Small SUVs present a good compromise of practical cabin space, carlike drivability, and good fuel economy. Or, at least, they should. But some small SUVs we've tested failed on that third trait. Theand the turned in worse economy than we expected, but the 2009 Audi Q5 should serve as an example to those other car companies of how to do it right.
Motivated by a relatively small engine, the Q5 delivers impressive performance along with reasonable fuel economy. And with Audi's new Drive Select system, the Q5 transforms from a cruiser to a canyon carver at the touch of a button. This is the first Audi we've seen with the new Multimedia Interface (MMI) controller, which also brings in a new hard-drive-based navigation system. With the added storage space, it incorporates some very detailed 3D maps.
As the Q5 is a completely new model for Audi, it doesn't suffer from legacy issues, getting the new cabin tech package from the start. The previous generation MMI, which we last saw in the , uses a knob surrounded by a quartet of buttons. The new MMI merely adds a small finger-movable joystick on top of the knob, the only advantage being that you can use the joystick to move a cursor around on a map. Not a huge improvement, but it sure makes map navigation a lot easier.
Downtown San Francisco is rendered in detail on the Q5's 3D map.
The new navigation system puts the Q5 light years ahead of other Audi models. On first getting into the car and checking the maps, we were pleased to see traffic flow and incident information overlaid on nearby freeways. Putting the map into 3D mode, the whole of downtown San Francisco came to life with video-game-quality rendering. There was the pyramid-shaped Transamerica building, and there the carnelian-covered Bank of America tower rising above a landscape of lesser buildings.
These virtual cityscapes look impressive and can be useful when you're lost in real-world concrete canyons, providing an aerial view so you can find your way out. Along with 3D buildings, the Q5's maps also show topographical information, which proved very useful as we flogged the car around the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Although the addition of the joystick makes map input easy, manually entering addresses is still somewhat tedious, as you have to select each number and letter with the knob. Using this knob reminded us of old rotary telephones, and the reason why every new phone has a keypad. But there is voice command, too, and it works very well. Using it to enter a destination, we said the name of a city, and it presented a list of what it thought we said. Our chosen city was at the top of the list. Next, it understood the name of the street we asked for, and voila, our destination was programmed. Taking a step toward natural language, the navigation system will list nearby restaurants if you say "I'm hungry," or ATMs if you say "I need money."
Select driving mode
Before setting out in the Audi Q5, we had a choice to make: Would we want a comfortable or dynamic driving experience? This Q5 came equipped with the optional Drive Select feature, which we first saw in the . Drive Select adjusts the suspension, gearbox, and steering for different types of driving, letting you choose Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, or Individual. The Auto setting changes the components between Comfort and Dynamic settings on an as-needed basis. For example, if you start driving aggressively, it will move the gearbox and suspension to Dynamic. For the Individual setting, you can use the MMI to set the steering, suspension, and gearbox individually for comfort or dynamic driving.
You can tailor the Individual setting for the Drive Select feature to your driving preferences.
On the comfort setting, the Audi Q5 didn't exactly waft like a Rolls-Royce, instead feeling like a fairly typical car. The Q5's very responsive 3.2-liter V-6, using direct injection, delivers 270 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. That's enough power to move the Q5 quickly, making for fast takeoffs from a traffic light or adroit passing maneuvers. Although an automatic, the six-speed gearbox wasn't hesitant about downshifting, always willing to find a lower gear when we wanted power. At a claimed 6.7 seconds to 60 mph, the Q5 is no supercar, but the transmission is so effective in meeting the driver's desires that it feels fast.
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.
With the new hard-drive-based navigation system, you can copy MP3 files from a CD to the car.
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.
The Dynamic mode for Drive Select works like a sport mode on the six-speed automatic transmission.
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|