2009 Audi Q5: Pleasure is standard equipment

While the automobile world seems unable to separate itself from the global economic crisis, Audi is not only managing to get by much better than many of its competitors, it is even unveiling new models in what are not necessarily the most popular categories. When the sports car market was down, the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer launched the R8 a little less than two years ago, only to do it again with the V10 version at the beginning of this year. The A5 and S5 cabriolets were next, and now it’s the Q7 TDI diesel and the brand new Q5’s turn to enter our market.

Success for Audi doesn’t necessarily mean being one of the first to arrive  in a segment – in fact, it’s quite often the opposite. With the Q7, it was almost the last manufacturer to join the pack and it will be the same thing with the Q5 that is making its debut in our market after beginning its European career in 2008.  In fact, if Audi manages to pull it off, it will be thanks to its excellent quality products and a sensible combination of wisely chosen features. It remains to be seen if the same recipe was used for the Q5.

Familiar silhouette

Stylists in Ingolstadt refused to tinker with the style and risk straying from the look of the Q7, the standard bearer of the brand’s crossovers. They made do with the Q7’s very elegant and well-balanced contours, but modified it just enough to adapt the lines to its intermediate size. This allowed them to avoid the pitfall encountered by their counterparts at BMW who chose to fool around with the X5’s lines for the X3 with a far from convincing result. And since the hood is shorter on the Q5, the vehicle has a more aggressive look.

Basically, this elegant newcomer appears less bulky than the Q7, and like all Audi products it has a stylish passenger compartment with quality materials and a tasteful colour scheme. However, among the differences between the two models’ passenger compartments are the Q5’s less luxurious interior, its indicator dials, and its comfortable but less refined seats.

On the other hand, although the exterior dimensions are smaller than those of the Q7, the available space is sufficient as much in terms of leg room as for elbow and head room. There are two versions in the catalogue, the regular and the Premium. Both versions share the same engine, but the swankier Premium version offers the possibility of a satellite navigation system, a rear camera, an LCD screen and three-zone climate control. There are also BI-XENON headlights on option. Since they are surrounded by LED daytime driving lights, your neighbours will know right away that you went for the top-end model. And on the subject of differences, the more luxurious version will also offer the option of the Bang & Olufsen surround sound system equipped with 14 speakers. In both versions, the MMI single-interface control system comes factory standard.  But this time, that oh-so-annoying miracle button is on the dashboard above the climate controls.

No surprises

Although the mechanical features are among the most modern, this manufacturer doesn’t like to change a winning formula. Audi’s indispensable and beloved front mounted, longitudinal 3.2-litre V6 engine is the only choice, powered by its 230 horses and paired with a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with quattro all-wheel drive. By the way, this transmission is practically a North American exclusive since most of the models sold on European markets will offer a seven-speed gearbox.

Of course, like most German drive trains, this V6 uses only premium gasoline, but the good news is that its fuel consumption should hover around 10 litres per 100 km. It comes standard with 18-inch wheels, but 19- or 20-inch rims can be ordered on the Premium model. As for the price difference between these two models, the asking price for the base model is $43,400, while the Q5 Premium has a suggested retail price of $48,500. From there it’s possible to order the “S Line” Package that includes 20-inch rims for a total of $2,600, the Navigation Package for $3,500 or the “Technology” Package.

More agile than the Q7

Don’t let the heading fool you: the Q7 doesn’t exactly handle like a pachyderm compared to the Q5. The pricier of the two models is longer, wider and more powerful, and very agile for its category but you cannot defy the laws of physics, so the lighter vehicle is more agile, and since its wheel base is shorter, it has a better turning circle.
Like the Q7, this Audi seems as solid as a rock, and the 3.2-litre V6 engine manages very well and features very competitive fuel consumption for the category. According to the manufacturer, it goes from 0-100 km/h in 7.7 seconds and the top speed is 209 km/h. On the highway, the car is quiet and it features excellent longitudinal stability and it corners like it’s on rails. On the other hand, the steering seems quite heavy at times. Personally, that didn’t bother me at all.  On the contrary! I was not able to put the Q5 to the test on rugged terrain, but we already know how efficient the quattro all-wheel drive is, especially now that it has been improved to better use the torque produced by the engine and directing it to the inside wheel in order to reposition the car in a curve.

The model we tried during the presentation came equipped with a system that helps control the firmness of the suspension, the engine’s responsiveness and the power steering at the touch of a button. There are three modes available: auto, comfort and dynamic. As their names indicate, the comfort mode softens the suspension and shortens shifting. The dynamic mode makes the suspension firmer, but above all, it lets you stay in the short gears for a longer period for better accelerations and pick-up and the steering is more direct. This was my favourite setting followed by the automatic mode, which adapts to the road, to the speed and to our driving style. As for comfort mode, it will definitely be appreciated on our roads.

To summarize, this newcomer is as competent and pleasant to drive as the Q7 in a more compact and less costly format. In fact, one of the Q5’s rare faults is that it does not offer the TDI turbodiesel engine like the Q7.

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