Anyone seeking something between a crossover and a SUV is spoilt for choice nowadays – manufacturers are clambering over one another to deliver models that offer customers the elevated driving position and security of a 4×4 but not the compromise and ruggedness of a dedicated off-roader.
In fact, some may even find themselves getting befuddled by offerings from the same manufacturer – Audi not only has the A4-based Q5 but there’s also the smaller, previous-generation-A3-based Q3 to consider if you don’t want to splash as much cash.
Only it’s not quite that simple. The Q5 is spacious and experts report superb on-road handling, but isn’t brilliant when you leave the black stuff, and is a little bland to look at. The Q3 is little more quirky and is a rather more affordable entry into crossover SUV ownership, but reports say is isn’t that exciting to drive.
Which one is best? There’s a lot to consider, which is why carwow has put them side-by-side to compare them stat-for-stat to help you make the right choice.
Audi isn’t known for designing cars that send pulses racing, and these two are no exception. People tend to appreciate SUVs for their on-road presence more than anything else and Audi already has this covered with the obscenely large Q7, so where exactly do these two fit in?
The Q3 is perhaps the better looking of the two – the critics mostly agree it looks stylish enough, and “smart” is a word used often. Facelift models further sharpen the front end, adding some chrome touches and changing the size of the grille slightly.
The Q5 is much more subtle, in fact too subtle for some reviewers, who say it’s not very bold – bland in some cases. There’s no doubting the fact it looks like a premium vehicle, it just doesn’t do it with any kind of fervour – there’s not one feature that’ll make your look linger or even help you remember it afterwards.
The Q3 certainly has the better styling of the two, and the facelift freshens it up further, although, for those looking for something truly eye-catching, that might be like comparing beige to magnolia.
Interior and practicality
Audi has a way of enticing people into its cars by providing the best interiors around – places for people to sit that don’t just look good, but are feel good too.
The Q3 and the Q5 are no different in this regard – both receive ample praise for their beautifully built cabins and use of soft-touch materials, making them nicer places to be than some cars costing six figures.
Unsurprisingly, where the two cars differ is the space on offer. The Q3 is presently Audi’s smallest crossover (the Q1 is coming but not for a while yet), and testers have noted that rear space may be a little cramped on longer journeys.
The boot-space isn’t too bad, with 460 litres on offer, expanding to just under 1,400 litres with the rear seats folded – although some may be disappointed that they do not fold completely flat. Still, a low loading lip helps make transportation of larger, heavier objects a little easier.
However, if you want a more spacious long-distance cruiser you will want to spend the extra money and get the Q5. Rear legroom is still a little on the tight side, but overall it has been designed with the family in mind, with large cubby-holes and good-sized door pockets.
You can opt for a sliding rear bench that’ll help you make a swift choice between boot space and rear seat space, and with all seats accounted for you will have 540 litres of boot space at your disposal. With the seats down, this extends to 1,560 litres, topping the Q5’s Swedish rival, the Volvo XC60.
Those seeking a car with off-road capabilities may want to look elsewhere – neither car is purchased for its ability to depart from the regular road and tackle rougher terrain. Both cars have been noted to suffer from firm rides, especially with the S-Line models, but that’s not to say either car is particularly bad.
The Q5 is actually generally praised, firmness aside, because for a car of its size and nature, it handles remarkably like a road car. It feels nimble, according to critics, with precise steering and better-contained body roll than you might expect from a vehicle with its ride height.
The rather bonkers SQ5, powered by a demoniacally powerful diesel engine, impresses the most, although you’ll need to part with an awful lot of cash to get one. It has wider tyres, and lower, stiffer suspension than the normal Q5’s set-up but, despite this, the comfort and refinement hasn’t been compromised, and it offers amazing performance on the road.
The Q3 doesn’t get quite so many reviewers raving about it, unfortunately. They say it has vague, overly light steering, and while it might not be particularly terrible on the road, it isn’t that fun or memorable. The fidgety low-speed ride also affects the ride-quality, although this can be alleviated by optional adaptive dampers.
Audi has tinkered with the Q3 to produce the RS Q3, and this makes it much more fun to drive – in fact, one reviewer said they found it to be one of the better sportier models in the Audi range.
Audi is known for its strong petrol and diesel engines, and the Q3 and Q5 have both been given the picks of Audi’s range.
The Q3’s smallest engine is a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol, with 148hp and should be able to achieve over 50mpg. It’s the cheapest way of driving a Q3 if you really hate diesel – or not, as some testers believe it’s a more refined unit than the diesel options and costs the same to run if you aren’t doing that many miles.
The 2.0-litre TFSI engine is rated at 178hp, and this may tempt you away with impressive performance figures, although you’ll be coughing up more than £200 per year in tax.
Both the Q3 and the Q5 share the same 2.0-litre TDI unit that produces 181hp. Economy figures of just over 50mpg in the Q3 and under 45mpg in the Q5 are not particularly impressive if compared to rivals from other manufacturers, especially when you consider the £180 yearly tax bill you get in the Q5.
The less powerful 2.0-litre diesel in both cars can save you a little more money on fuel and tax and, with 148hp, it’s still powerful enough to be relaxed on the move, although the improvements in economy aren’t particularly significant.
The 3.0-litre TDI in the Q5 is particularly strong – 240hp gets you from rest to 60mph in 6.5 seconds, but the SQ5 is the most impressive, with 313hp and enough torque to reverse the earth’s rotation if applied all at once.
The RS Q3 also gets a party-piece engine, a 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol which is ramped up to 335hp. You’ll need to forget any ideas you have about economy, but this is made easier by the staggeringly fast 4.8 seconds it takes to hit 60mph from standstill – not on public roads, of course.
Value for money and running costs
There are two aspects to consider here – whether you want to save money on your purchase price and opt for a petrol powered model, where the Q3 is tempting, or whether you want to spend a little more on a desirable diesel model and reap the rewards of high resale values down the line.
If you want the cheapest possible way into crossover ownership and you must have four rings on your bonnet, you can pick up a Q3 1.4-litre TFSI in SE spec for £23,875. When considering the generous standard equipment levels, this is actually a pretty decent car all-round, and the 1.4-litre engine is a favourite among the experts.
If you want to splash a little more money and buy what Audi say will make up more than 50% of its sales, and improve the spec a little, you’ll suddenly need to cough up nearly £30,000 for a Q3 S-Line 2.0-litre TDI.
You can pick up a Q5 with the same desirable 2.0-litre diesel engine for just under £27,000, in Standard Trim spec at least – if you want it in the spec above, S-Line, you’re suddenly looking at around £31,000 – around the same as the Q3.
It may seem to make economic sense by saving money on your purchase price by buying a petrol-powered Q3 or Q5. You may get away with it in the 1.4-litre Q3, but realistically, the poorer running costs will make them less desirable and harder to resell in the long-run.
Especially so for the 2.0-litre turbocharged Q5 – in lowest spec it can be yours for under £27,000, but its economy of 32mpg and annual tax bill of £265 means you’re likely to make up the money you could have spent on a diesel quicker than you might imagine.
The wowscores aren’t much help in pushing a favourite of the experts into the spotlight here – the Q5 is winning by 0.4 points, with its average score made up of 21 reviews to the Q3’s 33.
However, the two cars are competing for slightly different areas of the market – the Q3’s design and peppy small petrol engines are aimed at people who want a very stylish premium family hatchback that looks a little more rugged and capable, whereas the Q5’s blander looks betray Audi’s focus more on providing it with car-like handling, with the larger diesel engines and more spacious cabin giving it superb motorway mile-munching capabilities.
Both will be fine come the snow and rain but you shouldn’t consider either option if you want to go off-road. The Range Rover Evoque is nearly as good as the Q3 on-road and can venture off-road if required. The Q5-sized Land Rover Freelander is praised for its on-road manners and ‘go-anywhere-I-like’ off-road ability.
But if the four rings are important, then the Q3 and the Q5 will easily satisfy most requirements – the Q3 won’t break the bank and it’s a stylish example of a premium-brand crossover. Meanwhile, it’ll be hard for any family to run out of room in a Q5.
We find it hard to properly recommend one over the other as people’s requirements vary and there will be instances where either one might be the best choice, but our favourite is the Audi Q3 1.4-litre TFSI in entry level SE spec – at under £24,000 it’s a genuine bargain for a car with such a good petrol engine, an upmarket image and an interior that classy.