SUV Comparison: 2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback vs 2022 BMW X3 M40i

SUV Comparison: 2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback vs 2022 BMW X3 M40i

Breadcrumb Trail Links Luxury Vehicles Comparison Tests With similar size, power outputs, and base prices,

With similar size, power outputs, and base prices, we have a righteous comparison

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Brian Harper: With the exception of convertibles — despite a couple of unsuccessful attempts — crossovers have pretty much managed to replace the automobile on today’s streets. Small, medium, large, extra-large, grocery-getter cheap to outrageously expensive and lavish, with powertrains ranging from EV efficiency to gas-guzzling monstrous, there’s at least one for just about every need or want.

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Personally, as a gearhead baby boomer, I’ve come to appreciate “balanced” performance in my four-wheel-drive test vehicles. Oh, 600- or 700-horsepower ground-pounders have their amusement but give me something that pumps out 350 to 400 hp, can go into a corner without heeling over like the Poseidon, provides some connection with the road and is comfortable on the long haul, well, then, I am a happy camper. Which is our introduction to the decidedly balanced, yet clearly sporty Audi SQ5 Sportback — the Sportback treatment was new to the Q5 lineup for 2021 — and the refreshed-for- 2022 BMW X3 in M40i guise. With similar size, power outputs, base prices and, most importantly, intent, I believe we have a righteous comparison on our hands. Are we in agreement so far, Clayton?

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Clayton Seams: These two horses are pretty evenly matched! Both are the mid-range sporty trims of their respective models. The base 2022 SQ5 Sportback starts at $68,450. The X3 M40i starts at $66,990 and rings in at $84,335 as tested. As tested, our SQ5 Technik rings in at just under $80K. A healthy price advantage over the BMW.

You’ll find more similarities underhood. Both have turbocharged 3.0L six-cylinder engines. Notably, the Audi’s pistons are arranged in a vee, whereas the BMW has them all in a row. The Audi makes 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque versus the BMW’s 382 hp and 369 lb-ft. Both cars couple these engines to eight-speed automatic transmissions and all-wheel drive.

So, these cars are mechanically pretty similar, but do they drive similarly?

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BH: Yes, they do, albeit the BMW with a little more verve by dint of its extra 33 hp. The manufacturers’ posted acceleration figures have the M40i hustling to 100 km/h in a speedy 4.5 seconds, a half-second quicker than the still-swift Sportback. And, if this comparison was strictly about performance — whether power or handling dynamics — I’m sure we would agree that the M40i has the edge on the Audi. However, although sportiness is a distinct feature of both, it’s not the only criterion. Looks, content, comfort, and user-friendliness enter into the equation. So does the fact that neither of these two crossovers will ever see anything more challenging than a dirt road, not with their grippy performance rubber. No, looking stylish while pulling up to the ski lodge — once switched over to snow tires — with the spouse and kids aboard is more their forte.

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CS: They may have similarities under the hoods but inside the cockpit you’ll find the largest differences between the two. The BMW is the more expensive of the two by some $4,000 and inside it feels every penny of that and more. Our tester had the $7,900 “Premium Package Enhanced,” which among other things includes side sunshades, adjustable rear seats and metal-look buttons. It also wears a striking $3,000 optional red/black leather interior and $850 carbon fibre interior trim.

The result is an interior that looks noticeably richer than the Audi’s. The touch surfaces on the door tops, dashboard, and lower door cards look and feel more premium. The Audi also has genuine carbon fibre trim and while it looks excellent, the rest of the interior is let down by plastic cheap for an $80,000 cabin. It’s also just harder for an interior to look expensive when it’s spec’d in ho-hum all black. Audi offers four interior combinations and three of them are all-black. You can spec red seats, but the Audi would greatly benefit from a pop of colour inside.

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Visuals aside, the Audi has the more comfortable seats of the two and it bests the BMW in rear-seat passenger room and cargo space behind the seats. That’s very impressive considering our Sportback tester trades back-seat headroom for a sportier profile.

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BH: The X3 has the firmer ride, although nowhere near as punishing as BMW’s Competition models. Ditto the steering feel, firm with a good weight to it, at least in one of the M40i’s Sports modes. But I think there’s more flexibility to the Sportback’s ride and handling between Comfort and Dynamic — a milder form of sportiness in the latter, more comfortable in the former, aided by the optional air suspension.

And though we’ve touched on looks, we haven’t really stated an opinion on which vehicle is baller, or even a preference for fastback versus conventional wagon styling. First, kudos to the BMW tester, its stance, colour and black wheels are certainly eye-catching. But I’ve become a fan of raked roofs; the SQ5 smacks of speed and sport. And, yes, I appreciate the irony of liking a crossover that looks more car-like, with cars disappearing because consumers overwhelmingly have made the switch to SUVs.

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CS: So, the SQ5 Sportback is a low-roof version of a high-roof version of a low-roof car. Got it! I do agree, however, that the X3 is externally the more fetching of the two. Neither of these SUVs has a particularly dazzling color palette. The Audi offers you six different greyscale hues and three colours while the BMW can come in five greyscale colours or two different shades of blue. Bring back colours!

But now it’s time to pick a winner between these two utes. To recap: The Audi has the lower price, the BMW has more power, the Audi has more rear seat and cargo room, the BMW has a better looking interior, but the Audi front seats are more comfortable. We both prefer the looks of the X3, and it drives more sportingly, but the Audi has air suspension that can be tailored to most moods. Brian, what one would you pick as the winner?

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BH: This could easily be a coin toss, the various strengths and weaknesses of each cancelling out any clear advantage. For me, though, more power while still delivering better fuel economy tilts the win to the X3 M40i. Being a little more circumspect with the BMW’s options would cancel out the Audi’s price advantage. Truth be told, though, if I was made to live with the SQ5 for any length of time, it would be no hardship. I really like its profile, though I would choose a brighter colour. Interestingly, I’m not nearly as big a fan of the X4, BMW’s fastback variant of the X3.

How about you?

CS: I agree, this is a pretty close race! I’d say the two are pretty much even in terms of cold-hearted practicality, but the BMW is the clear winner in terms of fun and dynamics. So, if both are equally good and hauling people and cargo, wouldn’t you choose the more engaging option? The BMW delighted with its straight-six engine, attractive styling and agile dynamics. It’s the winner of this Driving.ca comparison.

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