New Cars+New Gear+New Technology
*After having an Audi Q7 for an entire year, the biggest downside I found was its size. The thing is absolutely hulking. For someone accustomed to driving sports cars and sedans, it was unnerving to negotiate in traffic. I constantly felt like a 16-pound bowling ball rolling around 3-pound pins. I know for many SUV drivers this is part of the attraction, an opportunity to feel menacing and intimidating, but it just didn't appeal to me. I live in a small beach town and the leviathan didn't work well in parking garages or narrow streets and absolutely wouldn't fit in the tiny spaces outside my local Trader Joe's. For me, it was like driving around in a luxurious cement truck.
The upside of $4-a-gallon gasoline is that gargantuan vehicles aren't making sense to most shoppers anymore. Audi happens to have a perfect solution in its newest SUV, the Q5. Initially, this smaller luxury SUV will be powered by Audi's direct injection 270hp 3.2-liter V6. It proves more than powerful enough to move around the Q5 either on or off-road. The U.S. market will only see a six-speed torque converter automatic, but how many people would really buy one of these with a manual anyway? Certainly not me. All vehicles will also come equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive, making it truly capable in any condition.
One option we wouldn't be able to live without on the Q5 is the Audi Dynamic Ride Select. It controls virtually all aspects of the vehicle's responses to turn a luxury cruiser into a family-hauling canyon carver at the push of a button. We found ourselves playing with it all day just because we couldn't believe the amount of difference it actually made. Not only will it tighten the suspension, but also controls the steering ratio. Several companies offer variable steering assist but Audi has taken it a step further by varying required steering angle input for a much sportier feel. Three DRS modes are available on the dash but it is also completely programmable through the MMI interface.
MMI also features a revised nav system that's now equipped with a bird's-eye perspective view. You now see the map from an elevated horizontal view as though you're flying over the road looking forward, not just directly overhead. This has allowed the programmers to make landmarks on the interface resemble those in the real world, giving the driver better visual cues on where the next turn or stop is. On the test drive in Valencia, Spain, we recognized all the unique architecture immediately on the nav screen and it made navigating the tightly packed streets much easier.
Outside town we had the opportunity to stretch the Q5's legs. On the highway it felt not unlike an A4, which it shares its platform with. Handling is good, especially in sport mode. It certainly wouldn't turn as fast a lap time as the sedan, but we have a feeling most buyers won't care. The ride is comfortable, quiet and relaxing, just what the SUV buyer is after. There is room for five, but not necessarily adults. We'd recommend keeping it down to two adults in back or overlapping shoulders may result in an elbow throwing melee of seat-back ownership. Three children would be fine, if you're OK with that much Happy Meal damage to your leather.
The interior is almost too nice to put kids in anyway. The dash is typical Audi brilliance. Nothing gaudy or garish, just well laid out and nicely built. The euro-dollar exchange rate is beginning to show a little bit on the thickness of some of the pieces, but unless you're a true dash-stroking car geek (like me) you will be hard pressed to notice. Audi's interiors are still superior to just about anything currently in mass production. The seats are supportive, the steering wheel is the best in the business and it's all lit with a giant panoramic glass roof.
While I've never been an SUV fan, some of the smaller alternatives are starting to grow on me. If I had a need to go off-road or lived someplace with a considerable amount of snow, the Q5 would be at the top of my list. It offers comfort and refinement not found in most of its competitors and driving dynamics very similar to the company's cars. I've always liked the looks of the Q7, just not the size and thirst for fuel. Looking at the Q5 is like looking at a Q7, just a little further away.
2009 Audi Q5 3.2
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive
3.2-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve
Five-link front, self-tracking trapezoidal link rear
Four-wheel ventilated disc assemblies
Length/Width/Height (in.): 182.2/74.8/65.2Wheelbase: 110.6 in.Curb Weight: 3,836 lb
Peak Power: 270 hp @ 6500 rpmPeak Torque: 243 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
*What We Like:
All the positives of the Q7 without all that size, sport sedan-like manners
*What We Don't:
No diesel option means we're still waiting on great mileage, North America not scheduled to get off-road package