|May 15, 2009
Source: Adrian Harris
Everything Audi has touched recently has turned to gold, following products such as the R8, the RS4 and the likes of the V12 TDI Q7, the Audi Q5 has a reputation to uphold.
Question is, has it?
Audi is entering this segment at the right time, BMW’s X3 was flawed to begin with, and is showing its age, Lexus’ RX350 is now faced with a number of competitors, and its bland image and driving experience may not convert many test drivers into owners. The Mercedes GLK’s appearance, image, and driving experience does not fit the vehicle’s target consumer – a young image conscious professional couple that may partake in outdoor activities. Smaller aspiration vehicles certainly haven’t seen the sales slide as of late that the larger SUV’s and vehicles such as the A8 have with dealers still struggling to move inventory.
From the exterior, the Audi certainly looks as if it is part of the Audi family, the signature grille, the daytime running LEDs, the shoulder line running to the slim line tail lamps, but even next to the Q7 it does not exude the image as if you have purchased a lesser product unlike parking an X3 next to an X5. The standard 5 spoke 18 wheels (or similar styled optional 19 wheels) really dont fit as well with the sophisticated exterior design in comparison to the optional 10 spoke 20 items.
The seating position in the front is a good fit for all sizes of people, but entry and egress in the rear is a little cramped for line backers.
The Satellite Navigation is a benchmark in terms of its usability, speed of use, voice recognition – it even includes 3D renderings of buildings in built up areas to make you feel as if you are playing Grand Theft Auto! The Bang and Olufsen stereo has great clarity and tonal range, but ultimately lacks the fidelity in the high end that you get on the outstanding Mark Levinson system fitted to the Lexus.
The trunk area is smaller than expected, but the load area is usable with a low loading height, and Audi intelligently deflates the spare tire for more under floor storage space, but includes an onboard air compressor, which is very useful for those that might ever use the Q5 for rock crawling or Sand driving and might need to deflate the tires for extra traction – we anticipate this will be few owners.
The Q7 also comes with standard roof racks, and the ESP can (very intelligently) detect when they are fitted, and recalibrate it for the higher center of mass of the vehicle, the Q5 also sports the highest in class towing capacity at an impressive 4400lbs.
The biggest disappointment (which is a surprise) is the use of cheap plastics throughout the interior, traditionally this has been Audi’s pièce de résistance, and the tactile feel of the plastics throughout the cabin does not befit a 40k+ SUV, let alone a vehicle sporting the famous 4 rings on its grille. The trim on the doors felt more like something from Fisher Price than the Ingolstadt production line. Certainly not as classy as the RX350.
As for the driving experience, Audi quotes best in class fuel economy, very competitive acceleration figures from its direct injection 3.2 FSI V6 as seen in other Audi models. The throttle response is average on tip in acceleration for passing that truck on the way to the ski slopes, but power throughout the rev range of the engine is strong and linear. Sounds quite nice from the outside too!
In corners the Q5’s pitch and roll is minimal (in fact it felt no worse than the new V6 S6 we drove at the same time), it corners well with a very high level of adhesion and confidence.
The stability system on the Q5 also has a high threshold of intervention, and its intrusion is minimal and subtle, ultimately the small SUV will understeer but it doesn’t take an experienced driver to easily induce some flamboyant oversteer. Just the ticket for how you should arrive to your elegant dinner party. You gain a reasonable understanding of what is happening through the nice shaped and well weighted steering, and braking is consistent in its impressive strength and feedback. To coin the oft used cliché the Q5 handles like a sedan, but without the penalty of a poor ride like you get in the GLK.
Overall as a package the Q5 is very impressive, its not as bold as the boxy GLK, not as refined as the RX350, but it definitely provides the best driving (and ownership) experience of the small SUV’s, we would only like them to offer the diesel engine offered in Europe (this may occur, pending the success of the TDI Q7 according to Audi), and the 2.0 turbo TSFI engine would reduce the entry $37,200 price.
Audi can be comfortable that they have the best vehicle in the segment that should sell very well.