Comparison test: BMW X5 vs Audi Q7
Let's take it from the top the people buying these luxury SUVs. They're mostly driven around, and comfort is the main priority, despite what everyone may say about wanting more precise and accurate steering, more power under the hood, and sporty driving dynamics.
So when BMW brought the X5 into its fourth generation, comfort and luxury is exactly what they've focussed on. Something that the Audi Q7 does very well, as does the other obvious choice for someone looking for a luxury full-size, the Mercedes-Benz GLE. The all-new (and very impressive) GLE is due in India in the coming months, as well as a refreshed Q7 with improved interiors. But for the time being, how does the glam-luxe BMW stack up against the more family-guy oriented Audi?
The X5 has grown larger in every way, including in the new iteration of the kidney grille that BMW has slapped on the nose. And despite what the memes on the internet say, it looks pretty darn good in real life! You'll notice the difference versus the outgoing X5 for sure, but some of the BMW X character is lost in the move to the slim tail lights from the L-shaped ones.
Shift your gaze downwards to the ridiculously wide 305 section rear tyres and suddenly the wide hip, narrow top starts looking immensely enticing, just like a sports SUV should. Next to it, the Q7 looks even more station wagon-y than it does on its own, and that's a pity because it's a handsome, inoffensive design that'll age well. Of course, there's no getting away from the massive grilles on both, but the BMW is easily the better looking SUV, with far more presence and style.
The two are pretty evenly matched in exterior dimensions, with the BMW trading 100-odd milimetres to the Audi in length, but being fairly wider and marginally taller. The BMW's 20-inch wheels fill out the wheel wells far better than the Audi's 19-inchers too.
With the X5, the soft-close doors, swathes of open pore wood, metal-finish trim, double-stitched upholstery and cut-glass gear shift knob and starter button, all come together to make the cabin a cut above, approaching the luxury feel you get from cabins on SUVs that are even more expensive! There a few inconsistencies though.
The all-digital instrumentation, with its reverse tacho pushed to the corner of your view line isn't the easiest to read, and the controls to switch drive modes are placed too closely together on the central tunnel to use without glancing down. The Q7 on the other hand feels more intuitive in its placement of physical controls and the like, even if that single vent across the dashboard looks a little plain now. Firing up the infotainment on both, Audi's MMI interface looks painfully sparse, compared to the latest generation of BMW's iDrive.
True, the X5's larger outside in this generation, but that doesn't necessarily translate to the cabin. So, while the front seats are extremely well-bolstered and spacious, you feel a bit shortchanged on the rear bench. While legroom is adequate, the fixed rear seat back means you can't lean back, and stretch out, the way you can in the Q7.
Not to mention that the Audi also comes with the flexibility that an extra two seats in the third row brings, as well as a sliding second row to increase rear legroom if needed. If that flexibility isn't that big a consideration, the X5's cabin does feel more special. So what's strange then is the small sunroof opening, though the glass roof stretches back over the second row. It just feels like a less-than-ideal aperture, compared to the Q7's expansive panoramic sunroof.
There's not much to choose between the two in features, though the BMW adds a few extras. These come in the form of wireless charging, a head-up display, sharper and more useful 360-degree camera and the slightly gimmicky gesture control.
At this price point, and for an all-new SUV, we feel BMW should have provided some of the active driver assist systems it has that are radar-based, just to add that extra level of peace of mind. Even if we can't fully trust the systems just yet, features like lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control do work well enough in selective situations. We've seen them on offer on lesser BMWs in India, so we struggle to find the reasoning to leave them out on the X5. Both these luxury SUVs offer driver, passenger airbags as well as side and curtain airbags for a total of six.
Engine, performance & efficiency
Straight six, or V6 is more likely to be an argument you'd hear when shopping for a sportscar, but these two offer that choice of diesel powerplant, in the same 3-litre capacity. The X5's straight six has more to boast of, its 265PS/620Nm torque just pipping the V6 in the Q7, which makes 249PS/600Nm torque. Both use eight-speed automatics, and have all-wheel drive systems. With more power and a lighter kerb weight of 2.1 tonnes to the Q7's 2.3 tonnes, the X5 is understandably quicker to 100kmph from standstill posting a 6.4s time versus 7.3s for the Q7.
Puzzlingly, while the straight six is supposed to be more refined, and smoother by design, it's the V6 in the Q7 that feels more sophisticated, calmly responding to throttle inputs with multiples of speed flashing up on the digital dials. The X5, in comparison, will build pace equally quickly, if not quicker, but likes to surge ahead, squatting on its haunches each time. It also will not creep forward from a standstill in traffic, unless the throttle is prodded. After a while, it all starts to add up to the Q7 feeling like it has the better sorted powertrain. Though, the BMW still delivers on character, with a relentless run towards redline in each gear proving more fun than the Audi's flatter torque characteristics. Despite being heavier, the Audi is a bit more efficient as well, but only just.
Ride and handling
Don't let the white-and-blue roundel on the steering wheel fool you, this BMW has put comfort first. Which would be okay if it truly excelled at insulating the cabin from the road. Except, we feel it's become a tinge too soft there as well. There's a bobbing motion over most roads that starts to feel unnerving at speed, even if you stick it in the firmest, sportiest mode. Both these SUVs have air suspension on both axles, with adjustable ride height, but the Audi seems to be more tied down - everywhere.
So, while the Audi literally glosses over speed breakers, even at speed, the 'thud' from the BMW forces you to slow right down. Also, would you believe there's more roll in the corners than the Audi? Yup, it leans and pitches far enough to make you unpopular with your passengers, even at low to moderate speeds. The Q7 stays more level through corners, which is behaviour we'd expect from this class of SUV.
However, if you ever get behind the wheel and ditch your passengers, some of the old BMW dynamism starts to show, with huge grip levels masked by an uncharacteristically light and uncommunicative steering. The Q7, on the other hand, starts protesting at a quarter of those corner speeds, and tends towards understeer instead, with (dare we say it) just slightly better judged weight to the steering. The brakes on the BMW feel sharp when you're really using them hard, but can feel a little spongy if you're just driving around with the brakes trying to find a balance within its regenerative braking capabilities. It comes to a halt from 100kmph in 40.5m/3.2s, which is very impressive for its size, just slightly better than the 41.8m/3s that the Audi managed.
The new X5 is hugely impressive, in its road presence, opulence-nearing-luxury, and outright pace. But, and this is a big one, it doesn't feel as comfortable as it should, whether you're behind the wheel or in the rear seat. We tried everything from loading the car to adjusting tyre pressures to try and get rid of the excessive vertical movement in the ride, but just couldn't get the same level of finesse that the Audi offers. So, while the cabin of the Audi looks plain, the comfort inside is undoubtedly better.
For the extra money, we're just not convinced that the BMW is better for what we believe to be its intended purpose. This would be hard to digest for the scores of X5 fans out there, but this one goes to the Audi Q7, for now.
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