With the crossover market exploding these days, car companies are finding more and more ways to satisfy customer demands, from rakish rooflines to ridiculous power, and excellent practicality to obscene luxury.
Here we have a couple of crossovers that are neither the largest nor smallest, the fastest nor most luxurious, and they are all the better for it.
The Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 is the middle, mildly sporty trim of the brand’s small-ish crossover, between the base GLC 300 and the bonkers GLC 63 AMG, while the Audi SQ5 is currently the top performer of the Q5 lineup until rumors of an RSQ5 come true.
Both of these crossovers aim to capture luxury buyers with adequate utility for a small family, generous servings of luxury and technology and a hint of sportiness to liven up any fun parts of your commute.
They’re both great machines, but which one better captures that something special that earns the sporting badges while being a practical, luxurious utility vehicle?
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Audi made a major change this generation when Q5 production shifted to Mexico, but sitting in the gorgeous quilted leather seats you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
They’re fully power adjustable and supportive, and you’re behind a steering wheel that is sculpted to invite your hands to grip the proper position. Virtual cockpit in the gauge cluster and MMI on the center console are both intuitive to operate with minimal distraction thanks to crisp, clear graphics and logical menus. The Q5 has a large touchpad for entering letters or digits for calls or destinations separate from the control wheel, whereas the GLC has a touchpad over the scroll wheel, which makes it too easy to trigger random inputs.
|Vehicle||2018 Audi SQ5||Advantage||2018 Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 SUV|
|Engine||3.0L Turbo V6||-||3.0L Biturbo V6|
|Layout||All-wheel drive||-||All-wheel drive|
|Power||354 hp @ 5400–6400 rpm||GLC 43||362 hp @ 5500–6000 rpm|
|Torque||369 lb-ft @ 1370–4500 rpm||GLC 43||384 lb-ft @ 2500–4500 rpm|
|Transmission||8-Speed Auto||-||9-Speed Auto|
|Weight||4,398 / 1,995 kg||GLC 43||4,145 lb / 1880 kg|
|0-60 mph||5.1 sec.||GLC 43||4.8 sec.|
|0-100 km/h||5.3 sec.||GLC 43||4.9 sec.|
|US Fuel Economy (city/hwy/comb.)||19/24/21 mpg||SQ5||18/24/20 mpg|
|CAN Fuel Economy (city/hwy/comb.)||12.7/10.0/11.5 L/100 km||SQ5||13.1/10.1/11.8 L/100 km|
|Cargo (trunk)||26.8 cu-ft (759 L)||SQ5||19.4 cu-ft (550 L)|
|Cargo (seats folded)||60.4 cu-ft (1,710 L)||SQ5||56.5 cu-ft (1,600 L)|
|Headroom (1st/2nd)||41.7 / 39.3 in.||SQ5||37.8 / 38.5 in.|
|Legroom (1st/2nd)||40.9 / 37.8 in.||SQ5||40.8 / 37.3 in.|
|US Starting price||$55,275 ($975 freight included)||SQ5||$57,245 ($995 freight included)|
|US Pricing as tested||$67,025 ($975 freight included)||GLC 43||$66,275 ($995 freight included)|
|CAN Starting price||$63,395 ($2,095 freight included)||GLC 43||$61,975 ($2,075 freight included)|
|CAN Pricing as tested||$73,295 ($2,095 freight included)||SQ5||$81,655 ($2,075 freight included)|
The SQ5 and GLC SUV are within an inch or two of each other in every major dimension, and while it yields better cargo and passenger space on paper, somehow the GLC feels more spacious, doing a better job with the front seatback design in the second row to allow more knee space. Both did an admirable job of accepting child seats without too much fuss, although the latch covers in the Audi were initially hard to remove.
The GLC trunk is listed at 19.4 cubic feet and the Audi 7 better at 26.8, but they look about the same below the cargo covers and the GLC has an underfloor storage compartment in the trunk at the expense of a spare tire.
When it comes to cabin storage, both have plenty of door pockets and at-hand storage for your phone and keys and travel mug and water bottle and other odds and ends.
The GLC interior is inviting, but our tester was not equipped with any of the nappa leather upgrades and the “Artico” leather parts of the seats were obviously synthetic and not all that inviting to the touch, although the sporty alcantara inserts play the sporty card to perfection.
The seats are also power adjustable like the Audi’s, and the steering wheel equally easy on the hands, and a bit of perforated leather is a nice touch. You could say the analog gauges have an old-school charm, but the faux carbon-fiber pattern just seems kind of cheesy.
Although the GLC cabin is luxurious, and most materials and switchgear are nice with some genuine aluminum trim and gorgeous Burmester speaker grilles, it’s not quite at the same level of the Audi overall, which has a bit more panache with its carbon-fiber trim.
Any family vehicle that can hit 60 mph in about 5 seconds is just fine in my books, and the SQ5 does the deed in 5.1.
The power source is a 3.0L V6 force-fed by a turbo, adding up to 354 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque going to all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission.
At first, the transmission seemed to have that usual Audi first-gear lag off the line, but after getting used to it, I felt it simply rolled on power smoothly, and Dynamic mode dialed out any delay so it can get going about as fast as you’d ever need to outside of a drag strip. The transmission also has a Sport mode, and that holds gears longer and downshifts earlier when you prod the throttle.
It’s more aggressive than you need for your average commute, but it’s nice when you want to get on a little quicker, which is just what an S-line car should be.
The transmission isn’t the only system that can be dialed up or down, with more comfortable or hyper modes available for the steering, throttle, and adaptive air suspension to suit your tastes or mood.
Auto mode will adjust settings based on your driving behavior, and Individual can mix and match and lock in your favorites in each.
If you just want to be boring and save gas, Eco mode should keep fuel consumption down at about 19 miles per gallon in the city, 24 on the highway and 21 overall. It’s a tad more efficient than the GLC, but it’s also a fair bit more comfortable as a highway cruiser and just rolling around town. The air suspension can be softened up to really take the sting out of rough pavement, and adaptive cruise can take a lot of the work out of your morning commute.
Even though the SQ5 can be a perfectly tame crossover at times, dialing the suspension, throttle and steering into Dynamic mode make for just the kind of transformation you want from a SPORTY utility vehicle.
The steering has just enough heft and while there is still some body roll in turns, and more than the GLC – it does weigh almost 4400 pounds – it feels well balanced and poised, and ready for you to get back on the throttle. Coming out of corners, Quattro AWD shuffles power around front to back and the Sport Differential torque vectors from side to side, so unless you’re in snow or driving like a complete maniac, you will have enough grip to slingshot out of corners, and understeer will simply be driver error.
When it comes to performance, it’s a case of the GLC saying: “Anything you can do, I can do better!”
It starts with the GLC weighing about 250 pounds less, which always makes everything better, and because it has one extra turbo for a total of two. With a whole extra turbo, you would figure it would crush the SQ5 but it only outmuscles it by 8 hp and 15 lb-ft at 362 ponies and 384 pounds of twist. It also has a rasp that gives it a bit of bad-boy swagger that makes the growly, baritone SQ5 seem more mature.
The transmission also has an extra gear, which seems like they did it just to say they had one more gear than the Audi because it doesn’t manage to eke out any better fuel consumption or much in the way of performance. The AMG-lite GLC sprints to 60 miles per hour solidly under 5 seconds, 4.8 to be exact, but how important is that 0.3 second-advantage over the SQ5. Bragging rights are always nice, for sure, and the GLC is a riot when you stomp on the pedal, whether from a standstill or moving along at pretty much any speed up to highway cruising.
Taking a step back from the fun factor, the GLC also has our beloved adaptive cruise and air suspension for stress-free highway cruising, but it never seems as relaxed or refined over rough roads – even in its most comfortable settings.
The driving modes you really want are Sport and Sport+. Well, maybe not Sport+, that one is pretty much too crazy even for me pretty much any time. You’d have to find some seriously quiet backroads to be able to exploit Sport+, which revs like crazy and constantly hunts lower gears thinking it is on some ‘ring or other.
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Sport mode was truly good enough for the detour on your commute home or the stretch of road or onramp you find magically clear, and the lightness and stiff suspension pay off with extremely flat cornering for an SUV and quick responses from the heavy steering. It handles better than I ever would have imagined, and driven aggressively, it is right in its element. However, we also noted a weird jerkiness when just braking lightly to a stop. We can’t say if this vehicle just had an issue with its brakes or transmission, but it was certainly annoying.
When you get to the end of your trip, both have 360-degree parking camera and sensors all around, although the SQ5 has the slightly better turning radius and visibility and seems easier to maneuver in tight quarters.
While the SQ5 can handle the tasks of your typical small family mover a bit better, the GLC is a little more hardcore and has an extra dose of sport.
The Verdict: 2018 Audi SQ5 vs Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Comparison Test
Anyone loyal to either brand should have no problem jumping into one of these if a sporty, practical ride is a necessity or just a happy all-around fit, and the price.
The SQ5 starts at a touch over $55,000 and the GLC 57, but as equipped both run up over $66,000, the Audi $800 pricier because of upsized 21-inch wheels.
Both of these cars are just as practical as they need to be in this compact SUV segment, but the Audi impressed with its range of abilities, from comfortable family cruiser to sporting companion for backroad blast even if it never reaches quite the level of dynamic aptitude as the GLC. Where it excels is the passenger compartment, with better quality and seamlessly integrated technology.
The GLC is a great performer, with more power, less weight and better acceleration and handling, but it results in a rougher ride and some refinement missteps. Inside, it looks dramatic and feels luxurious, but still can’t match the Audi in quality of materials and intuitive tech.
With performance this close and advantages to either one in different areas, you could argue it either way.
If you want the sportiest option, pick the GLC for sure and if you want the better daily driver the SQ5 is the way to go, but in my mind the Audi SQ5 wins because it’s also a bit more sporty than the GLC is comfortable, and best captures this middle ground of sporty luxury utility.
Mercedes-AMG GLC 43