By: Kris Hansen
In the early to mid 2000s, many people thought that SUVs were going to take over the automotive world. They seemed to be everywhere you looked, in nearly every driveway, and every new car dealer showroom across the USA, and they were beginning to get a foothold in Europe. It appeared as though the SUV would fully replace the minivan as the vehicle of choice for families. Honestly, I have no idea why. Most SUVs are based on trucks after all, thus they handle and ride accordingly. Sure, they have plenty of room inside, but they’re still basically trucks.
Fact is, they tend to be pretty horrible to drive. Theyre either so stiffly sprung that theyre uncomfortable on bumpy roads, or theyre too softly sprung or under damped so they float on the highway, or a combination of both in the worst cases. Worse still is the build quality. Even on the so called “upscale” models. People often bemoan the sub-par build quality of lower end cars of all manufacturers, but honestly, most SUVs are no better, especially the domestic brands. And Im not talking about pieces falling off as you drive it down the road, but instead, Im talking about the attention to detail. Things like exposed bolt heads, casting marks on hard plastic trim pieces, huge panel gaps and so on. This just kills the luxury experience for many of us.
Adding insult to injury, most of them claim to be “off road ready”, yet the farthest off road most SUVs will ever find themselves is the grass parking lot at a child’s soccer game.
Audi took their own path when they designed the Q5. Unlike many SUVs, the Q5 starts out basically as a car, not a truck. Some might argue that the Q5 is just a tall Avant, but its more than that (and not that there is anything wrong with tall Avants). First of all, the towing capacity is much higher than any of the Audi Avants, at 4,400 lbs (best in class). Its deceptively large inside too. The exterior design of the Q5 makes it appear to be smaller than it is. Its incredibly roomy, front and back, and its got miles of headroom. If you owned one, you could wear your 10 gallon hat in the front seat of a Q5.
Because the Q5 isnt based on a truck, it doesnt drive like a truck. When fitted with the 3.2 FSI (direct injection) 270 hp V6 engine and 6 speed Tiptronic transmission, it moves along very nicely. Power is certainly adequate for the intended purpose of the Q5. Could it stand to have a bit more powerful of an engine, perhaps the excellent 3.0TFSI supercharged engine? Theres always the small part of us car guys who want as much power as possible, but again, were not sure its really necessary with the Q5 3.2. Fuel economy is very good for a vehicle of the Q5’s size too. EPA numbers are 18 city and 23 highway, but we averaged around 23 in mixed driving.
Road feel through the steering wheel is on par with other Audis, which is to say, very good. The steering is nicely weighted at speed, never falsely weighted or overly boosted. We were somewhat surprised at how flatly the Q5 corners considering not only the comparatively high center of gravity, but the very tall tires its fitted with. There is a bit of body lean, but it never feels tipsy or scary. This is one SUV that doesnt mind being driven like a car. Because of the aforementioned tall tires and long travel suspension though, the Q5 is an absolute joy to drive on rough roads. Large bumps, big dips, gravel roads, you name it, the Q5 makes it go away. Its truly amazing how well it absorbs really bad road conditions. We took it over some pretty broken tarmac roads in rural Vermont, it was completely drama free. Were not exactly sure how it does it, but the Q5 is equally comfortable on chopped up back roads as it is on the glass smooth interstate highway.
The cabin is incredibly quiet and comfortable, even with the Panorama sunroof fully open. Because of its extra width, there is ample hip and shoulder room for front and back seat passengers. All control and dash surfaces are very nice to the touch, in classic Audi style. There are no exposed fasteners, no rough casting lines on plastic bits, even in places where you wouldnt normally think to look, like the back of the steering wheel, under the seats, etc. Attention to detail is a hallmark of the Audi experience.
Beneath wide front seat center armrest is a deep storage bin, which also has a 12V socket for phone chargers or other electronics. Our tester had the Audi Media Interface, which allows an Ipod to be plugged in and accessed via the awesome MMI system. We love how adjusting the temperature or fan, or any other part of the HVAC system does NOT cause the nav map to suddenly go away as it does on other brands. Actually, we love every single thing about the 3rd generation MMI system.
In this day and age of in car technology, the Q5 doesnt disappoint. Standard rain and light sensors are awesome. Honestly, auto rain sensing wipers arent something we ever felt we needed, but now that weve experienced them, we realized how cool they are, and how well they work. The car will turn the wipers on, if theres a mist, it will wipe the glass, then wait till theres enough water over the sensor to wipe again. As rain increase, the wipers speed up all the way to full speed if needed. Alternately, if it stops raining, the wipers turn off. Its one less thing to think about.
The Q5 comes standard with a plethora of safety and security features, such as ESP which has special programming to help prevent rollovers (and knows when roof top carriers are fitted, and works extra hard to cope with the higher center of gravity, hill descent, which uses the ABS system to help the car go down hills and remain in control at all times. You can speed up by applying the gas, and as you let off the gas, the hill descent maintains that speed for you, so you can keep your concentration on steering. It works in reverse, making backing down tricky driveways a drama free event.
The Parking Assist feature is excellent, using a combination of radar proximity sensors and a rear view camera, both of which are displayed in the MMI display screen. It even helps wile travelling forward, thanks to front bumper mounted sensors.
On the display screen is an overview of the vehicle, with the outlines of the radar zones sprouting out of the car. As the vehicle gets closer to an object (or if a person walks behind or in front of the car) the beeps from the system become more frequent, and the sensor displays colors to indicate where the object is relative to the car. The system works incredibly well, and allows you to place the car amazingly close to objects without touching them.
The power tailgate is really cool for shorter people who can’t reach the handle to pull it down. Nicely, and classic Audi, there’s plenty of headroom for tall folks when the tailgate is open, and with personal experience, that’s not the case will many domestic SUVs.
We loved the Q5, in our opinion, its a perfect blend of Avant comfort and handling, and SUV spaciousness and versatility, it does everything very well, and is a true joy to drive. The tight turning circle, high seating position and excellent visibility, great handling, snappy engine and quick shifting transmission all combine to make it a great car for town, and country.