2009 Audi Q5: First Drive

Audi wants a piece of the RX350’s pie

2009 Audi Q5: First Drive
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Crossover SUVs are a huge segment of the automotive landscape these days and growing. They look like SUVs but are based off car platforms rather than truck platforms. They come in all sizes and price ranges, from under $20,000 to over $60,000, and virtually all manufacturers have at least one in their stable.

FAST FACTS

1. The Q5 is offered with just one engine and one transmission, a 270hp, 3.2-liter V6 and a 6-speed Tiptronic.

2. Audi is late to the game with the Q5, competing against the BMW X3, Mercedes GLK350, Infiniti EX35, Acura RDX and Lexus RX350.

3. The Q5 is rated to tow 4,400 lbs and boasts 57.2 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats folded.

Crossovers have become a natural transition from the truck based SUVs of the last 20 years, because most drivers finally realized that driving around town in an expensive vehicle built off a truck platform wasn’t as much fun as it looked. And truth be told, most folks who bought them were never going to tow a boat or horse trailer, and never going to take their vehicle into the wild to ford streams, climb rocks, or do the Baja 1000.

Crossovers satisfy the needs for a larger cargo area than a standard car’s trunk, a higher seating position to see the road better, and a somewhat more rugged look to the vehicle that says either male enhancement, or “soccer Mom not on board.”

The Audi Q5 3.2 is one of the luxury crossovers, built off the A4 platform, and competes with the likes of the BMW X3, Mercedes GLK350, Lexus RX350, and, my favorite, the Infiniti EX35. The Audi is stylish, powerful and luxurious, and by comparison, it competes quite well.

POWERFUL V6 GETS QUICK-SHIFTING TRANSMISSION, BETTER-THAN-ADVERTISED FUEL ECONOMY

The Q5 is powered by a six-cylinder 3.2-liter V6 that boasts 270 horsepower, and 243 ft-lbs of torque at 3000 rpm, which moves the 4,200 pound vehicle away form stop lights, and in two-lane passing situations quite briskly. The six-speed Tiptronic transmission is excellent. The shifts are immediate at every point in the rev range, and it keeps the Q5 revs up so that after you up-shift, you’re ready to spool up the tach needle without any hesitation. And the power comes on smoothly and quietly. It wouldn’t be my first choice for canyon carving, but for a vehicle of this size, it is still a blast to drive hard, and with confidence.

It’s also a fuel-efficient engine, as I got 27 mpg on the highway (4 mpg more than the EPA rating). City driving was right on par with the EPA’s 18 mpg.

AUDI DRIVE SELECT: GREAT FOR SPORTS SEDANS, EXCESSIVE FOR A CROSSOVER

My test car came with the optional $2,950 Audi Drive Select system. It has a push button setting for Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual. The system controls the throttle response, the shift points, the steering response and the shock settings. Comfort and Auto settings are self-explanatory. The Dynamic setting deadens, but doesn’t fully disengage, the stability and drive controls to give the driver better road feel. And the Individual setting allows the driver to set the controls for the steering, ride quality and shift points individually to tailor the driving experience to his liking. I suppose this system would be useful in a sports sedan or coupe, but it seems a bit much for a vehicle like this since it’s nobody’s first choice for a weekend of autocrossing.

I found myself using Comfort or Auto in my real world driving and was quite happy with the luxury ride comfort on the highway and rural roads with bad pavement, yet I was still impressed with the flat cornering, quick steering response, and little front end dive under hard braking. And speaking of the brakes – they’re wonderful; a great combination of sure stopping power with excellent pedal feel and feedback.

Still, for the budget conscious, Audi Drive Select would be an option I’d pass on.

The seamless all-wheel-drive (quattro) system will be a great feature in the snow belt, and for those times one might take the Q5 off pavement. And if all those TV commercials make you want to climb up a mountain, there is a hill descent button to let you drive down the other side without a big lump in your throat. You can add in the stability control, traction control, and ABS, and know that Audi has all the electronic technological sophistication you can ever want.

TYPICALLY IMPRESSIVE AUDI INTERIOR

The cabin oozes luxury and comfort, head and shoulders above the BMW X3 and on par with the Infiniti and Lexus models. The supple leather seats are wide and comfortable; the leather wrapped steering wheel feels just right in your hands and has easy to use controls for the phone, and radio. The dash is nicely padded and has attractive wood accents to match those on the doors and surrounding the center console. There are cupholders in front of the console and each large storage pocket in the doors accommodates a large bottle of water. Like its cousin from Volkswagen, the Audi also has strikingly illuminated interior controls for easy visibility (and therefore use) during night driving.

The car is equipped with full dual climate controls for the front seat passengers and a separate control for the rear. They are easy to use and the entire center stack is well designed. My tester had the $3,000 Navigation Package, which includes the voice-command GPS system, back-up camera and park-assist radar, color driver info system, and a DVD/CD player. The navigation system is excellent; it’s intuitive, and fairly easy to use, especially when you add the voice commands for the GPS and phone use. If an owner takes the time to learn the system well, the use of a cell phone and the navigation system will be much less distracting than operating those items by pushing a lot of buttons.

Rear seating room is excellent for legroom, shoulder room, and height. By comparison, the Mercedes and BMW feel cramped.

HIGHER TRIM LEVELS ADD GREAT FEATURES, SOME WHICH SHOULD BE STADARD

My Q5 was the Premium Plus model, and is priced at $41,500; that’s $4,300 more than the base model. Included is a Panorama Sunroof that runs almost the full length of the roof, with the front half sliding back. This glass roof brightens the cabin and gives it a spacious, open feeling. An electric sliding mesh sunshield can keep the sun’s rays off you; yet still allow the roof to be open, so you get the fresh air. Well done.

That Premium Plus Package also includes Xenon headlights, heated seats with memory, Auto-dimming outside and rearview mirrors, iPod and Bluetooth integration, and a power tailgate. Oddly, you can open the tailgate with the key fob, but can’t close it with the fob. There is a button on the tailgate itself to close it electrically. The cargo area is large and elegantly appointed with flush mounted chrome tie-down rings, and it’s richly carpeted. There are releases for the rear seats to fold flat, but I must admit I wished for the system on the Infiniti that lowers and raises the seats electrically.

Speaking of the key fob, this one’s huge, and must be inserted into the dash to start the vehicle. Audi’s “Advance Key” keyless entry system, with a push button start, comes standard on the Prestige model, which is significantly pricier at $48,200. Note to Audi: make a smaller fob that I can leave in my pocket and make the keyless entry standard.

The outside mirrors are huge, meaning it’s easy to see what’s behind you but in terms of forward view they actually block the driver’s 45-degree view angle. Each has a small indicator light to let you know when the turn signals are flashing but if you want the lane avoidance system that lets you know if there is a car in your blind spot. It would be nice if that feature came standard too, which would have let Audi make significantly smaller mirrors.

The Q5 starts at $37,200, and with the option packages I’ve mentioned, came to $48,750. That’s a stiff number and similar to the BMW X3, but several thousand more than a comparably equipped Infiniti EX35.

THE VERDICT

I liked this Audi a lot, and much more than I thought I would. It separates itself from the other German offerings by being much more user friendly and comfort oriented. Rather than having stiff handling German road manners and jarring ride quality, the Audi pampers you with a well dampened ride and still manages to hold up under hard driving conditions without understeer and or a sloppy feel. Overall, I’d place the Q5 even with the Infiniti on my hit parade, far ahead of its German rivals.

LOVE IT

  • Good performance
  • Luxurious cabin
  • Excellent road manners

LEAVE IT

  • Keyless entry with push button start should be standard
  • Mirrors are too big
  • Lift gate opens but doesn’t close with remote

RELATED READING

2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 – The entry-level luxury crossover segment just got a lot more competitive 2009 BMW X3 xDrive 3.0i – Overpriced and under-performing 2008 Infiniti EX35 Review – A crossover that offers power and solitude

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