The toughest segment manufacturers can waltz into right now is probably the "compact luxury crossover" class — in English, these are small SUVs built on a car chassis. Think of the paradoxical demands they must meet: luxurious but sporting, capable off-road but pleasant on the highway. They must get decent gas mileage but tow trailers, and they should be able to carry tons of stuff, but still be small. Yet with handsome looks, a slick interior and sedan-like handling, the Audi Q5 may be the best balance yet.
The Q5 is entering into a fairly well-defined segment, and thus comes equipped with the expected host of standard features, such as dual zone A/C, leather seating and a 10-speaker stereo. As you might expect, it’s easy to tack on the dollars after that.
The quickest way to do so is to choose two optional trim packages. The first gets you a power tailgate, bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights, while the second package includes Audi’s smart key system, blind spot detection, and a 14-speaker, 504-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo. This second package also includes 19-inch wheels, but 20-inch S-Line wheels, as well as (brace yourself) 20-inch chromed wheels will also be available as stand-alone options.
Other notable options include the largest panoramic sunroof in the class, adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats and a climate-controlled cupholder. Also available is Audi’s new Drive Select, which alters suspension stiffness, steering and throttle response, and shift algorithms with the push of a button. There are three settings: comfort, dynamic and auto. If you opt for Audi’s MMI (multi-media interface), there’s the option to create your own setting by fine-tuning each aspect on screen.
Under the Hood
Here in the U.S., the Q5 is available with one engine: the 3.2-liter V6 that will power the all-new A4. The 270-horsepower V6 never leaves the Q5 short on power, but in comparison to Audi’s European-spec engines, it quickly looks like the runt of a prize litter. Continentals get the choice of two diesel engines, as well as a turbocharged 2.0-liter gasoline offering that feels just as strong as the V6. What’s more, at an estimated 17/24 mpg (city/hwy), our V6 isn’t exactly thrifty compared to the Euro options.
There’s good reason to hold your breath, however, since Audi says America will get a second engine offering in 2010 models. If you want our guess, it’ll be the rocket ship 3.0-liter twin-turbo diesel V6, which by then will be available in U.S.-bound Q7s. Expect the diesel’s EPA fuel ratings to be somewhere in the mid-20s around town and over 30 on the highway.
U.S.-spec Q5s will arrive with a sole transmission option (6-speed automatic), which is teamed with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive setup. The combination is said to propel the Q5 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, and S-Line models will have steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
It’s easy to see the common interior design language across the current Audi lineup. The Q5 benefits here, as no part of the spacious interior says "SUV." Stereo controls and the MMI jog wheel sit alongside the shifter on the center console, allowing an uncluttered dash, with little more than a 7-inch LCD screen. Once you’re used to finding the controls on the console, you’ll wonder why all cars aren’t laid out this way. Behind the shifter is an armrest that can be extended and adjusted for height.
Q5s will only be available with leather seating. The front buckets hold the driver comfortably in place during spirited driving, and the rear seats can be laid flat right from the cargo area, providing just over 55 cubic-feet of storage capacity.
Audi’s MMI is much improved in the Q5, and we’d suggest ticking the option box. Gone are full-screen windows noting simple adjustments, replaced by a much more intuitive interface that uses momentary pop-ups. Similar to the navigation display in the Infiniti EX35, 3D buildings are now displayed where available.
On the Road
This isn’t the first time a manufacturer has claimed its SUV drives like a car, but the Q5 might be the first that actually does. Particularly when equipped with the active steering option, inputs are immediately translated into movement, and a stiff chassis derived from the A4 makes cornering entertaining.
Push too hard and Audi’s stability control system (ESP) intervenes seamlessly, helping to aim the Q5 in the right direction. On active steering-equipped models, the ESP setup will actually make perceptible steering adjustments to help avoid disaster.
The capable V6 is a good match for the impressive handling, but, because most of its punch comes at higher rpm, a couple toggles of the paddle shifter are often necessary for quick passing. At the end of the day it’s satisfying, but you can’t help but lust after the torquey European diesel offerings.
At the same time, the Q5 has 7.87 inches of ground clearance, 25-degree approach and departure angles, and can tow 4,409 pounds. The ABS system can even automatically detect if you’re driving on sand, gravel or stone and adjust accordingly. It’s almost sad that the closest thing to off-roading most Q5s will see in America is a scenic overlook.
Right for You?
If you’ve already decided that you need one vehicle to do it all, the only reason not to consider the Q5 is because you’re holding out for the new engine option in 2010. The Q5 drives like an A4, has the best fit and finish in its class, and is the best looking of the bunch. Pricing has yet to be announced, but you can expect the Q5 to be a couple thousand cheaper than BMW’s X3.
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.