Brian Harper: With the exception of convertibles – despite two failed attempts – crossovers have largely managed to replace the car on today’s streets. Small, medium, large, extra-large, grocery stores are cheap to expensive and luxurious, with powertrains ranging from electric vehicle efficiency to gas-guzzling brutality, there’s at least one for every need or need.
Personally, as a baby boomer with a gear head, I came to appreciate the “balanced” performance in my 4WD test vehicles. Oh, 600 or 700 hp are fun but give me something that pumps 350 to 400 hp, can go into the corner stooped like Poseidon, provides some road connection and is comfortable over the long haul, well, I’m a happy wagon. That’s our introduction to the clearly balanced and sporty Audi SQ5 Sportback – the new Sportback treatment was in the 2021 Q5 lineup – and the updated BMW X3 for 2022 in M40i look. With the same volume, power output, base pricing, and most importantly, intent, I think we have a valid comparison on our hands. Are we in agreement yet, Clayton?
Clayton Layers: These two horses are equally matched! Both are sporty mid-range trims for their respective models. The base 2022 SQ5 Sportback price starts at $68,450. The X3 M40i starts at $66,990 and goes up to $84,335 as tested. As tested, our SQ5 Technik comes in at just under $80,000. A healthy price advantage over BMW.
You’ll find more similarities underhood. Both are turbocharged with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder. Notably, Audi’s pistons are arranged in a v-shape, while BMW has them all in a row. Audi produces 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque versus 382 hp and 369 lb-ft. Both cars pair these engines with an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
So, these cars are mechanically similar, but do they drive the same way?
BH: Yes, they do, although BMW has a little more power thanks to its extra 33 horsepower. Acceleration numbers posted by the manufacturers make the M40i hit 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds, half a second faster than the still-fast Sportback. And if this comparison is strictly about performance – whether it’s power dynamics or handling – I’m sure we can agree that the M40i has an edge over the Audi. However, although sportiness is a distinctive feature of both, it is not the only criterion. Appearance, content, convenience and ease of use go into the equation. So is the fact that neither of these crossovers will see anything more challenging than a dirt road, and not with heavy-duty performance rubber. No, looking neat while parked at the ski lodge – once it’s turned into snow tires – with husband, wife and kids on board is their most forte.
First drive: 2022 BMW X3
Conclusion of the long-term test: 2021 Audi SQ5
CS: They may have similarities under the hood but inside the cockpit you’ll find the biggest differences between the two. The BMW is the more expensive of the two at around $4,000 and inside you feel every penny of that and more. Testers had a $7,900 “Premium Package Enhanced,” which among other things includes side awnings, adjustable rear seats and metal-look buttons. She also wears a stunning $3,000 red/black leather interior and $850 carbon fiber interior.
The result is an interior that looks noticeably richer than that of an Audi. Touch surfaces on the door panels, dashboard and lower door cards look even more distinct. The Audi also has original carbon-fiber trim, and while it looks excellent, the rest of the interior is dredged in cheap plastic for an $80,000 cab. It’s also hard for an interior to look expensive when it’s all black. Audi offers four interior packages, three of which are all black. You can select red seats, but Audi will benefit greatly from the pop color in the interior.
Aside from the visual elements, Audi has the more comfortable seats of the two and is better than BMW in the passenger room in the back seat and cargo space behind the seats. That’s impressive considering our Sportback tester swaps out headroom in the back seat for a sportier profile.
BH: The X3 has a stronger ride, although it’s not nearly as punishing as competing BMW models. As with the steering feel, powerful with a good weight to it, at least in one of the M40i’s sporty modes. But I think there’s more flexibility in the Sportback’s driving and handling between Comfort and Dynamic – a milder form of Sport in the latter, and more comfortable in the former, aided by the optional air suspension.
And while we’ve touched on the looks, we haven’t really publicized an opinion on which vehicle is the baller, or even a preference for the Fastback versus the traditional wagon design. First, kudos to BMW testing, its look, color and black wheels are definitely eye-catching. But I’ve become a fan of tattered roofs; The SQ5 is fast and sporty. And yes, I appreciate the irony of liking a crossover that looks more like an automobile, with cars disappearing because consumers overwhelmingly have switched to SUVs.
CS: So, the SQ5 Sportback is a low-top version of a high-top version of a low-top car. I understood you! I do agree, however, that externally the X3 is the more fetched of the two. None of these SUVs have a particularly impressive color palette. Audi offers you six different shades of gray and three shades while BMW can come in five shades of gray or two different shades of blue. Bring back the colors!
But now it’s time to pick a winner between these two devices. To summarize: Audi has a lower price, BMW has more power, Audi has more rear seats and a cargo compartment, BMW has a better interior, but the front Audi seats are more comfortable. We both like the look of the X3, and it drives more sporty, but Audi has air suspension that can be adapted to most moods. Brian, who would you choose to be the winner?
BH: This can easily be a coin toss, as the different strengths and weaknesses of each negate any obvious advantage. For me, though, more power while still providing better fuel economy makes the X3 M40i a win. Being more careful with BMW options would negate the Audi price advantage. Truth be told, though, if I’m forced to live with SQ5 for any length of time, it won’t be difficult. I really like his profile, although I would choose a brighter color. Interestingly enough, I’m not a huge fan of the X4, which is BMW’s type of Fastback for the X3.
what about you?
CS: I agree, this is a very close race! I would say the two are pretty much equal in terms of rugged practicality, but BMW is the clear winner in terms of fun and dynamics. So, if both are equal in quality and pull of people and goods, wouldn’t you choose the more attractive option? BMW was delighted with its straight-six engine, attractive design and agile dynamics. It’s the Driving.ca comparison winner.