Define the Audi image: The Bavarian anti-BMW.
In Europe, Audi's little A1 is giving the BMW MINI a run for the money. To others, its climb to prestige is what Lexus would have quickly achieved in 1989 if it had the all-important "Made in Germany" label. Still, to others, what BMW is to Lexus, Audi is to Infiniti. Whatever image strikes you, Audi is the fastest growing premium luxury brand, with a model line-up that has a finger in every market pie. Its not as if it's part of the giant Volkswagen Group, which does have a finger in every pie.
Late and its now crowded
It may have taken some 5 years for Audi to introduce the Q5 to rival BMW's first X3 in 2003, but PGA Audi has finally brought it here, just in time for the X3 to evolve into X3 Mark 2 and for Mercedes' GLK to establish its footing. But then, they're not the only competition as Lexus has the formidable RX350 and 450h hybrid, Volvo with its striking XC60, Land Rover and its Freelander, while elsewhere, Volkswagen has the Tiguan, which shares some parts with the Q5. In the North American market, the Infinity EX35, using the Nissan X-trail platform, is rated as another rival. Though not exactly in the same league, North America's Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Explorer serve similar performance and due here soon. Still, Audi's and VW's factories in Central Europe, China, Malaysia and India are up to their chimneys filling orders, specially for the turbo-diesel model.
Full spec typical
Like any PGA specced Audi, the Q5 is packed to the gunwales with standard options for climate, convenience, computing, audio, luxury and performance. The Q5's interior just avoids the overloaded and overwrought look so its got little to do with sparse and bare Audi's of the 70's. Audi always successfully applies the most tasteful combination of shape, texture and touch to fabric, leather, alloy and synthetics. Whatever pundits say about the double panoramic pan-chromatic power roof, the sunscreen and the self-tinting glass does protect you from the heat and all that light truly cheers up a black interior.
Like for like
Exteriorly, the Audi brand equity is getting tighter and tighter. The smaller Q5 has strong styling links to the larger Q7. Such internecine styling links are similar to BMW's tack with the X1 and the new X3. LED lamps front and rear, are in keeping with the latest Audi signature array of bulbs for the daytime running lights.
Only in name
For Audi's "Vorsprung durch Technik" USP (unique selling proposition), the Q5 has the "quattro" smart 4-wheel drive that no one else has. But the only thing it has in common with the Dr. Ferry Piech 1980s rally winning quattro is only the name. Lighter and more efficient electronics has taken over what a lot of epicyclic gears, planetary sets, pinions, synchromesh and alloy casings used to do. Its got a 40:60 front-rear torque split to appeal to drivers used to the "classic" sports car rear wheel drive feel.
Its not a sports car
That's exactly what the Q5 isn't, but it still handles tidily, slipping into safe and secure understeer if you push too hard. Despite the engine cradled almost completely ahead of the front axle, the Q5 never feels nose heavy and turn in is still sharp. The Q5 is based on the Audi modular platform that spawns the A5 and A4 among its stable. Thus the ride is supple like no previous A4 was and it brakes as convincingly as Audi's always do. This is no mean achievement as the Q5 is a taller and more voluminous vehicle. The controls are as intuitive as ever and the buttons and dials as slick to push, prod and twist. The only exception being is that turning up the blower speed is a two step push button and twist knob motion. Visibility is good and the Q5 is compact enough to never intimidate the driver in urban driving. The huge door mirrors is a good verify assist to the blind spot warning system. Steering feel is always a love/hate affair, with us coming down on the side of Audi for choosing the light effort electric PAS (power assisted steering) over the track-biased firm feel kind. Being tuned for the Autobahn, the steering gets firmer at speeds over 120km/h.
One of three now, one more coming
Lets not forget the "Vorsprung durch Technik" engines as all three power plants have something for every budding OC engineer. There's the V6 CRDI turbo diesel shared with the bigger Q7. The 3.2 liter petrol V-6's with Audi's kind of variable valve lift. Initially, PGA offers the 2.0 TFSi with turbo petrol direct injection, but the diesel is coming. The transmissions are also a joy to peruse - 6-speed manual, 8-speed Tiptronic or 7-speed S-tronic automatic clutch. These combinations not only maximize performance but deliver above average fuel economy.
The direct injection TFSi engine, mated to S-tronic is particularly strong in giving the starting line kick or apex clipping thrust that is usually strangled by Euro 5 emissions standards. Driving this engine feels like a return to a high compression supercharged past when more lead in the gasoline meant more performance. The gearshift allow you to shift by handle or paddle. Remember today's oil prices and drive accordingly, and you'll be rewarded with highway consumption of 14.28km/liter. On the other hand, see red and 0-100 comes up in 7.6 seconds while you can top to 219.0km/h, without needing a town's length to reach it.
Style and sweetness
So how does it stack up to the established rivals? The BMW X3 is completely new now and comes only in the more than adequate, performance wise, 4-cylinder turbo CRDI diesel, while Mercedes's GLK only comes in a petrol 3-liter V-6 with a 7-speed auto, as MB's diesel 2.2 CRDI for the GLK is still undergoing homologation trials. The three Germans' sporty attributes make them track circuit ready, unlike the Volvo's XC60 D5 which has a character all its own. The Lexus RX350 lures with its sedan ride even if looks like an SUV. Besides supple ride and safe handling typical in this premium segment, by the looks of it, that if a comparison of the segment rivals is to be concluded, the Audi Q5's greatest draw is its unequaled interior styling/detailing and that wonderful and quiet TFSi engine.