Six-cylinder diesel SUVs and lots of torque. Which one is better?
This luxury soft-road comparison is essentially about torque-to-weight ratios – an often underplayed statistic that gives you the truest indication of a car’s performance. And torque-to-weight ratios in a compact SUV don’t come more favourable than in the BMW X3 3.0d and the Audi Q5 3.0TDI. With powerful, six-cylinder, 3.0-litre engines under their hoods, these SUVs are for those who love the impishness of having a bigger engine in a compact package.
Now both these SUVs have cheaper, more fuel efficient 2.0-litre diesel siblings, so the only reason to pay the extra Rs 6 lakh that BMW and Audi are asking is if you crave the extra muscle and associated effortlessness that these two bring with them. Also, the six-cylinder motors are naturally smoother and quieter than their four-cylinder counterparts and, as a result, feel more expensive and refined. What these two have is a surplus of power and torque. Both these engines make a full 70bhp more than their 2.0-litre brethren and enough torque to push your stomach into your spine when their turbos come on song. In an environment like ours, they work extremely well – they are compact for the cut and thrust of city driving, perch you high enough to mess with aggressive cabbies, can seat five, and have enough space in the back for your four-legged friend to experience the g-force as well.
It is important to know that the X3 – which was launched last year – is brand new, while the Q5 has been around for a couple of years. The Q5 still has quite a few crucial punches left in its arsenal though, so despite what you’re thinking, this test is no BMW walkover. Read on to find out why.
IT’S NOT JUST TORQUE
To truly know what these two engines feel like, you have to remember that they also power the much bigger BMW X5 and Audi Q7. This is significant because an X5 weighs 275kg more than an X3 and a Q7 weighs a whole 480kg more than its smaller sibling – and neither of the seven – seat brutes can be described as sluggish.
So it’s BMW’s in-line six versus Audi’s V6, 258bhp versus 240, 57kgm of torque versus 51kgm. Combine this with the BMW’s 1800kg kerb weight versus the Audi’s 1865kg and it’s easy to see why the X3 is a whole second quicker to 100kph than the Q5.
What these figures don’t tell you, however, is how close the two are in the real world. Both are impressively quick and never leave you wishing you had bought the other. The Q5 cleverly masks its deficit by making peak torque a full 500rpm before the X3, and the Quattro all-wheel-drive system makes sure all its torque is converted to ribcage-compressing acceleration. The Q5’s V6 is also smoother and a lot quieter than the X3’s in-line six and, thanks to this, the Audi feels extremely effortless when you’re accelerating hard and impressively quiet when you’re cruising at triple-digit speeds. What lets it down is its seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox. It’s quick with its upshifts, but can be hesitant with its downshifts and this makes it, at best, a reluctant participant when you want to drive hard.
The Audi’s weakness is further highlighted when you drive the X3. The engine’s power characteristics are perfectly complemented by the auto gearbox with eight speeds and the flexibility they bring into the equation. The X3’s engine also has the wider power band – it pulls strongly all the way to its 5000rpm redline, while the Audi Q5’s engine starts losing steam once it’s past its mid-range. The X3’s extra ratio combined with a quick-witted, extremely obedient torque-converter auto makes the Q5’s twin-clutch unit feel quite geriatric. The X3’s gearbox is so intuitive – you can control gearshifts with a twitch of your foot – you really don’t miss the fact that it doesn’t have paddle-shifters. That the X3 shifts smoother and less obtrusively than the occasionally jerky Q5 makes it better still.
The X3’s eight-speeder also has another advantage, which becomes most apparent when you drive it in traffic. The BMW is quicker to respond to demands for downshifts; so the X3 will always slot into gaps, while the Q5 leaves you tugging at the paddles.
THE FUN FACTOR
Take a moment to peer under their respective bonnets and you’ll see why the BMW drives like it does. The in-line six, despite its length, is housed mostly behind the front axle, helping the car hit BMW’s famous weight-distribution sweet spot, while the Q5’s motor is placed further forward and over the front axle.
You’ll notice this extra weight in the nose when you drive it enthusiastically – the Q5’s natural tendency is to run wide through corners and you have to back off the throttle to get it back in line. The X3 darts around, aided by tremendous front-end grip, its direct steering (the best electrically assisted system we have seen) and all-wheel-drive grip. Now, all this may seem irrelevant to the everyday driving conditions that these two will be subjected to, but you can’t help but think of the advantages the X3’s quicker responses and better balance offer when, say, a rickshaw blunders into your path. The X3 also has another advantage over the Q5, and that is its Dynamic Damper Control modes. There’s ‘Normal’, where the ride is really plush (if a bit wallowy), the steering is really light and the gearbox up shifts early for fuel economy. Select ‘Sport’ and you’ll feel the suspension tighten up. There’s more weight in the steering and the gearbox responds faster and stays in gears longer. ‘Sport+’ partly disengages the ESP and traction control when you feel like sliding around a bit. This last mode may seem unnecessary in a vehicle like this, but trust us, it is fun. What these modes serve to do is broaden the X3’s capabilities and character. The Q5 driver has just one factory setting that the non-adjustable steel springs bring with them.
As a result, the Q5 has nothing that allows the driver to adjust its lumpy and occasionally skittish low-speed ride. Up the pace, however, and the Q5’s ride becomes as flat and stable as the best out there. It’s impressively refined and phenomenally settled. If only we had autobahns here!
Off-road abilities of both cars are limited at best. They both come with a hill-descent system, but that’s about it. Going through serious rough stuff will leave you with damaged bodywork (they aren’t that tall and possibly even stuck.
IN AND OUT
There’s absolutely no disappointment in store when you step inside either of these soft—roaders. True to their price tags, both cabins are high quality, well-built places to spend time in. That said, it’s the BMW’s cabin the feels slightly better put together and more appealing. True, it may look like it’s been lifted off the BMW template for dashboards, but there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a clarity in the layout, a simpleness to the controls all of which are under laid by a feeling of robustness. The front seats are spot on in the way they allow you to find the correct driving position, and they also sit you a tad higher than the Q5.
The X3’s rear seats aren’t as successful. While you won’t complain about headroom or knee room, the seats are placed a bit too low and the high window line makes you feel more hemmed-in than in the Q5. The low seat base also makes you sit with your legs splayed – not the most comfortable way to travel, especially on long trips.
The Q5’s rear bench has better thigh support and it feels like a brighter, airier place to be. However, the front seats aren’t as contoured as the BMW’s and the Q5 feels wider than the X3 from the driver’s seat because you sit lower, Both cars have a high transmission tunnel running through the centre of the cabin, making them best for-four-up traveling.
One thing is clear though – the BMW is better equipped. Standard features include the Dynamic Damper Control system, the panoramic sunroof, the big iDrive screen, eight airbags and a whole load of safety system acronyms. On the Q5, the panoramic sunroof, the six-CD changer and even the iPod connector are options.
And – sorry to go on about this – but we missed having a spare wheel on the X3. It is a fact that in India, run-flat tyres can still leave you stranded if you cut the sidewall or blow a big hole in the tyre itself. The Q5 is much better in this respect, because it offers a space-saver, so you can at least get home.
One more thing. We don’t like commenting on styling, because it is so subjective, but this has to be said – the X3 is the one that looks decidedly more SUV – ish thanks to its taller stance. The Q5’s face is interesting, but from the hind three-quarters, it looks like an overgrown hatchback. We also like the exquisite 18-inch, alloys on the BMW better but, as we said, that’s entirely subjective.
THE FINAL ROUND
Both these SUVs are desirable in their own right but in the final analysis, there is a clear winner. The Q5 won’t leave you wanting with its power and refinement, and the rear seats are better too. However, the new X3 wins from where it counts the most accomplished than the Q5 and is the nicer one to drive. At Rs 47.9 lakh, it may be Rs. 2 lakh more than the Q5, but is better equipped and hence better value. There’s no question really – the X3 walks the torque.
Source : Autocar March 2012