Two very different approaches to the compact luxury crossover segment
Before you sign your name to just any luxury crossover, make sure your automotive love is not just skin deep. Once that posh people mover is subjected to the demands of real life, you might start to fantasize about other cars well before your three-year lease is up. If your search involves the Audi Q5 and Acura RDX—two hot sellers in the segment—we’re here to help eliminate any possibility of such dirty thoughts. We spent some time with the understated Q5 2.0T Prestige and a flashier RDX A-Spec and asked the question: Which crossover is more likely to satisfy years down the line?
For two crossovers so different in personality, the Acura and Audi share a few basic traits. The Q5 is Audi’s most popular model—by far—just as the RDX sells better than any other Acura model. Both the Q5 and RDX are powered by turbocharged four-cylinder engines—the Audi gets a 248- to 252-hp engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and the Acura’s powerplant pumps out 272 hp and uses a 10-speed automatic. These two-row crossovers cost as much as a mainstream brand’s three-row, and each attempts to justify the price premiums by coddling owners with status, an elevated driving experience, solid design, and tons of features.
Our Audi tester was a 2018 Q5, which has 252 hp. The 2019 model has a 248-hp version of the same engine and adds more standard features to various trims. Our Acura tester was a 2019 RDX A-Spec; the 2020 RDX is nearly identical.
Impressing the Neighbors (Brand Prestige)
There’s a reason RDX and Q5 buyers don’t go for a Honda Pilot Elite or Volkswagen Atlas SEL Premium. And when it comes to brand prestige, the Audi is a clear winner here. The Q5 manages to balance its identity as part of the Germany luxury establishment with its role as a challenger. Audi also offers a more powerful Q5 called the SQ5, and its lineup is far more expansive than Acura’s. The German automaker offers more performance variants, a couple of design-oriented hatchbacks, and even a new form-over-function SUV to battle the X6 and GLE Coupe. In so many ways, Audi offers the luxury of choice compared to Acura’s more focused lineup.
Acura might not command the same respect as Audi in some circles, but this isn’t the easy brand-cache victory it once was. The RDX is one of the most engaging Acuras we’ve seen in a while, and with the brand promising to sprinkle some RDX magic on the rest of its lineup in years to come, it’s possible Acura could be on the upswing.
Advantage: Audi Q5
When a tantalizing set of ess-curves is calling your name, carve that winding road in the Acura RDX. The Acura communicates to the driver with more steering feel and just enough body roll to keep you engaged, but not so much that it’s distracting. The engine sounds better, too, even before turning the giant silver drive mode dial to Sport Plus.
True, our RDX test car is the sporty A-Spec model, but we’ve driven and been entertained by non-A-Spec RDXs in the past. There’s an inherent difference in how the RDX feels that enthusiasts should be able to feel after having driven a Q5.
Curiously, the Audi’s overly harsh stability control system would occasionally intervene by slamming on the brakes midcorner, behavior similar to what we found during 2018 SUV of the Year testing. Although our tester this time around only displayed that disconcerting behavior when hustling on back roads, it drove home the noticeable difference between these two cars’ dynamics.
Advantage: Acura RDX
Well that’s great, you think, but what about my traffic-choked commute? You’ll have to pick your poison here. First off, don’t pay attention to the RDX’s extra 20 hp relative to the Q5, as the Audi feels just as quick as the Acura. Credit for that goes to the Audi’s quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission, which is also the source of one of the Audi’s dynamic limitations. Relaxed residential driving between stop signs simply isn’t as smooth as it should be with that dual-clutch transmission, and the most sensitive among us (hi, Mom and Dad!) will also notice a distinct lack of linear response when edging backward or forward in a driveway. Dual-clutch transmissions have come a long way, but the Q5’s still comes with trade-offs.
The RDX is slightly better. The Acura’s 10-speed automatic is a bit smoother than the Audi’s transmission, but occasionally you can catch it in a gear other than the one you want. Acura does get credit for allowing the driver to restart the car in Sport mode, but the picture worsens once you consider brake feel. Acura was looking to avoid the oversensitive brakes you might find on certain German SUVs (or a Stelvio Quadrifoglio) but in the process went too far in the other direction. Although daily drivers would get used to how far down you press the brake pedal to actually achieve braking force, we look forward to future RDXs striking a better middle ground here.
One more important note: The Audi is far quieter and rides better than the Acura, yet both of our test cars wore 20-inch wheels for maximum curb appeal. If isolation from the outside world is high on your list, consider the Q5 or a non-A-Spec RDX. Our Audi tester was a top-trim Prestige model, which gets dual-pane acoustic glass on the front side windows.
Features and Amenities
It seems every time a luxury automaker introduces a new feature, not six months will pass before you see the same feature on a much cheaper car from a mainstream brand. Sometimes, the key here is execution. And when it comes to adaptive cruise control, for example, Audi is an industry leader. Whereas the Acura’s system may be too aggressive for some to want to regularly use in traffic, the Audi’s more customizable and smarter system does a better job overall. And if you’re new to adaptive cruise control, let me tell you: Few luxuries are more rewarding than having your car smoothly accelerate and brake for you through stop-and-go traffic stretching for mile after mile.
Both crossovers offer fantastic sound systems, with Acura ELS systems (12- and 16-speakers) including speakers in the headliner. The Audi’s excellent Bang & Olufsen system has 19 speakers and a 3-D sound effect that even non-audiophiles can appreciate. The crossovers can both be had with heated and ventilated front seats, and throw in a surround-view camera system if you pick higher trims.
Where the Audi pulls ahead of the Acura is with its screens. Years after its debut, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster remains an awesome feature that, as a bonus, is one of the easiest systems to use. It’s also a feature you can’t get at any price on the RDX, whose gauges are acceptable but not particularly special in the three non-A-Spec trims.
The Audi also gains points for its infotainment system’s 8.3-inch screen—this time, less is more. The Acura may boast a 10.2-inch screen that’s standard on even the base model, but the system itself isn’t as easy to use as the Audi, which uses a rotating dial that can be notched up and down or to the side. In contrast, the Acura uses a carefully engineered touchpad whose system logic shifts when you enter Apple CarPlay. Add to that the slowness when changing from one screen to another, and the Audi pulls ahead.
Advantage: Audi Q5
People and Cargo Space
There’s no nice way to put this: The Acura RDX demolishes the Audi Q5 (and many of its competitors) when it comes to space for people and cargo. The Acura’s center console has helpful storage at the base of the dash as well as a fairly spacious cupholder storage area. The cargo area is 4.4 cubic feet more spacious, and that’s before you consider the Acura’s three helpful underfloor storage compartments (two of which are deep).
The Acura’s rear seat also feels more spacious and airy than the Audi’s. The Audi is just over 3 inches shorter, making it easier to park, but this is still a clear win for the Acura.
Advantage: Acura RDX
Value and IntelliChoice Ownership Costs
The Acura also pulls ahead when it comes to value and ownership costs, and we’re not just talking about base prices. Sure, you can get the same equipment on an Acura RDX that would cost many thousands of dollars extra on an Audi Q5, but the difference is deeper than that. Our IntelliChoice data shows that the Audi will likely cost more to insure and repair than the Acura, leading to higher five-year ownership costs despite superior five-year retained value figures.
Advantage: Acura RDX
If you’re a badge snob, enjoy your Audi. At least in top Prestige trim, it’s a quiet crossover with a few slick features you’ll appreciate over time. The flawed but solid Acura RDX, however, is too good to be ignored just because it doesn’t have four interlocking rings on its grille or super-neat sequentially illuminating turn signals. The Acura feels more premium than the last-gen model, and compared to the Audi, it has a more engaging design, is more fun, is more spacious for people and things, and is far more affordable when matching feature to feature, including all-wheel drive, which is standard on the Q5.
Neither of these compact luxury crossovers are perfect, but the Audi simply doesn’t earn all of its price premium over the Acura, no matter what trims you’re considering. As long as you’re honest about its strengths and limitations, it’ll meet your needs for years to come but still leave you with money in your bank account.
|2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-Spec||2018 Audi Q5 2.0T Quattro|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, iron block/alum head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.7 cu in/1,995 cc||121.1 cu in/1,984 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||272 hp @ 6,500 rpm||252 hp @ 5,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||280 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm||273 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,800 rpm||6,750 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.6 lb/hp||16.6 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||10-speed automatic||7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||12.4-in vented disc; 12.2-in disc, ABS||13.3-in vented disc; 13.0-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.0 x 20-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 20-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||255/45R20 101V (M+S) Goodyear Eagle RS-A||255/45R20 101H M+S Continental CrossContact LX Sport|
|WHEELBASE||108.3 in||111.0 in|
|TRACK, F/R||64.2/64.7 in||63.6/63.3 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||186.8 x 74.8 x 65.7 in||183.6 x 74.5 x 65.3 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.2 in||8.2 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||17.2/21.0 deg||NA deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.9 ft||38.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,967 lb||4,179 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||58/42%||53/47%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||1,500 lb||NA lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||40.0/38.0 in||40.2/37.7 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.0/38.0 in||40.9/37.8 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||60.0/57.0 in||57.7/56.5 in|
|CARGO VOLUME BEH F/R||58.9/29.5 cu ft (+1.6 cu ft under floor)||60.4/26.8 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.3 sec||2.0 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.2||3.1|
|QUARTER MILE||14.8 sec @ 94.7 mph||14.5 sec @ 94.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||116 ft||136 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)||27.2 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,550 rpm||1,500 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$46,895||$56,500|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||8: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||6 yrs/70,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||17.1 gal||18.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||21/26/23 mpg||23/27/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||160/130 kW-hrs/100 miles||147/125 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.84 lb/mile||0.79 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|