Primary amongst them is its handling prowess which the Q5 cannot match. Plus its old engine still has the hots to give the other competitors a run for their money as can be evident from this test. However times have changed and the BMW X3 in India begs for a revamp, both in the interiors as also the exteriors. The Audi Q5 in the meanwhile is the rockstar in a suit. It is the perfect vehicle to arrive in a party or even off-roading event. It is easier to drive around in town and also is a good performer. Its interiors are also better than that of the BMW X3. It also rides better than the X3, which by any standards is uncomfortable due to its short suspension travel. Now comes the time to check out the prices. The Audi Q5 price in India for its 2.0 liter TDI variant stands at Rs 39 lakhs while the BMW X3 price in India is available for a significantly higher Rs 43 lakhs. All these prices are ex-show room, Mumbai. The BMW X3, I am sure will come back stronger with a change in heart (not that it needs one) but also with a facial and also stomach cleansing. As of now, my money would be on the Audi Q5 in India.