2010 Car Comparison: Audi Q5 v BMW X3 v Mercedes-Benz GLK

Last Updated: Mar 21, 2010

The Competitors
Increased demand for crossover SUVs is one of the few bright spots in auto retailing these days, and buyers of these car-based wagons are showing an appetite for sporty luxury. The BMW X3 launched the premium compact crossover category in 2004 and has since joined by a slew of rivals. Two of the top competitors to the 2010 BMW X3 are the 2010 Audi Q5 and the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350.

The Q5 was introduced for 2009, the GLK350for 2010, and the next-generation X3 is expected to arrive later this year as a 2011 model; it’ll be built at BMW’s plant in South Carolina.

As crossovers, the Q5, X3 and GLK350are based on unibody designs that essentially combine the frame and body into a single structure. As opposed to truck-based SUVs that use separate body-and-frame construction, the lighter unibody engineering affords a lower ride height, better ride and handling, and improved fuel economy.

The Q5, X3 and GLK350 add to the mix a sporty demeanor. They appeal to those who desire the elevated ride height and extra dimension of utility afforded by an SUV but want to drive something more fun and expressive than a mainstream compact crossover, such as a Honda CR-V. Plus, with prices starting in the mid-$30,000s, they appeal to the well-heeled.

The Similarities

  • The 2010 Audi Q5, 201 BMW X3, and 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350all have six-cylinder engines that require premium fuel. Horsepower is similar: the 2010 Audi Q5 has a 270-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6, the 2010 BMW X3 a 260-horsepower 3.0-liter inline-six, and the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350a 268-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6.
  • Each delivers ride and handling characteristics that are tuned on the sporty side, though all are able to soak up most pavement imperfections without excessive jostling.
  • All feature all-wheel-drive (AWD) systems sophisticated enough to do double-duty, working as hard to enhance dry-road cornering prowess as to improve traction on wet pavement. Basically, each is able to direct more power to the rear wheels than to the fronts to provide the sporty feeling of a rear-wheel-drive powertrain.
  • Exterior styling generally mimics that of larger SUVs within each manufacturer’s lineup. Thus the Q5 resembles the Audi Q7, the X3 borrows cues from the BMW X5, and the GLK350has the square-cut lines of the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class.
  • All are officially five-passenger models but really only seat four adults comfortably. These are, after all, compact crossovers.
  • All three include an assortment of expected safety and convenience features, including stability control and front-side and side-curtain airbags. A nice assortment of top-shelf amenities are optionally available and range from heated seats to rear backup cameras, GPS navigation systems, and complex multimedia-control systems.
  • Each is covered by a 4-year/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranty.

The Differences

  • The X3 is the only one of the three to offer a manual transmission; it’s a six-speed.
  • A six-speed automatic transmission is optional on the X3 and standard on the Q5. The GLK350 also comes standard with an automatic, but it’s a seven-speed unit. All these automatics feature manual-shift modes.
  • All-wheel-drive is optional on the GLK350, but is standard on the Q5 and X3.
  • The X3 offers a choice of 17-, 18- and 19-inch wheel and tire sizes. The Q5 features 18-, 19-, and 20-inchers, and the GLK35019- and 20-inch wheels and tires.
  • The GLK350 is the only model to offer an optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
  • Q5 is optionally available with Audi’s Drive Select system that includes adjustable settings for engine/transmission response and for steering and suspension systems.
  • Seat-mounted side-airbags for rear outboard passengers are available only on the X3 and Q5.
  • The X3 offers heated rear seats as part of the Cold Weather Package and a standalone heated steering wheel option. Also optional is the BMW Assist telematics system that includes a Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface along with various services (it comes with a four-year subscription).
  • All are nimble and composed, but the X3 has the sportiest handling at the expense of some ride softness. The GLK350 favors an absorbent suspension. The Q5 is a terrific blend of athletic road manners and ride comfort.
  • The GLK350 has the lowest base price, thanks to a rear-wheel-drive model that starts around $35,500. With AWD, however, a GLK350 is priced from around $37,500, nearly equal to the Audi Q5’s starting price of about $38,000. The X3 – the oldest model here -- starts around $39,500.

The Winner
The Audi Q5. Few SUVs of any stripe so deftly balance sportiness and luxury. This new Audi delivers a refined ride, strong and smooth V-6 power, handsome looks, and ample standard and available safety features. The Mercedes-Benz GLK350’s styling is overstated to some eyes, and while it does make AWD optional, few buyers in this price class aren’t likely looking to save $2,000 to do without it. The BMW X3 is feeling a bit dated; smart shoppers may want to wait for next year’s redesigned model before committing.