2009 Audi Q5 Road Test

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August 4, 2009

Text and Photos: Kris Hansen

The Audi Q5 is categorized as a “light truck” by the EPA, but I think that’s doing it a huge disservice. It does not look like any truck I’ve ever seen, nor does it particularly drive like a truck. It does have some truck-like characteristics; it’s got a towing capacity of 4,400 pounds, which is quite a lot for a relatively small vehicle like this (in fact, the Q5 has the highest rated towing capacity of any other vehicle in it’s class). And it’s got a really cool hill descent feature that automatically maintains a nice slow speed on steep and slick hills (we tried it on a steep gravel driveway, it actually works well!) It’s got just shy of 8 inches of ground clearance. And it’s got a really small turning circle. It would probably be pretty decent off road, though I don’t think that’s what Audi had in mind.

This vehicle actually falls into what is known as the “luxury crossover” segment, not really a car, not really an all out SUV, but instead a vehicle that has the best characteristics of both car and SUV, while coddling it’s occupants in the utmost in luxury and technology. Thanks to its SUV like ride height, the view from the driver’s seat is a commanding one. Additionally, tall speed bumps and high curbs are no threat to the undercarriage. I would be willing to bet that the Q5 would laugh at deep snow too, though we didn’t’t have the opportunity to test in snow. Owing to its luxury car heritage, it’s swathed in leather and polished wood, and has some of the most advanced technology of any car on the road, not the least of which, it’s quattro all wheel drive system.

For anyone not paying attention, modern Audis have some incredibly cool features. Gadgets like the smart key (which allows you to have full control of the car without ever removing the key from your pocket), Audi Drive Select for on the fly adjustments to the suspension, steering and engine, optional side assist, the parking assist camera, the fully encompassing MMI system; the Q5 gets the latest and greatest iteration of the MMI/nav system, with a 40 gigabyte hard drive, 505 watt Bang and Olufsen audio system, DVD player, SD slots in the dash, and the new 3D navigation system with real time traffic updates and voice commands and more. One of the new features of the new nav system in the Q5, on the top of the main control button is a small flat topped joystick, which allows the user to actually scroll around the map, allowing the option of looking ahead on your route to make updates or look for fuel or food or lodging.

Not new, but worth talking about, for the time being the only engine we’ll get in the USA is the 3.2 liter V6 direct injection gasoline engine. In the Q5 it produces 270 horsepower, and 243 lbs. ft. of torque. The only transmission we’ll see here is the 6 speed quick shifting but torque converter style Tiptronic automatic. Manual transmission fans, don’t despair too much; it’s not at all slushy or soft feeling.

The Q5 gets off the line very sharply in fact, and the shifting action from the Tiptronic is very crisp and fast, sometimes a little too crisp actually, as we found part throttle shifts in Tip mode to sometimes be a bit jerky. Not so in Drive however, where it’s as smooth and comfortable as you’d expect from a luxury sedan.

With the 3.2 liter V6 engine, the Q5 is reasonably quick for a vehicle of this type. Audi says it runs 0 to 60 in 6.7 seconds, and runs to a limited top speed of 130mph. Merging onto highways, pulling out of toll plazas, long steep hills; they are all no problem for the Q5 with the 3.2 liter. The engine is smooth and quiet, and it rewards the driver who is not afraid to wind up the revs a little. We also found that the 3.2 is fairly frugal when driven gently. We didn’t make any official fuel economy notes, but we didn’t find ourselves burning through fuel at an alarming rate. EPA fuel economy numbers are 23 city and 18 highway, again, given the size of the car and the engine, not bad at all.

Driving the Q5, you are reminded that this car has a higher center of gravity. Compared to a low slung car, the Q5 does take a little getting used to when driving briskly on twisty roads. We found that if the Drive Select is in Comfort mode, there is a certain amount of a tippy feeling to get used to. Even with Drive Select in Dynamic mode (honestly, the difference is remarkable, and the change is instantaneous), which tightens up the shock dampening, steering and throttle controls, the Q5 will never be mistaken for a sports sedan. Much of this could be attributed to the tall SUV like tires that come as standard equipment on the car. This is not to say you can’t drive the Q5 briskly, but it takes some adjustment to driving style. You can’t fling the Q5 into corners with reckless abandon like you can with a sedan. On the highway though, the Q5 inspired confidence, and is very stable. The ride is perhaps a little choppy on poor road surfaces, but it’s not at all uncomfortable.

The interior is typical of Audi’s latest offerings, which is to say, just about perfect. The seats are comfortable and supportive. The MMI and other controls are readily at hand, and are clearly marked. Button presses are smooth, and all control surfaces feel very nice to the touch. All of the interior surfaces have a very high quality feel to them. The gauges are very clear and modern looking, though we found that it’s possible to tilt the steering wheel up high enough that the airbag/horn pad blocks the lower portion of the gauge cluster. We also found that the adjuster lever for the tilt/telescopic wheel is quite far under the dash. But otherwise, the interior is exactly what one would expect from any recent Audi. Our test car was fitted with the optional Panorama roof, which is a huge tinted glass roof, half of which opens and slides back over itself. Even when fully open, there is little buffeting, and plenty of sky over head.

Externally, the Q5’s design makes it look much smaller than it actually is. For comparisons, the Q5 is 2 inches shorter, and 2 inches wider, than its sibling A4 Avant. Because of the added width, the Q5 is very roomy in the front seats. Shoulder, hip, head and leg room are very generous. There front seat area has ample storage for all kinds of things. The door pockets are capable of swallowing a 2 liter soda bottle (though they don’t come out as easily). Beneath the center armrest is a very big bin, for all kinds of items.

The seats are very comfortable if perhaps a tad firm, heated, and 8 way adjustable plus lumbar adjustments. The back seats are also quite comfortable, and they are adjustable for recline, through a combination of sliding the bottom cushion forward, and tipping the back rest. Even big men will find room back there assuming that the trip is not overly long and the front seat occupant is willing to move forward a little. Head hip and shoulder room in the back seat is very generous, but certainly not in the A6 or Q7 league.

The luggage area is deceptively large, at 29 cubic feet. It easily swallows coolers, big suitcases, and folding chairs. For longer items, the 4 way adjustable rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 arrangement; the entire center section is able to fold on its own, creating a very large pass-through for long items, while still maintaining 2 rear seats. It’s very handy. The Q5 also has rear seat back releases in the cargo area (a very nice touch!) and the seat backs actually lock down in their nearly flat folded position, which makes loading that much easier.

I found myself liking the Q5 a lot, it’s fun enough to drive even if it’s not overtly sporty, it does everything right, and handles all of the things and people I need to bring with me wherever I go. Its looks are aggressive enough to not be boring, but it’s not obnoxiously over styled either. The LED lighting treatments are well done, both in the headlights and taillights. Speaking of lights, we noticed quite by accident that if the rear hatch is open, all of the lighting functions transfer from the hatch mounted primary lights to the small light arrays in the bumper. We found this to be very thoughtful and useful, and typical of the kind of engineering that Audi is famous for.

We think Audi will do well with the Q5, especially once they start bringing the TDI versions here to the USA. People looking for a nice all around vehicle for an active lifestyle will love the Q5.


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