Pros: Fun to drive, high-quality interior, available as a hybrid, good 4-cylinder fuel economy, satisfying optional supercharged V6.
Cons: Smallish cargo hold, forgettable 4-cylinder performance.
What's New: For 2013, the Q5 loses the 3.2-liter V6 but gains Audi's excellent 3.0T supercharged 3.0-liter V6 as an option. The Q5 Hybrid also makes its debut, and all Q5 models are treated to a handful of styling tweaks and available Audi connect technology.
In the world of luxury crossovers, the competition never sleeps. That's probably why the 2013 Audi Q5 boasts not one, but two new powerplants, even though it was already one of the best vehicles in this segment.
Specifically, the old 3.2-liter V6 is gone, replaced by a stout 3.0-liter supercharged V6 borrowed from the larger Q7. And here's some news that might give Lexus something to think about: The Q5 can now be had as a gas/electric hybrid with a potent mix of power and fuel efficiency.
As ever, the 2013 Q5 is based on the A4 platform, and that works wonders for its driving character. The Q5 naturally rides higher and holds more cargo than its A4 relatives, yet it hugs the pavement like a hatchback. People often buy these vehicles so they can sit up high and feel safe, even if it means sacrificing some handling capability. In the Q5, the sacrifice is so small that most drivers won't even notice.
There are nits to pick, of course, including lackluster performance from the base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. Nonetheless, we're solidly in Audi's corner on this one. It's a good thing the competition isn't sleeping, because Audi seems intent on making the Q5 better with each passing year.
Comfort & Utility
The 2013 Audi Q5 is offered in three trim levels: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige. Note that the 2.0T engine is available in Premium or Premium Plus trim, while the 3.0T engine comes in Premium Plus or Prestige trim.
The Premium comes with 18-inch alloy wheels; fog lights; LED daytime running lights and taillights; a sunroof; leather upholstery; power front seats with adjustable lumbar; a tilt-telescopic steering wheel; woodgrain interior trim; tri-zone automatic climate control (including a separate temperature control for the back seat); the Multi-Media Interface (MMI) system with a dash-mounted control knob; and a 10-speaker audio system with an auxiliary input, an SD card reader, and satellite radio.
The Premium Plus adds Xenon headlamps with LED running lights; a panoramic sunroof; a power liftgate; auto-dimming mirrors; driver memory functions; Bluetooth and iPod integration; and heated seats. Notably, the 3.0T Premium Plus has a few standard features that the 2.0T doesn't, including 19-in alloy wheels, S line styling enhancements and keyless entry with push-button ignition.
The 3.0T Prestige steps up to adaptive Xenon headlamps, manual rear sunshades, a blind spot warning system, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system and an MMI navigation system that includes an upgraded display screen, a console-mounted control knob with a joystick-like top, and an extra SD slot.
Many of the higher trims' features--notably Bluetooth and iPod integration--are available on lower trims as options. The Prestige is eligible for some exclusive upgrades, including a leather-trimmed dashboard, cooled front seats, adaptive cruise control, and the Drive Select system, which provides electronic adjustments for steering, transmission, and throttle calibrations.
An appealing new option for 2013 is Audi connect, which employs a 3G data connection to integrate Google Maps into MMI Plus. Additional Audi connect features include Google search with voice-command functionality; real-time weather and travel information; and mobile Wi-Fi connectivity for up to eight devices.
In our interior evaluation, we found that the Q5's front seats are comfortable enough, but they lack the range of adjustments that some competitors provide (BMW, for example), and their lateral support is minimal. Thanks to the standard seat height adjustment and tilt-telescoping wheel, though, everyone should be able to find a comfortable driving position.
Behind that leather-wrapped wheel, the gauges are classic Audi--two simple circles for the tachometer and speedometer, with numerals rendered in Audi's distinctive font. Materials quality is excellent for this price range. As with the A4, however, the Q5's ergonomics are hit or miss. Try to adjust the climate control's fan speed and you'll see what we mean--it's a 2-step process.
The Q5 makes the most of its compact rear compartment by providing slide and recline functions for the back seat, not to mention the rare luxury of separate rear temperature controls. While the bottom cushion is still a bit lower than our taller editors would prefer, we'd call the Q5's rear passenger space satisfactory for this class.
Maximum cargo space is on the small side, however, at 57.3 cu-ft, and while the 29.1 cu-ft of space behind the rear seatbacks sounds ample, we've found it challenging to fit a couple golf bags into this relatively narrow cargo area. At least the new Q5 Hybrid's battery pack is positioned so as not to compromise what cargo space there is.
Like the A4, the base Q5 doesn't come standard with iPod or Bluetooth connectivity, but you can easily add both as standalone options. Also, the absence of a USB port from the Q5's features list means that flash drive loyalists will have to transfer their mp3s onto an SD card instead; again, not a huge deal.
At any rate, the technological nerve center of the Q5 is the MMI system, which comes in two forms. In standard spec without navigation, MMI is controlled via a knob on the center stack that we find to be too far from the driver for comfort. If your budget can handle it, we recommend stepping up to the MMI Plus system, which includes navigation, a more sophisticated display screen, and a control knob that's conveniently mounted precisely where your right hand rests on the center console. Audi has greatly improved the intuitiveness of MMI's menu structure, and the console-mounted knob now features a nifty joystick-like top section that facilitates some operations.
What's more, the introduction of Audi connect for MMI Plus delivers revolutionary new connectivity options, from Google Maps and voice-activated search to mobile Wi-Fi hotspot capability.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Q5 Premium and Premium Plus come standard with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 rated at 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is an 8-speed automatic. The 2.0T has been a solid performer over the years, but even the base Q5 2.0T weighs nearly 4,100 lb, and 211 horses aren't very many when you're dealing with that kind of mass.
That's why we prefer the supercharged 3.0-liter V6--optional on Premium Plus and standard on Prestige--which pumps out a healthier 272 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, also via an 8-speed automatic. The same 3.0T engine comes standard in the massive 3-row Q7, and the Q5 is far lighter, so this is a real hot rod of a compact crossover. Both acceleration and refinement rival the best in this segment.
All Q5s feature Audi's Quattro all-wheel drive system. Fuel economy is a strong 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway with the 2.0T, while the 3.0T exacts about a 20 percent penalty at the pump despite standard auto stop/start technology.
Then there's the Q5 Hybrid, a new-for-2013 offering that pairs the 2.0T engine and 8-speed automatic with a 40-kilowatt electric motor. Calculating combined output for hybrids is an inexact science, but it should be in the neighborhood of 250 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque--not your typical plodding hybrid, in other words--as well as mpg that can stretch into the 30s under ideal conditions.
The Q5 features standard stability control, 4-wheel antilock brakes and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side-curtain). Rear side airbags are optional.
The government had not crash-tested the Q5 as of this writing, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Q5 its highest rating of Good in every category.
At reasonable cornering speeds, the Q5 feels like the sport sedan of compact luxury crossovers--an A4 on stilts, yes, but an A4 nonetheless. Push harder and you'll get smacked by Old Man Understeer, but that's forgivable; no one buys one of these to chase motorcycles in the hills. The true calling of the Q5 is to traverse both highways and patchy urban pavement with lofty composure, and for the most part, that's exactly what it does. The ride is already on the firm side of normal, though, so think twice when your Audi dealer tries to sell you on the S line package with the 20-in wheels.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW X3: The athletic X3 sports a pair of wonderful turbocharged engines, and its interior is right there with the Audi's in terms of quality.
Cadillac SRX: Newly fortified with a 308-hp V6, the SRX also boasts a beautiful cabin and a unique sense of style.
Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class: The GLK's butch styling makes a strong statement, and the baby Benz offers far more power than the Q5 2.0T at a comparable price.
Cost no object, we'd take the Q5 3.0T, but folks shopping for a vehicle like this may still be somewhat budget-conscious. For their sake, we'll recommend the Q5 2.0T. It costs thousands less, and its superior fuel economy will keep saving you money in the years ahead.