For reasons I can’t understand, small luxury crossover vehicles are very popular in North America. European manufacturers have all but stopped importing wagons to our shores, instead choosing to send us crossover vehicles with higher centers of gravity, less efficient engines, and higher profit margins. Audi’s entry in this segment is the Q5.
I’ve spent a week each in the Volvo XC60, Mercedes-Benz GLK 350, and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, so I’m fairly familiar with what this class has to offer, having missed only the BMW X3, and perhaps the Acura RDX as competition.
Around the exterior, the Q5’s identity is clearly Audi, with its single-frame grill, LED running lights, and instantly-recognizeable Teutonic styling. Inside, the cabin layout and appearance also follow Audi’s family design values, looking very familiar to me based on time spent over the past year in A5, A6, and A7 models. Materials used in the Q5’s cabin are nice, including the soft-touch dash materials, wood trim on the dash, console and doors, and soft leather, which was a rich-looking Cinnamon Brown hue in the test car.
Despite the Audi’s decidedly German interior design, the wide, flat seats seems to be built for stereotypical American posteriors. The front seats lack meaningful bolstering and have bottom cushions that are a bit too short to be supportive and comfortable. Too, the armrests on the front doors end a bit forward of the door’s rear edge, meaning that when the seat is adjusted rearward for my 6’4” frame to drive, my elbow is too far rearward to reach the armrest. The front doors do have integral pockets and bottle holders, and cup two cup holders are located in the center console. The center console has a small storage bin; there is a sunglass holder in the ceiling console though it was not deep enough for my Ray Bans.
While a relatively tall windshield and tall side windows provide good visibility out front, and large (electrochromatic dimming) exterior mirrors help with rearward visibility when underway, the thick D-pillars and small rear-quarter windows which are mostly blocked by the rear headrests make maneuvering in tight spaces a challenge. Fortunately, the Q5 I tested had a reverse camera as well as front and rear parking sensors. The camera image is displayed on the MMI screen, and was typically quick to boot and open when starting the Q5 and shifting to reverse.
Although the interior is logically laid and gauges are generally clear and legible, I did have a complaint about the speedometer. For some reason, the numerals for 20 and 40 MPH did not align on the speedometer with the actual gauge markings for those speeds. When the needle was centered on the numerals for “20”, the vehicle was acutally traveling 25 MPH, When centered on “40,” the vehicle was actually traveling 45 MPH. By 60 MPH, the numerals do align with the gauge markings. Unfortunately, the speeds between zero and 40 MPH are important ones to be able to read clearly at a glance while driving around town. The speedometer’s numbers go all the way to 180 MPH (which is far beyond the Q5’s capabilities); perhaps the indicated speed would have been clearer if the numbers could have been spaced out a bit on the dial. That complaint aside, instrumentation was otherwise clear and easy to read at a glance. The Q5 has white and red instrument illumination, and all switchgear illuminates in a red which doesn’t seem as legible at night as different colors used by other automakers.
Rear seats are comfortably high off the floor and have adequate legroom. The seats slide fore/aft in a 60/40 split, though even in their rear-most position there is not much legroom, at least not when the driver’s seat is adjusted for my 6’4” frame to drive. The seatbacks fold forward in a 60/40 split as well, with a center pass-through also available. If the rear seats have been slid forward, they leave a gap at the forward edge of the cargo floor which would allow cargo to fall behind or below the rear seats. The back seats do have adjustable backrest rake, and there are two cupholders in the center armrest plus bottle pockets in the rear doors and net pockets on the front seatbacks. Because the panoramic sunroof’s opening panel opens outside of the car, rear seat headroom is expansive.
The cargo area employs a rigid cover that can be removed to expand height in the boot. I was actually able to fit my bike in the back, after removing the bike’s seat and front wheel, utilizing the pass-through so that my children could still ride in the back seat; I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to make that work.
The Q5’s primary tail lamps are located on the wide tailgate, and are pointing at the sky when the tailgate is open. For that reason (to comply with traffic laws, knowing that people must sometimes drive with the hatch open), there is a duplicate set of taillamps in the back bumper that operate only when the tailgate is open. In the name of a thorough review, I started the Q5 in my driveway and put on the lights and and a turn signal, and then went out back and opened the hatch; when the tailgate started to open, the lights on the hatch went out and corresponding ones in the bumper started working. It seems like a lot of extra effort to implement that lighting just for when the hatch is open, though it did work well.
The Q5 employs Audi’s MMI system; our tester actually had MMI Plus with Navigation. The MMI system is operated by controls located on the center console behind the gear selector: a joystick-type knob which rotates and can be depressed to select, which is surrounded by “soft keys” that correspond to the four corners of the display screen where words corresponding to commands are displayed. Located beyond those soft keys are a set of eight more buttons, arranged in paired groups (TEL/NAME; NAV/INFO; MEDIA/RADIO; CAR/SETUP). Those buttons are used to select the function being controlled. The high-resolution color screen is not a touchscreen, meaning that all interaction with the system requires use of the knob and buttons described above. The system does take some getting used to, as the central knob is rotated counter-clockwise to scroll down lists (clockwise would be more intuitive), and the system seemed to default to tuning radio stations rather than presets. A set of assigned hard-keys for a few favorite presets (as BMW uses with their iDrive system) would be useful. Fortunately, the Q5 did come equipped with a speech recognition feature which could be used for commanding phone calls and entering navigation destinations; that simplified use of the system somewhat. That being said, even after a week with the system, I didn’t find its use intuitive.
While the phone, navigation, audio, and vehicle setup relies on the MMI screen, the climate control has discrete buttons on the dash. The Q5 has dual-zone climate control (with fan speed controllable for each zone). Heated seats are controlled by pushing the relevant seat control button, then rotating the temperature knob to select the desired heat setting between 0 and 6 based on a window that appears in the MMI window.
The Q5 is available with two engine choices, a 2.0 liter turborcharged four cylinder good for 211 HP, and the 3.2 liter V6 tested here, which produces 270 HP. While the Q5 feels compact from the driver’s seat and gives the impression it should be nimble and eager, high steering effort and the 3.2’s reluctance to rev give the impression of the Q5 being weighted down, making me wonder if the 200 lb weight difference between the 2.0T and the 3.2 was responsible for that particular feeling. That said, the six-speed automatic transmission with Tiptronic does shift quickly, and does so with satisfying speed in sport and manual modes. In (normal) Drive the transmission does tend to upshift quickly (likely in a bid for fuel economy). Note that the base 2.0T four-cylinder comes with an eight-speed automatic instead. Though I haven’t sampled the Q5 2.0T, other staffers have been impressed by its real-world acceleration, particularly given the cost and weight savings.
While I didn’t think the 3.2 liter V6 suited the Q5 particularly well, I was truly impressed with the Q5’s suspension tuning. The Q5’s suspension was car-like, well-damped and communicative. While some SUVs and CUVs have softly sprung suspensions with too much travel, the Q5’s suspension felt tuned for on-road driving with good feedback for the driver. The truth of the Q5’s suspension became even clearer when my test of the Q5 ended and I got in to a Volvo XC70. Despite the Volvo’s wagon roots, it’s suspension was very softly sprung, making it not as enjoyable to drive enthusiastically.
During my week with the Q5, I covered 275 miles, mostly around town in my Seattle-area suburb. Somehow I failed to reset the trip computer’s fuel economy meter, so I can only report that I had about 1/8 tank of Premium Unleaded fuel remaining, and that the trip computer was reporting 22.4 MPG over 2366 miles at an average speed of 25.2 MPH, which is somewhat better economy than I would expect.
The 2012 Audi Q5 3.2 quattro Tiptronic starts at $43,000. Standard on the Premium Plus trim level (which is the entry trim level for 3.2-equipped Q5 models) is a panoramic roof which stretches entirely over the rear seat. The Q5 I tested was equipped with optional Audi MMI Navigation plus package for $3000, which includes 1 CD/DVD player & HD radio, HDD Navigation with voice control, MMI high-resolution control panel, color driver information screen, and front and rear acoustic parking sensors. Including the $875 destination charge, the final MSRP was $46,875.
Though the Q5 is sized very similarly to the other vehicles in its class, I spent my week in the Q5 feeling like it was a smaller vehicle. Most interior dimensions other than headroom are actually very similar to those in Audi’s A4 Avant. To my eyes the Q5 is more attractive than the Mercedes GLK and and has far better usability than the Range Rover Evoque, though the Evoque and the Volvo XC60 are both more stylish than the Audi. Of course, styling is subjective, and anybody buying one of these $45k-plus luxury crossovers will have their own priorities for selecting a car.
Audi provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.