Audi SQ5 VS BMW X4
- Great chassis
- Loaded with tech
- Petrol engine is smooth and fast
- Could look a bit more exciting
- Now knocking on $100k
- Warranty package starting to look short
- Fabulous engine
- M-spec interior/seats
- 4WD Sport setting
- Confusing combination of style and substance
- Not pretty
Audi's SQ5 is one of those marvellous cars that kind of came out of nowhere and instantly defined a genre. Technically, it probably shouldn't have existed. And for a company that is pretty much straight down the line, the decision to launch it as a diesel seemed extra odd. Not that we minded, of course.
The diesel engine was a masterstroke; André the Giant brawny, and with some clever engineering to make it sound like it actually wasn't an oil-burner. But it wasn't just a straight-line screamer - the SQ5 could corner, and it was tremendous fun while doing so.
So this second-generation car had a lot to live up to. But then - heresy of heresies - we found out that, for the moment at least, the SQ5 would be coming with a petrol engine. Without that Herculean torque figure, it's also slightly slower to the 100km/h benchmark.
So has Audi ended our love affair (by that I mean the one between the SQ5 and me)?
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Launching new cars must be an endlessly repetitive job, and trying to keep over-fed, overly feted and ostentatious motoring journalists entertained would strain the will to live of any human being, or even a house elf. So it’s easy to see why the people at BMW tried something different when it came time to launch its new X4 M Competition.
They were also dealing with a very strange car; not just an M version, but a Competition variant of a mid-size SUV (or SAV, as they prefer) with a kind of quirky coupe roofline that makes it look like it would prefer not be an SUV (or SAV) at all.
While the idea that someone might use this car for any kind of motorsport “Competition” seems as likely as Clive Palmer running for the bus, what it means is that this X4 gets an absolute rocket of an engine and all kinds of go-faster bits.
So, BMW decided to create a place called M Town - “a place where too much is just right”, as they put it - where we could experience this car in what you would have to call its unnatural environment.
M Town, in this case, was a giant clay pan hidden in the middle of the South Australian outback, with a rally circuit laid out on it, where we would be invited to drive the X4 M Competition as no one intended.
Cue much hilarity, and a highly unconventional non-road test.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
It's no hot hatch, but it's fast, stylish and plenty enough fun to be considered the ultimate family all-rounder. Unless your kids are freakishly tall or you need to regularly carry wardrobes, it's a great family wagon that can easily deal with the day-to-day stuff, with a comfortable ride and plenty of space.
Some families, like mine, like some genuine performance with their practicality, and the SQ5 is all the car you'll ever need. It may not be the diesel, it may not have that lovely gravelly silliness, but it still looks and feels great, and is full of some of the most advanced tech in a fast SUV today.
Most important, though, it's just as much fun as it ever was.
Is the SQ5 still on your list without the diesel? Or are fast SUVs the work of the devil?
Clearly it is hard to give a verdict on what car generally bought to be driven on public roads 99.9 per cent of the time is like to drive when you've only smashed it around a clay pan like a (very) amateur rally drive.
What we can tell you is that the X4 M Competition is a far more serious, exciting version of the (small) family friendly/cool and trendy young couple mid-size SUV, the basic X4. It also has a very exciting engine, and lots of polished gloss black bits on it and, for some reason, seems slightly more fun than the X3 it is closely twinned with.
It is not a car that will attract, or makes sense to, everyone, and its high price will scare a lot of sensible people away. But clearly BMW believes there is a niche market of people who will want one, and will pay top dollar for one. There's no doubt Aussie buyers do love an M badge, and they may well warm to this one.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
The new Q5 is the usual studied restraint from Ingolstadt. No, it's not a striking piece of design, and some find it hard to tell the new car apart from the old one. Move up to the SQ5 and again it's a bit of a sleeper. The 21-inch wheels look brilliant, and the deeper bumpers and skirts, along with the lower ride height, add a bit of aggression, too.
Inside, the Nappa leather is very nice, especially with the detailed stitching and diamond quilting. There's more space in here than there was before, so while still cosy it doesn't feel tight. As with the rest of the Audi range, the new interior lifts the best bits of the A4, which thankfully did not include the weird pin-stripe detail on the console trim. It has gone the only way it should - out.
It only seems reasonable to give the X4 M one more point out of 10 for deign than its X3 non-identical twin sister, because at least the designers have had a bit of a go at the rear.
The idea of a coupe SUV has always seemed like something a hunchback came up with so that people wouldn’t only stare at him, but it obviously appeals to some people.
And yes, parked next to an X3, this version looks better, with sleeker tail lights and a more stylish rear altogether. The more pronounced swoop of the roofline is also an improvement.
But my argument remains that BMW calls this X4 M Competition “bold and functional”, which tells you all you need to know. When a marketing department can’t come up with a better term than “functional” when talking about design, for a BMW, it’s just not hat exciting to look at.
In fact, it looks like a shopping trolley with bigger wheels and go-faster stripes.
The non-M X4 is not exciting to look at it, either, it’s even more… functional, and this version is delineated as being M special by covering as many things as possible with “black high-gloss bits”, so black mirrors, black side gills, black chrome tail pipes, you get the picture.
BMW might have also used the word “tough” to describe this X4, and they did keep talking about how people might track it, which seems as likely as me entering a rocking horse in the Melbourne Cup, but I think they’re having a lend of themselves.
The interior feels like a proper M car, though, with the big red, programmable M buttons on the chunky steering wheel particularly eye catching, and a very cool looking gear stick. The M Sport seats also both look and feel fantastic, and the Merino Leather is lovely.
As before, the SQ5 is comfortable but cosy. Front-seat passengers are, of course, perfectly fine, and rear-seat dwellers have reasonable head and leg room - our six-foot-two teenager was happy enough back there. Rear-seat passengers can also choose their own climate-control temperature.
Two cupholders are provided front and rear, for a total of four, and the doors each have pockets with bottle holders.
Based as it is on the Q5, boot space is up over the old model by 10 litres, meaning between 550 and 610 litres when the rear seats are in place, and then 1550 litres with the seats folded. Like its cousin the Tiguan, the rear seats slide forward and back.
In practicality terms, the X4 loses the gains it made on looks against the X3, because you’re obviously getting less headroom in the rear, and slightly less boot space as well.
For a vehicle of its mid-size, the X4 isn’t too badly sorted for interior space, however. The rear seats, in particular, are impressive, in terms of knee room at least, although headroom is not fabulous.
I’m 176cm tall, and I could comfortably sit behind my own seating position without my knees even touching the seat in front, and headroom is also excellent, front and rear.
Those sporty front seats do make things feel slightly squeezed in the front, and the width of the headrests effects forward visibility for those in the rear, but they’re so great to sit in that you’d put up with that.
The rear seat splits 40:20:40, giving you access to the boot, which is 525 litres in the X4 M with the seats up, because you’ve chosen the more practical option (the X3 gets 25 litres more).
Drop the rear seats and you’ve got a useful 1430 litres of loadspace when you’re driving two-up, although you’d have 1600 litres if you’d chosen the cheaper X3 M.
There’s plenty of space for your phone, on its wireless charging pad, and you also get two cupholders for the front chairs, with another two in the rear armrest.
Price and features
One factoid I really like telling people is that the SQ5 was, for quite some time, the biggest-selling single Q5 model in the country, despite costing upwards of $90,000 on the road.
This new car weighs in at $99,611. Standard are 21-inch alloys, three-zone climate control, a 10-speaker stereo, ambient interior lighting, a comprehensive safety package, reversing camera, around-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, auto park, keyless entry and start, nappa leather interior, active cruise control, electric heated front seats, sat nav, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, an electric (foot-wavey) tailgate, a wireless hotspot, Audi's 'Virtual Cockpit' digital dash and a space-saver spare.
The media system is Audi's MMI system, which is displayed on the 8.0-inch screen perched on the dash. Controlled by a rotary dial or a touchpad just in front of the dial, it's also got Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. The sound is good and it's even better if you go for the $5600 'Technik package', which adds a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen system, head-up display and the brilliant Matrix LED headlights, all of which we had on our test car. While $5600 isn't messing about, it's a fair bit of stuff, especially when you consider the Matrix LEDs alone cost half of that on some Audis.
It’s a tricky thing to evaluate such a weird beard of a car as this in terms of value, because normally when you’re being asked to spend $164,900 for a BMW you’re getting something that’s all sports car, wrapped in sexiness.
To be fair, the X4 M has a more coupe-shaped roofline than the X3 version it shares its M Competition badging with, but this is a case of being less unattractive rather than better looking.
And, on the downside, you’re paying $7000 more than you would for the ever-so-slightly more practical X3 version, which would be hard to justify even if the X3 M wasn’t already very expensive.
What you are getting for the money is an engine that will blow you away, so that’s worth a bit.
The car only comes with the Standard Competition Package in Australia (it’s the top option elsewhere), due to the popularity of that kind of thing in our market, apparently.
That gets you the amazing engine plus a standard M Sport Exhaust, connected to four, black-tipped tailpipes, an eight-speed sports automatic, xDrive with 4WD and 4WD Sport modes, and an Active M Differential.
You’ll also score “Professional” satellite navigation, Comfort Access, a Panorama sunroof, M Head Up Display, Driving Assistant Plus with semi-autonomous functionality including Active Cruise Control and Parking Assistant Plus, plus Hill Descent Control.
And don’t forget 21-inch light alloy wheels, Adaptive LED headlights, ambient interior lighting with six colour options, and alarm system, very sexy M Sport seats (the M logo on the headrests even glows at night when you open the door) with Extended Leather Merino trim, a 16-speaker harman/kardon stereo system, tyre-pressure monitoring, lane-keeping assistant, wireless charging, individual roof rails, rear roller sunblinds and BMW Connected Drive.
Are there any options you could even want on top of all that? Have you ever seen a BMW offered without them?
Strangely and uniquely, BMW asks you to pay for Apple CarPlay, which everyone will, at $623, and you can have your seats ($700), or steering wheel ($500) heated for winter mornings. Active seat ventilation is $1600 more, and metallic paint will sock you $2000, or $2350 for Individual Metallic (you can have Alpine White, non-metallic, for free).
Engine & trans
The two-tonne-plus (tare) SQ5 streaks from0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds, with power reaching the road via Audi's Quattro system with a mechanical centre diff. Torque is generally apportioned 40/60 front to rear, but can be 85/15 either way when needed. The eight-speed ZF continues on and is, as ever, brilliant.
No matter what you think of the X4 M Competition - its looks, its very existence - there’s no denying that its engine is something to be very excited about.
The 3.0-litre in-line six with M TwinPower Turbo technology is 90 per cent new, according to BMW, and will soon see action in the new BMW M3 and M4, and it is a rip snorter. The folks at M have thrown everything at it, using 3D printing to make the cylinder head, a forged crankshaft, and two new mono-scroll turbochargers, which are obviously different from the twin-scroll versions in the M5, and lift direct fuel-injection pressure from 200 bar to 350 bar. Apparently they’re even better. It also gets an electrically controlled wastegate for maximum efficiency.
The goal was an impressive 500 horsepower, or 375kW in our lingo, and they’ve achieved it. They’ve also made magic by combining both traditional BMW free-revvingness and savage turbo torque. With all of its maximum 600Nm available from 2600rpm to 5950rpm, it has the highest torque bandwidth of any BMW engine.
The screaming six can rev all the way to 7200rpm, at which point it sounds truly Wagnerian in its magnificence, and that 375kW peak point arrives at a dizzying 6250rpm.
This really is an engine that wants you to belt the hell out of it, and when you choose its most aggressive modes, and turn the adjustable M exhaust to its noisiest setting, it’s a joyful experience.
It’s also a weird one, because there’s just something so out of place about an engine like this in a car like this - it’s like finding out that your mum has secretly been cage fighting - but still, in pure engine terms, it’s a cracker.
The ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission is also silky smooth and seamless, as you’d expect.
There’s no official Australian figure as yet, and we certainly didn’t do any testing that would be helpful, so all we can tell you is that the claimed figure is 10.6 litres per 100km. Which would be good, if you could actually achieve it. Good luck with all this temptation on board.
The old SQ5 wasn't perfect, by any stretch, but goodness gracious was it a barrel of laughs. No car as heavy or as high-riding as the SQ5 had any right to be so much fun, but somehow it was, without the compromise of a super-hard ride or a din from fat tyres.
The numbers are a bit of a compromise; weight is down by around 130kg, but you're also missing 200Nm compared to the old car. The colossal torque figure was a big part of that car's appeal, and I did miss it. However, once I'd got over that, I found something just as fun underneath.
As with the rest of the Q5 range, it's quieter on the cruise and the cabin is once again the best in the business, borrowing much from the A4. With adaptive dampers set in comfort mode, it's comfortable and compliant and road noise is kept to a minimum. I'm not a huge fan of the light steering in this mode, but it's set to be low stress rather than man-handled.
Step up into Dynamic and everything beefs up; the ride stiffens and the car actually drops to lower the centre of gravity. The exhaust opens up and starts popping and farting, too, while the steering weights up and the throttle drops any easygoing slack.
Throwing it down through the bends of some NSW Blue Mountains back roads, this car sparkles. It's tons of fun (literally), with the security of the of the Quattro drivetrain underneath. The exhaust isn't quite enough to make me want to wind the windows down on a cold morning, but it's amusing enough inside given the stereo plumps up the racket a bit.
Despite being down on torque, it still feels very strong in the mid-range. It doesn't quite have the organ-squishing punch of the diesel, but the smoother, more linear delivery feels more conventional, particularly with most of the power heading to the rear wheels.
In theory, the X4 M Competition shouldn’t be very different to drive at all from the X3 M Competition with which it shares an engine, and just about everything else. At the same time, it would be nice if was more fun to drive, because that would help to justify the fact that it costs $7000 more than the (slightly more practical) X3 version.
The differences are mainly about looks, of course, but those aesthetic changes also make the X4 ever so lightly longer, wider and lower than the X3.
That really shouldn’t make a difference you can feel, yet somehow, every time I switched into the X4 and began another wild, hooting, dusty circuit of the rally course set out for us be foolish on at M Town, I found myself having slightly more fun than I’d been in the X3.
An actual rally driver who was in attendance, mainly to laugh at our ineptitude and because their diet consists largely of dust particles, told me he’d also found the X4 ever so slightly more chuckable, and stable, also.
So perhaps there are two reasons for choosing to spend $7K more on an X4 - the rear end, and the fun, but then again, this is probably only a factor if you attend to take your new BMW on some kind of mad motorsport adventure.
Certainly, in the unreal environment in which we tested these cars, they were hugely fun - overly powerful, playful, sporty in terms of steering feel and cabin ambience - but we will have to wait and see what they’re like in the real world.
Reports from overseas have hinted at overly firm ride quality, even in Comfort mode, and other foibles for the new X3 M Competition - like the fact that it doesn't actually feel all that fast, thanks to the 1970kg it's carrying.
What we do know is that the engine is a crackerjack, the (adjustable) steering gives fabulous feedback, and, if you happen to be on a clay pan, it’s just the vehicle you need to plaster a huge smile across your face.
I recommend the video footage highly.
One touch of genius that was beautifully highlighted, though, was the combination of the properly sports-car spec M Differential with an M version of xDrive, which allows you to choose between two 4WD modes, normal and 4WD Sport, which “pretty much does become rear-wheel drive”, as BMW admitted to us.
This is such an M move it’s hilarious. Force us to make an all-wheel-drive car will you? Ha, we’ll put a button on it that turns it back into a proper BMW M car.
On a clay pan, where you can drive almost entirely sideways, sawing at the wheel and using that gorgeous engine to carve beautiful arcs in the Earth via the throttle,4WD Sport is a work of genius.
In the real world, in this car, it’s… still a bit weird.
The chassis feels super stiff as well, and the big strut braces under the bonnet show you how seriously they’ve taken that.
There’s no denying the how, or the know-how on display here, it’s just the why that’s hard to get your head around.
The SQ5's five-star ANCAP rating (May 2017) comes courtesy of eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, exit warning system (which lets you know if you're about to clobber a cyclist, pedestrian or approaching car), cross-traffic assist (stops you turning across approaching traffic), blind-spot warning, forward collision warning (up to 250km/h), around-view camera and front and rear AEB.
There are three top-tether restraints and two ISOFIX points.
The X4 M Competition has not been crash tested yet but the standard X4 previously received a five-star ANCAP rating. It comes with six airbags - driver, front passenger, head airbags for both rows, side airbags with seat occupancy detection for driver and passenger and side-impact protection for the front seats.
You also get DSC, ABS and DTC and driver-assistance systems including Driving Assistant Plus, Parking Assistant Plus, tyre-pressure monitoring and a speed limiter.
Audi offers its three year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is competitive in the segment, but much cheaper cars (and Lexus, for that matter) offer more. You can pay for a further four years and up to 160,000km on top of the standard warrant. Roadside assistance is yours for the duration of the standard warranty.
Servicing comes every twelve months or 15,000km, and you can purchase a plan to cover the first three years or 45,000km, whichever comes first, for $1870 - which is $280 more than any of the other Q5s.
As is typical for BMW, the maintenance requirements for the X3 M Competition are controlled by a Condition Based Servicing system, which constantly monitors the car, and the way it’s being driven, to determine when annual inspections or oil changes are required.
BMW is offering two service-inclusive packages, a five-year/80,000km Basic level for $3685, or the Plus, for $8173, which you should choose “if you drive spiritedly and you go through brakes a fair bit”, because it includes brake pads and discs over five years.
BMW seriously seems to think people are going to track this thing. Go figure.