Road Test

The following was previously published in Elements Magazine. 

AUDI Q5 and BMW X6

The world is changing and, as expected, two of Germany’s most technologically trailblazing automakers have reacted in suitably stylish ways. One vehicle is small, nimble, and perfectly matched for the tasks ahead; the other can best be described as something that’s not been seen before on the road.

Audi's Q5 sport-ute

Audi is arguably the most innovative German car company today—their R8 showed Benz and BMW that the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer can even challenge Ferrari, much less their compatriots. Fleet-footed and quick reacting to the marketplace, Audi has released a smaller, more fuel-friendly family hauler to complement their massive Q7 sport-ute: behold, the Q5. If the basic shape of the Q5 looks familiar, it’s because this vehicle, the new VW Tiguan and the upcoming Porsche Roxster baby-utes are all similar under the skin. (The larger Q7, VW Toureg and Porsche Cayenne are similarly related.)

My initial impression of the Q5 is that of a vehicle that looks more high-tech than any other truck, bar the Q7. The signature Audi grille looks suits this truck and sculpted sides appear to be stretched over a skeleton of steel and muscle. At the bow, headlights with LEDs shout “2012” and complement the LED-equipped tail lamps at the stern. In short, while other SUVs look like something from the Sony Walkman years, Audi’s state-of-the-art look says “Apple iPod.”

The Q5's quality interior.

As I eased inside, I was glad I didn’t have to climb over a step-rail or hop up into the vehicle, much like mounting a horse. “High-tech and dignified—this is a good start,” I thought. Yet that’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Audi cabins, and the Q5’s is no exception. BMW and Benz can take lessons from Audi on how to construct a quality-looking dashboard without shiny, hard plastic surfaces. Befitting a driver’s-oriented brand, the center control stack is canted towards the helm. Toys abound: There’s Audi’s new multi-media interface for the entertainment system, a triple-zone climate system, and even an optional Bang & Olufsen stereo. Other optional equipments include a navigation system with real-time traffic info, a rear back-up camera, a massive glass moon roof and lane departure warning alerts.

Cutaway of the Audi Q5.

Driving the Q5 is a delight. It feels like a heavy car, not a cumbersome, gas-swilling truck. Equipped with a standard 3.2-liter V6 mated to a six-speed Tiptronic transmission, the Q5 can be described as sporty and peppy. Since this is an Audi, their legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system seamlessly motivates each 18-inch wheel, while sharp and responsive handling is the order of the day. Looking back at the parked Q5, still ticking from cool-down, I mused that if I required a vehicle with a high seating position and four-wheel drive, Audi’s latest offering would be in my top-five choices.

 

While Audi has responded to consumers’ “Qs” with an impressive “A,” another Teutonic carmaker beginning with a “B” desires to take a road previously untraveled, yet what could be more appropriate for a truck?

BMW's "answer to a question nobody asked," the X6

BMW claims their new X6 is the first-ever Sports Activity Coupe. Overlook for a moment that a “coupe” is defined as a two-door car. In this case, the first two words are the most important—sports and activity—owing to the X6’s sleek, low roofline (a BMW X5 can loom over it) and fastback tail. However, as I approached the X6, my mind filled with questions: What is it, a car or a truck? If it’s a car, does it drive like a truck? If it’s a truck, why does it look like it can’t haul as much cargo as a 1996 Buick wagon? Yet, after opening the door and being greeted by a familiar BMW dash, my questions stopped…for a little while.

A familiar BMW cockpit: luxury and function.

Inside the X6 xDrive35i, anyone familiar with a 5-series interior would feel at home. There’s leather, multi-adjustable seats, a color monitor dominating the décor and a hockey stick gear selector placed ahead of the iDrive control wheel. Electronics abound, from a navigation system and a 12-speaker audio system to an optional heads-up instrument display. The overall feel is typical BMW, which is to say, “modern Euro luxury.”

Driving the X6 is where the incongruity continues, as the questions are raised again: If this is a truck, can I drive it like a car? If the X6 is a car, why does it sit high up, like a truck? Thankfully, there are answers. The X6 has great steering feel and more than adequate acceleration for a truck. (The vehicle is available in six- or eight-cylinder models.) However, the last thing I wanted to do was hustle the X6 around corners like a BMW Z4 because I felt like I was in, well, a truck. That matter settled, I adopted a somewhat slower pace and began to think about all the uses for this vehicle.

A caboose only a mother------ could love.

“Just who is the BMW X6 for?” I pondered. Large families would find the X6 too small to handle a fully packed weekend getaway, as the cargo space behind the rear seats is inadequate for all their belongings. People who would normally drive a Porsche Cayenne would probably eschew the X6 for the more sporting Stuttgart product. Moreover, in the age of not-so-low gasoline prices, the most important question could be, “Do consumers need such a heavy vehicle just because they wish to sit a few inches higher than surrounding traffic?”

True, there are rides, just like the Infiniti’s FX series of trucks, that make the same compromises as the X6, but we’re talking about Bayerische Motoren Werk here, not Nissan’s Infiniti. For the past 10 years or so, BMW has paved new roads with the trend-setting styling on the 7-series sedan and the neo-classic sexiness of the Z8. James Bond used to drive BMWs, for Pete’s sake! Indeed, Chris Bangle (the carmaker’s American-born design chief who just left the company) has single-handedly rewritten automotive design. Yet, as I climbed out of the X6, I spotted the new BMW 1-series, and thought, “That car is the future!”

We’ve seen two responses to the ever-changing luxury SUV market from two of the world’s most sophisticated automakers. One is small, yet just large enough to do the job; the other is large outside, yet just small enough inside to have occupants wondering, “Why?” Yet, the Audi Q5 and the BMW X6 couldn’t be better examples of the state of the car market (or the world) in that there are many approaches to a predicament. Sometimes, however, a path must be blazed by those who dare and ultimately the proper combination of “sport” and “utility” will be decided by the consumer.

Audi Q5 3.2

  • Drivetrain: 3.2-liter six-cylinder, 270 horsepower; six-speed Tiptronic transmission and four-wheel-drive
  • 0 to 60 mph: 6.7 seconds (approximate)
  • Wheels/Tires: 18” wheels with 235/60 tires
  • Mileage: 18 mpg city / 23 mpg highway (estimated)

BMW X6 xDrive35i

  • Drivetrain: 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder, twin-turbocharged, 300 horsepower; six-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive
  • 0 to 60 mph: 6.3 seconds (approximate)
  • Wheels/Tires: 19” wheels with 255/50 run-flat tires
  • Mileage: 15 mpg city / 20 mpg highway (estimated)
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