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BMW X3 Vs. Audi Q5: Compare Cars

Compact luxury crossovers are testimonials to the new economic realities. Families still need a way to get around as a group--but shoppers that once digested huge sticker prices and growing gas bills for bigger utes with ease, are now taking cover in smaller SUVs that keep their upscale pedigrees intact.

The Audi Q5 and BMW X3 are two of the most popular in the class, and for good reason. Both are stylish, relatively fuel-efficient, and a little more enjoyable to drive than their competition from the U.S. and Asia. But when they face off, nose to nose, one's a clear winner, based on our numeric ratings here at TheCarConnection.

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 vehicles like the Mercedes GLK and Land Rover LR2. Though it has been trumped by the likes of the Range Rover Evoque, the Q5's not just a downsized Q7.

For performance, the Audi's base turbocharged four-cylinder is nothing to shy away from. The front-drive, 211-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbo four makes more torque than the previous V-6, and gets better gas mileage too, at 20/27 mpg. It's a gutsy performer with 0-60 mph times of just over 7.0 seconds, a bit slower and coarser than the six, but considerably less expensive in some trims. The 3.0T model gets a 272-hp version of the company's supercharged V-6; it's also very torquey, yet as you'd expect, somewhat thirstier.

While we enjoy the Q5's drivetrain performance, its handling isn't quite as impressive, especially when Audi's Drive Select package of electronic adaptive controls for the throttle, transmission, steering, and suspension is ordered. The Q5's steering doesn't feel natural, and ride quality in Sport mode can be pretty harsh--though compared to some other crossovers, the Q5 still comes across as more carlike.

A spacious interior with a very high-quality feel offers up a great environment for passengers, and a safe one, with an IIHS Top Safety Pick award. Base models include leather and satellite radio, for about $35,000; models over $50,000 push the limits of the pocketbook with features like Bluetooth, which we think should be standard.

It's highly rated, but the Q5 meets its match with the latest X3. BMW's ute is now built in America, and it's better in nearly every way than the prior ute, and its German competitor. For one, the styling's much more expressive--much more like BMW's sedans, less blocky and better proportioned--and the cabin's been treated to a business-class upgrade with a clarified layout for controls and a higher grade of materials.

BMW offers two drivetrains. Its base 240-hp turbocharged four in the 28i model feels even a bit stronger than the base engine in the Q5, and whether you go for that or the six-cylinder 35i you get a new eight-speed automatic; by the numbers, it eclipses the Q5's straight-line performance and are better or on par with its fuel economy. Of the two, 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.

All X3 models, as well as V-6 versions of the Q5 now come with stop/start, which shuts off the engine to help save fuel when waiting at stoplights; in both models the system can be a bit abrupt.

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.

This X3's grown, too--it's almost the size of the first X5, and rear-seat leg room is now quite good, as is cargo space. The X3 also offers standard Bluetooth and iPod controls, as well as automatic climate control. We're no fans of the iDrive controller for the navigation and other secondary functions, but it's on par with the Q5's equally knobby system. Accommodations in Premium Prestige Q5 models are top-notch--warmer than what you'll see in the X3.

Of course, you'll want to drive them head to head and compare for yourselves. The X3 noses ahead and wins us over by honing its crossover basics to a sharper, carlike edge. 8The 2013 X3 is pert yet swoopy, and builds upward from BMW's sedan designs. Read more8Smoothly shaped and spare of detail, the Audi Q5 wears enduring metal and rich materials, inside and out. Read more8With a new TwinPower four, the X3 xDrive28i is now quicker and more fuel-efficient; and it handles with the sophistication of a sport sedan. Read more8All versions perform like responsive wagons, though we'd avoid the Audi Q5's optional Drive Select, and stick with normal-sized tires. Read more9Superb details and excellent fit and finish, combined with soft-touch materials throughout, set a premium ambiance. Read more9With the sensibly sized Q5, Audi has a good combination of passenger space and cargo room. Read more9Top Safety Pick status plus excellent handling and some active-safety options add up to impressive safety. Read more9Safety's been a strong point with the Audi Q5, and blind-spot monitors can't hurt. Read more8Ticking all the option boxes can send the X3's pricetag well over the $50,000 mark--even for four-cylinder models. Read more8Bluetooth and iPod connectivity are options on base versions, but Audi Connect brings Google Earth maps into the Audi Q5's nav system. Read more6The X3 xDrive28i gets much-improved gas mileage--thanks to a new turbo four-cylinder engine. Read more6Gas mileage makes gains with the Audi Q5 Hybrid edition, but some mainstream crossovers pass it easily on the EPA scale. Read moreFuel Economy - Combined City and HighwayGet daily e-mail updates Fresh, trusted car news and reviews delivered to your inbox every day.


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