Audi E-Tron Vs BMW X5 – A Converts Review

audi e-tron delivery day

It’s been two months since we made the switch from ICE to EV. After practically a lifetime of owning V8 BMW cars, we decided it was time for a change and jumped on the EV bandwagon with the Audi e-tron. Below are my initial impressions after a few months on the EV side of life.

Key Stats (X5 vs e-tron)
Length: 4886mm vs 4901mm
Width: 1938mm vs 1935mm
Height: 1762mm vs 1632mm
Wheelbase: 2933mm vs 2928mm
Weight: 2250kg vs 2370kg
Power: 331kw vs 270kw
Torque: 650nm vs 540nm
0-100km/h: 4.9s vs 6.8s

The e-tron is a big vehicle, though it does not look it. It sits between the Q5 and the Q8 in Audi’s lineup from a size perspective, though it’s closer in size to the Q8 (only 85mm shorter) The sheet metal is very handsome and hides the car’s proportions well, but in reality, it’s the longest of the current crop of premium EV-SUVs by quite a margin, and in ICE world it’s longer than a Range Rover Sport/Velar.

Exterior (BMW 1 | AUDI 1)
The e-tron styling is fantastic and looks modern without trying to make a statement. The rear light bar adds a sense of occasion every time you unlock it and the 21″ alloys complete the overall look. As above, the sheet metal is handsome with just the right amount of curves and creases. Something that annoys me about many EVs is how manufacturers seem to go out of their way to make EVs look like they’re from 30 years in the future. I’m glad that Audi did not go down this route.

While I was not a fan of the F15 X5 styling at launch ours received the Design Pure Excellence exterior treatment. It redeemed some otherwise questionable styling choices. It’s unmistakably a BMW, and overall the design has aged well.

It’s a tough one to call so this one is a tie. The X5 still looks great on the road, whereas the e-tron is newer and its appeal is further enhanced owing to how few there are on the road (for now).

Audi e-Tron Exterior

Interior (BMW 0 | AUDI 1)
Audi is known for its quality interiors, and the e-tron does not disappoint. The tactile surfaces are soft and while there are some scratchy plastics here and there they are not in places you will touch often. Electric cars are quiet, so any squeaks and rattles would be particularly noticeable, and the e-tron is again a typical Audi in this regard. The interior is put together extremely well. The seats are comfortable and the driving position is perfect. It’s not all perfect though. For a $137,000 SUV, the lack of ambient lighting is disappointing, and the cupholders are rather small and their grip mechanisms love holding on to metal cans. Compared to its rivals the e-tron interior could be considered a tad spartan.

The X5 has a smart interior, though the F15 generation is showing its age. It’s just a little old-school. Our particular X5 was quipped with Nappa leather seats which were supremely soft and comfortable. The mix of materials used in the X5 was also superior in some areas to the e-tron. Where it faltered though was in fit and finish. The X5 was a rattle-trap. Seats, door panels, trunk lid, trunk cover…everything rattled and squeaked over even the slightest rough terrain.

I am giving this one to the e-tron, but only just. It’s difficult to compare the two cars but the superior fit and finish in the e-tron make it the winner.

Audi e-Tron Interior

Tech and Entertainment (BMW 1 | AUDI 1)
Being quite a bit newer than the X5 the e-tron is naturally equipped with all the modern safety and convenience systems expected in an executive SUV. It’s all just incredibly easy to use. Having seen the triple screen cabin layout in reviews I was not convinced that the multitude of screens would be particularly useable, but they are. The haptic touch took all of 10 minutes to get used to and if it really bothers you it can be disabled altogether. Audi’s virtual cockpit is also the one to beat. The surround cameras are on a whole other level offering a plethora of views to assist with pretty much any situation. The screens are all super high-resolution which makes Apple CarPlay rather pleasing to look at. Plus, the latter is wireless, which is great. One area where the e-tron is embarrassingly lackluster is the voice command system. It’s just bad…period. The recognition is poor and the voice feedback so stilted that only by switching it to US English does it become almost average. Again, there are some curious omissions for an SUV in this price range such as the lack of automatic parking and the basic audio system. Another curiosity about the infotainment system is that CarPlay usurps all other phone features. You cannot initiate or accept calls from the steering wheel or browse contacts through the MMI. It all has to be done through CarPlay, which is a minor annoyance. The car features Google search for navigation, which is pretty neat though this too can be a bit slow to respond at times. The software has a number of well-documented bugs that Audi has been slow to address, and there has not been new software issued for a while now. Let’s hope they address these at some point.

Our X5 was pretty well equipped in the tech department. It featured the best of what was available in that generation of BMW. With that being said it lacked a digital instrument cluster, radar cruise control, native CarPlay or Android Auto, and the slew of safety systems present in the e-tron. It did, however, have a fantastic Bang & Olufsen stereo which puts the basic audio in the e-tron to shame. iDrive’s voice command is also far superior. To BMW’s credit, everything in the X5 is easy to use since there’s a button for pretty much everything. The X5 also offered automated parking (albeit only parallel) which was handy. Compared to the Audi MMI, iDrive clearly shows its maturity by being rock-solid in terms of functionality and stability.

This one is a tie from my perspective.

Engine, Performance, and Transmission. (BMW 0 | AUDI 1)
This is where the comparison becomes impractical since we are comparing apples with oranges.

The e-tron is powered by 2 motors from a 71kw/h battery that send it from 0-100km/h in under 7-seconds. It feels much quicker though owing to all of the torque being available pretty much immediately. The power split is 130kw/310nm on the rear and 100kw/230nm on the front. Being an EV the e-tron uses a two-stage planetary gearbox with a single gear. Normally I would talk about fuel economy, but again, not a thing here. Audi claims a range of 336km on a charge but in reality, it’s likely to be 280km. I have to yet experience any range anxiety since there are plenty of free and paid public charges around. I can, for instance, charge the e-tron free of charge during the 90 minutes I spend at the gym each day (when not in lockdown).

The X5 was powered by BMWs, again, ubiquitous N63TU twin-turbocharged V8 engine. It was grunty and fast, and somewhat thirsty, in its 4.9s sprint from 0-100km/h. The ZF sourced 8-speed automatic transmission was smooth and quick so no complaints there. The fuel economy was what you would expect from a V8 SUV. On average I spent around $160 a week on fuel doing just my daily commute (10km each way). And then there’s maintenance to consider. While the N63TU is a vast improvement over the original N63 it’s still a BMW V8 that will chew through oil, coolant, injectors, plugs, coils, chains, seals, gaskets, etc. Those add up, and I did factor those costs into the calculation when considering the switch to EV.

I have not been missing the frequent stops at the gas station or the maintenance that comes with a BMW V8 engine. The e-tron is also plenty fast enough off the line, so this one goes to the Audi.

Driving Dynamics and Comfort (BMW 0 | AUDI 1)
The e-tron drives superbly well. It’s solid, composed, and unmistakenly Audi. The 21″ wheels are firmly planted on the road and the handling is confident and surefooted. Having all the torque available from the moment you push down on the accelerator is very addictive since it gives you a feeling not dissimilar from a rollercoaster pulling away. The smooth linear acceleration is fantastic, and the standard-fit air suspension smoothes out the ride on pretty much any surface. There are plenty of driving dynamics options to choose from. Visibility is good all-around though the pillars do get in the way sometimes. The near-silence while driving is eerie with only slight wind and road noise making it into the cabin. The e-tron feels smaller on the road than it is. I do miss the active roll stabilization found in the X5 though.

After having the e-tron for a weekend I returned it to the dealer for the actual pre-delivery prep etc. and they gave me the X5 to use in the meantime. That was…interesting. I noticed turbo lag for the first time, was annoyed by the crashy, bouncy ride, and the various noises from the engine and drivetrain. It felt almost wallowy. Now, this could all be down to the 7 year age gap between the two cars but I was very happy to get back in the e-tron. And let’s not even talk about the cabin rattles…

This is a no-brainer. The e-tron wins hands down.

Conclusion (BMW 2 | AUDI 5)
I’ve been a BMW V8 fanboy for the longest time and I’ve paid for it over and over again in expensive maintenance bills. Taking fuel, service, and maintenance costs into account made the move to EV a no-brainer for us since we stand to save a significant sum of money in the first year of EV ownership alone. The X5 is perhaps not the most buttoned-up BMW around, and for an ICE-powered SUV it’s a good option, but the e-tron feels like the future from the moment you hit the start button and drive away in silence. I’ve written these types of comparisons on many of my past car purchases but never has the difference been so black and white. Right now I cannot see a future where I’ll drive an ICE car again.

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