Cruising on the freeway, the Q5 makes a few more qualities apparent. The steering is responsive, good for quick lane changes. The cabin is also quite comfortable, with good sound insulation from the outside world. A panoramic sunroof, another option on this car, provides a beautiful sky view for rear seat passengers. But, most important, the car also has Audi's Side Assist feature, a blind-spot detection system that turns on a bank of yellow lights in the side view mirror casing when a car is in one of the Q5's blind spots. This system gives extra assurance for safe lane changes, but it doesn't work below about 30 mph.
Damping out external noise comes in especially handy when the Q5 is equipped with the optional Bang & Olufsen audio system. With a 10-channel 505-watt amp and 14 speakers, including a center channel and subwoofer, this system has plenty of hardware for good quality music reproduction. Bang & Olufsen pushes it over the top by including, along with the standard woofers and tweeters around the cabin, a set of surround speakers to enhance the audio. The result is high-quality reproduction with very clean sound. It delivers excellent separation among individual instruments, exposing different layers in a recording. Our only criticism is that the subwoofer matches only the door woofers in output--its deep bass makes for a richer overall sound, but you won't be setting off any car alarms with it.
For audio sources, Audi offers its Music Interface, a proprietary port in the glove box with cables for an iPod, USB, mini-USB, and 1/8-inch mini-jack. The multiple cables seem a little excessive, as other automakers simply use a USB port for a digital audio hookup. Also, a console mounting point would be more convenient than the glove box. A single slot for CD or audio DVD sits on the stack, with two SD card slots below it. And, of course, there's satellite radio. But the new navigation system adds another source: internal music storage on the hard drive. We put an MP3 CD into the slot, then copied music from it to the car. The system parses MP3 tags for both iPod integration and music stored on the hard drive, letting you browse by artist, album, and genre.
Unchanged from previous models, the phone system is still very good, easily pairing with Bluetooth phones and making contact lists available on the car's LCD. Although it was the height of technology for a number of years, Ford and Kia are offering a system that lets you dial a number by speaking a person's name.
Leaving the freeway for the twisting roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains, we found out what the Dynamic setting of the Drive Select system could do. The transmission suddenly showed a preference for lower gears; the suspension hardened, making the Q5 feel as if it had hunkered down close to the road; and the steering, well, that could only be experienced by taking corners at speed, and even then it's barely fathomable. Audi's press materials talk about dynamic steering in terms of a "backlash-free superposition gear" and a ratio that varies by almost 100 percent. What it boils down to is the Q5 delivering sports car handling when pushed hard into a corner.
Taking the first few turns, we showed proper caution, given that the Q5 is an SUV. But as it became clear the car's dynamic settings could easily handle the speed, we pushed it further. Driving hard into a corner, the car stuck to the line we set. It leaned a little as the inertial forces pulled on the high-sitting body, but not nearly as much as we would expect. As the stress increased on the tires, we sensed something odd happening below us. The car felt like it was alive, and working in concert with our purpose of coming through the turn. Audi says its dynamic steering technology works as part of the electronic stability program, helping to keep the car stable by counter-steering when necessary. Selective wheel braking only takes over as a last resort, where in most cars, electronic stability relies solely on wheel braking.
Of course, Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system works into that cornering equation as well. The latest incarnation of Quattro not only shunts torque between front and rear wheels, but also between the left and right rear wheels. Quattro does an excellent job of giving the Q5 superior handling, such that you would have to push it very hard to get a slide.
The six-speed automatic transmission doesn't have a sport mode, but the dynamic setting works just the same. The programming here is done well, as the transmission quickly downshifted when we hit the brakes before a turn, and always seemed to be in the right gear to help us power out of a corner. We were amazed what we could do with the bulky-looking Q5, and found it one of the best-handling SUVs we've driven.
It also didn't disappoint for fuel economy. The EPA rates it at 18 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. During our time with the car, it turned in an average economy rating of about 20 mpg. Although not a spectacular number, it's much better than some other SUVs we've tested, and reasonable for the Q5.
We found a lot to like about the 2009 Audi Q5, from its cabin gadgets to its performance technology. The new navigation system pushes it up the scale for its cabin tech rating, along with the phone and audio systems. That wonderful Drive Select technology gives it a big bump for the performance tech score, along with its well-tuned engine and Quattro system. It doesn't do as well for design, as the MMI isn't our favorite cabin tech controller. As for the look of the car, it's generally unassuming, although we do like the LED parking lights.
|Model||2009 Audi Q5|
|Powertrain||3.2-liter direct injection V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard drive-based with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||single CD/DVD-audio, MP3 capable|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, USB drive, mini-USB devices, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Standard Bang & Olufsen 14 speaker 505 watt|
|Driver aids||Blind spot detection, Rear view camera with trajectory lines|
|Price as tested||$52,475|