Audi’s smaller SUV makes downsizing appealing

Behind the Wheel 2009 Audi Q5Luxury sport utility owners looking to downsize and reduce their gasoline bills will find the move appealing in the new Audi Q5.

Built on a modified platform of the Audi A4 compact sedan, the crossover Q5 SUV is the smaller, lighter weight sibling of the Audi Q7 SUV. It’s $6,300 less in starting retail price than the Q7, has a smaller but still powerful V-6 under the hood and earned top, five-out-of-five-stars safety scores in government frontal and side crash tests.

And the Q5’s government fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway means it has the best mileage rating of any non-hybrid, gasoline, luxury SUV sold in the United States by a European car company.

Best of all, the Q5 is a trendy vehicle that boasts Audi’s handsome styling inside and out, confident road manners and a luxury image.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the five-seat Q5 is $38,025. This includes a 270-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6, six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission and Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

In comparison, the 2009 BMW X3 with 260-horsepower, 3-liter, six-cylinder engine and manual transmission starts at $40,525, while the 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK with four-wheel drive starts at $36,775 and has a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 and automatic transmission.

Smaller SUVs are a busy segment among European carmakers, with the Mercedes GLK debuting as a 2010 model and the Audi Q5 arriving in the States just this past spring.

The test Q5 had good proportions outside, excellent fit and finish and a distinctive black-colored grille that set it apart from other SUVs that wear shiny, silver-colored grilles. The tester also came with optional 19-inch tires and wheels that fit well with the body.

While the Q5 positions its passengers well above the pavement for good views out, it doesn’t look like some bulked-up vehicle set atop a raised platform. Rather, the Q5 has a holistic appeal in a package that’s more than 3 inches narrower and 18 inches shorter, from bumper to bumper, than a Q7.

No one would likely guess the Q5 can tow 4,400 pounds, but it can.

There’s only one engine so far: Audi’s 3.2-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with direct injection of the gasoline into the engine cylinders. Working with a six-speed Tiptronic transmission, the engine provides smooth, satisfying response in both city traffic and on the highway.

Indeed, with a weight of 3,850 pounds, the Q5 feels gutsy, yet well-controlled, in acceleration. Torque peaks at 243 foot-pounds at 3,000 rpm.

There’s no need for a driver to manually turn on the all-wheel drive. It’s Audi’s well-known quattro system that’s on at all times.

In normal driving, 60 percent of the power goes to the rear wheels to provide a rear-wheel drive feel, but when road conditions get slick, up to 65 percent of the power can go to the front wheels.

The all-wheel drive here, given that it’s electronically controlled and doesn’t have a lot of heavy mechanicals, doesn’t impinge much on fuel economy. I managed just under the government’s 20-mpg rating for combined city/highway travel in the test vehicle, and that was without really trying to maximize fuel mileage.

Brakes were awesome, stopping the test vehicle quickly and in determined fashion.

The tester had Audi’s optional driver select package, which includes dynamic steering and adaptive suspension.

The latter worked to keep the Q5 body controlled in aggressive driving, while the former kept steering precise and changed the steering effort needed to move the wheel at different speeds.

There was no loosey-goosey steering feel in this vehicle, and I had a great time driving twisty mountain roads in this road-holding SUV.

There was a bit of road noise from the tires, but it wasn’t obtrusive.

I enjoyed the well-appointed interior that includes standard 12-way power front seats and three-zone climate control.

The black leather on the seats in the tester, the no-nonsense gauges and most controls evoked a serious environment not unlike that of a leather-appointed executive study. A friend who rode with me said he felt like the Q5 was “bullet-proof” because of the quality-sounding thud as the doors closed, the quiet interior and the sense of solidity of the vehicle.

But the optional and huge panorama roof added a light and airy feel, and the optional Bang & Olufsen audio system swelled the interior with crystal clear tunes.

Audi offers many features for the Q5, including a side blind spot alert system that flashes small lights on the outside mirrors to tell a driver when another car is alongside, in the blind spots.

There’s also a power tailgate, navigation system and stainless steel plates at the entrance to the cargo area and at the door sills — all optional.

The only problem is the Q5 price can rise quickly. There’s an $11,000 option package for this vehicle, and while it encompasses a lot of equipment, it’s a high price for an option package nonetheless.

The Q5 has the newest generation of Audi’s Multi Media Interface with its round dial in the center console to adjust nav system, audio, ventilation and other settings. It’s more intuitive than BMW’s i-Drive system, but it still takes some practice.

The Q5 comes standard with much safety equipment, including a full complement of air bags, electronic stability control and antilock brakes.


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