Audi Q5 is an all-new crossover derived from the recent A4 and A5 line. As with the Q7, Audi came to the SUV party fashionably late but came well equipped.
The 2009 Q5 comes with a gasoline V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmissions; both gas-electric hybrid and diesel variants remain possibilities a few years in the future. All-wheel drive, with which Audi has arguably as much experience as any car company, is standard, as are a full suite of passive safety systems (only rear side airbags are standard; you may not want them with children) and an advanced stability control system that alters performance when the roof rack is in use.
True to name, the Q5 has five seats, and the rear seats offer the recline-and-slide functions that until now have oddly been the purview of less-expensive class crossovers. Cargo volume is substantially greater than the A4 Avant, the Q5 will tow a minimum 900 pounds more than anything else in this class, and EPA ratings are among best in class.
Styling inside and out is typical Audi, and the cabin has few peers for the combination of function, style, materials and finish. There is no obvious cost-cutting here: what looks like leather, wood or aluminum is; the passenger gets the same 12-way power seat the driver does; and three-zone climate control is standard.
Features and electronics rise with price, which ranges from $38,000 to $56,000 or more when fully loaded. Features include: heated front seats; panorama sunroof; iPod interface; Bluetooth/HomeLink; Xenon headlamps and LED running lamps; power-fold auto-dimming mirrors; programmable power tailgate; driver memory system; 18-, 19-, and 20-inch wheels; navigation with 3-D graphics, voice recognition, rear camera, real-time traffic and weather; Bang & Olufsen stereo and Advance Key.
The Q5 competes with the Acura RDX, BMW X3, Infiniti EX35, Land Rover LR2, Lexus RX350, Mercedes-Benz GLK350, and Volvo XC60.
The first word mentioned in every Audi Q5 presentation we've seen is stylish; there's nothing really ground-breaking in the Q5's appearance although they have done a few things differently. As you'd expect it looks much like its big-brother Q7, has Audi's familiar full-height grille face, and Audi notes a drag coefficient of 0.33; that's good for a relatively short, upright shape but as usual, no mention of frontal area (an important part of the equation) was made. Wind noise won't become an issue at U.S. highway speeds, but it will take more fuel to push this through the air than an A4 Avant (wagon) for instance.
Q5 shares lineage with the A4 and A5 lines, bit it is four inches wider than an A4, nearly nine inches higher and about 10-percent heavier than a comparably equipped A4 wagon. Relative to others in its class it is wider than most (Land Rover's LR2 is narrower), average in height (the LR2 and Volvo XC60 notably taller, the Infiniti EX notably lower) and longer than the LR2 but shorter than the Lexus RX.
Audi's signature LED running lights are standard on Premium Plus or Prestige cars and make the front more distinctive than most; all Q5's use LED lamps in back. Those rear lights are all in the hatch that wraps around the sides so they won't get damaged loading anything; conversely there will be no section of taillight showing while loading things at night.
Character lines are similar to those on every front-engine Audi, with the upper one soft through the doors and tightly creased at the rear, and the upswept line from front wheel center through the lower doors. The rear door opening marks the leading edge of the wheelwell but insulation is sufficient your slacks won't get covered in muck sliding in and out.
A variety of wheels are used and many appear directional; most people will not notice all the detail on the first glance. Regardless of size, all wheels are alloy and relatively easy to clean.
Aluminum roof rails and the cross bars that go in them are standard on every Q5 and the rated roof rack load of 220 pounds is higher than many. Leave the cross bars out until you need them because one, they generate some wind noise, and two, because the electronic stability program algorithm changes with the bars installed.
The Q5 cabin is what we have come to expect from Audi, stylish design that won't appear faddish in a few years' time, plenty of features and first-rate assembly and materials. It's no secret that other companies use Audi interiors as a benchmark, and not that hard to reason why.
Every Q5 comes with leather seating surfaces and what looks like wood or aluminum is genuine. While a loaded top-line model comes with more amenities, the basics of appearance, comfort, and function are equal on the entry model. If you have to have a gee-whiz or state-of-the-art gadget you will need a high-line model, whereas seating, cargo room, towing, quiet, and performance are all very similar across the range.
Power seats are standard with 12-way adjustment for both front occupants and heaters on most versions. A three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with thumbwheels and switches for redundant control has good tilt/telescope range so every driver should find a good, comfortable position. Outward visibility is quite good and the rear wiper clears virtually all the glass you see through, but some short drivers may find the large mirrors (from the Q7) create a wide, front pillar to look around. The door sill is narrower than many so it doesn't feel like you're climbing in, more like a step sideways.
Most interior storage is in the glove-box and larger door pockets (each will hold a 1-liter bottle), with smaller spaces in the console. Trim panels or wood, aluminum, or a combination of those grace the doors, dash, and wrap over the sides of the center console where they might be vulnerable to scratching (don't let the carwash vacuum from just one side). The light-hued headliner adds spaciousness but the S Line trim makes it black.
Instruments use clear white-on-black markings with fuel and coolant gauges nesting to the side of big speedometer and tachometer; the big gauges have 0 right at the bottom so you may have to recalibrate if you're not used to 60 mph being shown as a needle pointed due left. The display directly ahead of the driver gives data for clock/calendar, trip computer, odometer, gear requested and gear engaged, audio source, and on navigation cars upcoming turning instructions.
The center dash is angled very slightly toward the driver with audio controls below the vents and dual-zone climate control below that. For many controls a rotary knob varies the parameter chosen by the buttons surrounding it; there is a lot of flexibility in the climate system and it's easy to get to. Every Q5 comes with an AM/FM/CD sound system; the Premium Plus includes an upgraded Symphony system with 6CD changer and SD card, and the optional-on-Premium-model iPod integration that works with any Gen 4 iPod with a connector dock. On cars with MMI, the iPod is fully controllable through MMI. Prestige models use a superb sound system from Bang & Olufsen with half a kilowatt of power driving 14 speakers.
A conventional shifter offers manual mode up/down shifting though we prefer that on the driver's side of the shift lever, and the parking brake is operated through a switch to the shifter's left.
Cars with navigation get the first application of Audi's third generation MMI (multimedia interface) system that offers more features than earlier versions but is still easy to work with. The voice-recognition system has been improved and will accommodate simple statements like “I need gas” or “find food” as well as accept address input for the navigation; all result in a choice of offers and when you select one it does the route guidance. It also offers Sirius links to real-time traffic info, weather and so forth.
The hard-disc drive allots 30GB solely for navigation data; check with your dealer regarding the cost of updating the data. It now uses and nVIDIA chip for 3D graphics so once you're into a metropolitan area on the 200-yard-or-smaller scale it shows buildings and landmarks as 3D structures.
The rearview camera with the system shows predictive backing for backing straight into a space or backing into a parallel parking spot. It's a great feature that adds safety and convenience.
Rear seats are split 60/40 with the wide side behind then driver, partially recline, have three adjustable headrests, and slide back and forth about 4.5 inches; with the front seats back all the way that negates knee room but does make an easier reach to a child seat or more cargo space with shorter occupants in front. The center seat position does not have an anchor for the back tether on a baby seat. Room is typical of the class and will fit a couple of adults, but the roof sides by the panoramic sunroof takes more than an inch off headroom and will limit head space for taller passengers. A fold-out armrest with pop-out cupholders does not rest on the seat cushion, leaving extra thigh space, the rear seat has its own warmer/cooler climate control, and side windows don't quite go down flush in the door.
Rear seats may be dropped by a single-lever pull at the side doors or hatch, and the aluminum hatch is easy to use and powered on higher line models. The cargo area is nicely finished and has a solid fiberglass cover that is quickly removed; four tie-down rings in the floor secure heavier items. Under the floor a one-piece bin surrounds the spare tire, ideal for storing a couple of iced beverages, wet hiking gear, and so on. The cargo floor is about 28 inches off the ground for easy loading, and the trailer hitch is 13.5 inches center to ground.
The Audi Q5 drives much like an Audi compact sedan or wagon. It feels like a taller, heavier, firmer A4 wagon with a different engine note because only the A4 sedan and not the Avant is offered in North America with a V6. The forward view is better because of height, the rear view not as good because of the higher seats and larger roof pillars.
Audi's 3.2-liter direct-injection V6 sees use in many models and is well sorted out. With 270 hp at 6500 rpm and 243 lb-ft of torque at 3000 rpm it is fairly flexible but does it best work higher up in the rev range. And it's very happy and smooth here, sailing right past the 6800-rpm marked redline on multiple occasions. Lexus' engine might feel more refined and insulated, the Acura RDX's turbo four a bit coarser and not so linear, and the inline sixes in BMW's X3 and Land Rover's LR2 aren't quite as powerful but they are as smooth and deliver a more sonorous note. A Q5 with driver will reach 60 mph from rest in less than seven seconds, which should be more than adequate, and EPA ratings are good although the class is within one or two mpg in most cases.
The six-speed automatic transmission does exactly what it should when it should, and spirited drivers or those stuck in heavy-but-moving traffic will do better in sport mode by notching the lever sideways. In sport or manual mode it rev-matches downshifts for quick-but-seamless gear changes, yet shifts are never jarring enough to upset the car or occupants. For manual choices just tap the lever forward (upshift) or backwards; the S line package includes shift paddles on the steering wheel.
All-wheel drive, dubbed quattro after the Audi coupe that started it about 30 years ago, is standard on every Q5, with nominal power delivery favoring rear drive at 60 percent. In combination with the A4's new layout, this makes the Q5 feel more like a rear-drive car; it doesn't feel like a rear-drive but it doesn't feel like a front-drive either, and only an X3 comes across as feeling better balanced than a Q5. The all-wheel drive is active all the time, includes differential locks for low-speed, very low-traction situations, and requires nothing of the driver except for an understanding that it does not repeal the laws of physics; it's still the same set of tires, brakes and steering connecting your car to the ground.
Because it weighs more, tows more and has larger wheels, the Q5 rides firmer than an A4 wagon, noticed mostly on bad road surfaces where moderate bumps have a more pronounced effect on the rear end; it seems to ride best with a mild load in the back. On every other surface it rides well, not as stiff as an RDX or X3, not as soft as an RX, probably closest to an EX or XC60. It takes to winding roads and sweeping bends very well and confidently; even if an RX could match the pace it would not be in its zone doing so.
Steering effort is on the heavy side at parking speeds but nicely lightens with speed while maintaining road feel. The Q5 doesn't exhibit a lot of body roll (a little will keep drivers more aware) and responds admirably in maneuvering. Stability control stays absent until it is needed and engages smoothly; it can not be turned off entirely but does have an off-road level that allows a bit more tire locking to build up snow or sand in front of the tires to stop better, and a little more leeway on dirt roads or paved surfaces you know better than the car.
The Q5 is also the first vehicle where fitting the cross bars for the roof rack changes the thresholds for the stability system; you can carry 220 pounds on the roof safely but the system doesn't have to be programmed assuming the roof is always loaded. If you push the limits enough to engage ESP you will notice a difference; we were able to sail around a bumpy parking lot handling course with no ESP action (bars off) but with the bars on, but no load, a same-speed sweeping bend of smooth pavement had the ESP cycling.
Q5 comes with disc brakes all around, backed up by various electronic aids for the most effective braking. Do not mistake these for some other systems that will apply the brakes if you fail to recognize and impending collision; at least for the time being Audi presumes you can watch where you're going and press a brake pedal. Regardless of any state legal requirement, we would use a trailer brake controller when towing any trailer more than 500-750 pounds with a Q5.
Tire choice always has an effect and the Q5 is no different. It offers three wheel sizes and multiple tires from at least three brands. The standard 18-inch wheel is best for bump absorption, comfort (and, likely, replacement cost); the 18-inch wheels are the best choice if your roads are rough and you don't like to spill your coffee. In our opinion the 19-inch wheel and Michelin combination produced the best blend of quiet, comfort and grip, and they probably wear well; it's a good choice outside pothole havens. Q5s are available with wider, 20-inch wheels and a summer performance tire, yet the only ones we saw were shod in Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires, a long-wearing, all-season performance tire frequently found on 2WD police vehicles. The added width and low profile deliver the most grip, but ride comfort and noise are the price you pay. We think the 20-wheels are largely chosen for cosmetic reasons and they would be our last choice.
Audi Drive Select, an optional system, affects vehicle dynamics. The system changes how quickly the steering responds and how it feels, how the engine reacts to gas pedal application, suspension damping, and when and how quickly the transmission changes gears. Drive Select has preset modes of Comfort, Dynamic, and Sport, and you can customize your own setting, perhaps making a snow mode of fast steering response for impending slip-and-slide, mild engine and transmission response to minimize wheelspin, and soft suspension damping for lots of wheel travel over berms and banks. We haven't tested it on the Q5, but we have found Audi Drive Select works well on the A4 and A5, which share their basic architecture with the Q5.
Noise is well controlled on the Q5. The engine is heard under hard acceleration but not objectionable, and a little road noise seeps in from behind on 20-inch wheels over rough roads. Wind noise comes primarily from the mirrors and roof cross bars, but you have to be doing better than 70 mph to find it.
That's one of the small problems with the Q5. The quiet ride and machinery mean that if you're not used to sitting that high, and you're not used to the speedo needle pointed due west at 60 mph, then you may not notice how easy it is to creep well past any speed limit, be it a country road or open interstate. That lack of fatigue pays dividends in driver comfort and attentiveness, but the Q5 will still warn you when you've driven for hours and should take a break.
The Q5 carries an inflatable spare tire and on-board air compressor because all-wheel drive and towing work better when all four tires are the same size. Having a spare means heavier, more expensive, harsher riding run-flat tires are not needed and trip delays are minimal.
The tow rating on any Q5 is 4400 pounds, or 900 pounds more than its closest competitor, and this rating applies with the Q5 fully loaded, not with just a driver or two occupants and a suitcase on board. The hitch itself is an accessory but all necessary cooling and pre-wiring is already in place. That's a fairly light trailer, such as personal watercraft, snowmobiles and light boats.
The Audi Q5 is a credible player in the growing compact premium crossover market. It is competitive in every way and leads in towing, a primary factor in stepping up from wagon or minivan to utility. Audi faithful will find it a logical, familiar, fulfilling step if they want to sit higher or go further off-road than an A4 Avant but don't need the size or seven seats of the Q7.
G.R. Whale filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report from Los Angeles.