The premium compact SUV market is growing faster than the size of the grille on BMW 7 Series. People seem to have an insatiable thirst for SUVs, despite these big, burly machines being notoriously ‘thirsty’ themselves. The compact SUV aims to strike the perfect balance - offering the command driving position and extra passenger space without having to sacrifice too much in the way of fuel economy.
Perhaps the fiercest rivalry we can see at the minute is between these two little-but-large luxury cars from German manufacturers BMW and Audi: the X1 and the Q3.
The BMW X1 vs Audi Q3 competition is finally starting to heat up. Just last year Audi released a successor to the first-generation Q3 which launched all the way back in 2011, while the 2016 BMW X1 has received a suite of aesthetic and interior upgrades for 2020. Which one comes out on top? Read on to find out.
BMW X1 vs Audi Q3
While it was ultimately the cheaper car, the first-generation Q3 fell a little short of the mark when it came down to passenger space and practicality (you know, those things you value most in an SUV). Overall driving experience also lagged behind that of the X1. But Audi has made some big changes this generation - the car is noticeably taller, wider and longer, for starters. But is it enough to turn the tables?
- Doors: 5
- Engine: 2.0
- Fuel: D, P, H
- Body: SUV
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 43 - 179g/km
- Doors: 5
- Engine: 2.0
- Fuel: P, D
- Body: SUV
- Drive: M, A
- CO2: 179g/km
Great to drive
A little noisy on the road
Not a real ‘off-roader’
Generous equipment as standard
Driving is average
The Audi Q3 was one of the first family SUVs to combine compact dimensions and a premium, off-road aesthetic. It has since become a formula for success, with Audi selling over 1.2 million Q3s since its inception.
The recently redesigned Audi Q3 received a massive facelift that clearly distinguishes it from first-generation models. It’s now 3.8 inches longer, nearly an inch wider, and 1.5 inches taller. The front grille is now much bigger (shock!) and there’s now more defined air intakes to either side.
There’s also now a much sharper looking set of LED headlights on the front of the car. To really complete the facelift, you’ll want to consider leasing an S Line trim or above, which offers larger alloy wheels, privacy glass and sportier styling all round.
Like Audi, BMW has enlarged its signature dual-kidney grille for its X1 refresh. Front and rear bumpers have also been redesigned to look bolder and more modern. Dual, semi-octagonal LED daytime running lights further emphasise BMW’s interesting take on the front fascia.
Ultimately it’s a matter of personal preference, but if you’re looking for a compact crossover that really puts the ‘S’ in SUV then we’d say the BMW just clinches it.
BMW have really nailed the “crossover” concept with the X1. It shares much of its chassis with the Mini countryman, and while it’s a perfectly capable daily driver, it’s also got a sense of adventure. The X1 is powered by a 2.0 litre three or four cylinder engine paired with a refined seven speed automatic gearbox. The power train puts out 140bhp in the entry-level front-wheel-drive model, but you can also upgrade to BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive for a little extra kick. The range-topping model has a little more horsepower than rivals like the Volvo XC40 or the Mercedes-Benz GLA, but its torque and acceleration is fairly standard. That said, it shouldn’t require anymore than a tap of the foot to overtake or merge on the motorway.
The Q3 also sports a range of turbo-turbocharged 1.5 and 2.0 litre engines. The entry-level 150bhp TFSI petrol engine allows two cylinders to be deactivated when the car isn’t working too hard to increase your mpg, but it never feels like things are particularly easy in the first place. It’s a small engine in a big car - a car that is 200lb heavier than the X1, and feels it. The 230bhp 2.0 litre petrol manages 0-62mph in just 6.3 seconds, but you’ll want the 2.0 TDI quattro AWD for a proper SUV experience.
The Q3 is generally more comfortable than the X1, at the expense of ‘fun’ handling. You can option adaptive damping, which allows you to sharpen the suspension when cornering, though the difference is barely noticeable. The Q3 is definitely better for cruising, soaking up more of the uneven surface than an X1 would.
Both cars scored five stars in their assessments by independent crash test reporting body Euro NCAP, thanks to the standard side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, rear parking sensors and blind spot monitoring systems, as well as a slew of other features such as forward-collision warnings, lane-departure warnings and automatic emergency braking.
Don’t get used to multi-tasking with the Driver Assist and Cruise Control enabled however, as the Audi seems to have trouble consistently recognising the lines on the road.
Both Audi and BMW are renowned for their luxurious interiors so, as you’d expect, both cars feel solidly put together with plenty of soft touch materials and metal-effect trims. Unfortunately, it won’t take long for you to notice the other, not-so-lovely hard plastic materials in the Q3 Sportback interior which can make the car feel more like a Volkswagen Tiguan than a four-ringed luxury crossover. Both cars have optional leather upholstery.
While BMW’s iDrive infotainment system is undoubtedly a strong offering, the Q3’s interior feels a tad more high tech thanks to its larger touchscreen centre console and the 12.3 inch Virtual Cockpit driver’s binnacle display, which will let you beam sat-nav directions right in front of the steering-wheel. Both offer the standard selection of tech-features: Bluetooth, Carplay, and Android Auto (though this is in the pipeline for the BMW), as well as things like multi-zone climate control and optional ambient lighting. Still, if you prefer the classic analogue input through a rotary dial (which is much easier to use while driving) then you might want to stick with the X1.
If you’re looking for a roomy interior, you’ll probably want to go for the Audi this time around. The new model feels much larger inside thanks to the extra 3 inches on its wheelbase, and there’s now much more elbow room on the rear seat because of its increased width. Back seat passengers in the BMW have a little less headroom and legroom, which might mean the tallest people find their knees pressed against the front seats and their heads touching the roofline. Audi’s rear seat reclines further, can be set to 7 different angles, and is also more softly padded for extra comfort.
The Audi Q3 Sportback boot space wins, with 530 litres compared to the X1’s 505 litres. Both cars allow you to slide the seats forward and backwards to find the perfect balance between passenger and cargo volume and both back benches fold in a 40/20/40 arrangement, so you can easily slide longer items through the middle while still comfortably seating two rear passengers.
The Q3 is the cheaper of the two models. That’s not to say it’s better value, however. You’ll still be able to squeeze more out of your fuel tank, on average, in a BMW X1. The Q3 Sportback insurance groups range from 24 to 36, while the X1 ranges from 25 to 34, depending on the trim you choose.
Both cars are fresh from a recent redesign and look fiercer than ever. The Audi offers marginally more space in the boot and a little extra leg and head room for rear passengers, though they’re both equally flexible if you need to store larger items thanks to their convenient 40/20/40 adjustable rear seats.
Both cars offer competitive economy and decent emissions for cars of their size - something which you should bear in mind if you’re looking for a business lease in particular. The X1 does have a slightly higher predicted depreciation rate than the Q3 however, which will of course translate to higher leasing costs.
There’s no denying that both cars are an excellent choice if you’re looking for an upmarket small SUV. For sheer practicality, the Q3 is the one to go for. But if you’re looking for a car that you can really unwind in after a long day in the office, we’d say get the X1.
It’s a draw - sorry. We’re not always this indecisive, though. Check out our BMW 3 Series vs Audi A4 for something a little more conclusive. Or, for a comparison that’s a little more ‘out there’, check out our Seat Leon vs Audi A3 showdown. If you want to witness some friendly family rivalry, our Audi Q2 vs Q3 showcases a true crossover SUV comparison. Our Audi Q3 alternatives and Audi Q3 Sportback review may help make your decision easier.