The Audi Q5 is a quick, sweet-handling, tightly built luxury SUV with a pretty and tastefully done interior. Yes, it's selling well; if Audi Canada could get more out of Germany, more Canadians would be buying Q5s.
Especially the base model, the 2.0T, which starts at $41,200 and has a fuel-efficient turbocharged engine - it puts out 211 horsepower and a solid 258 lb-ft of torque and is rated 10.6 litres/100 km city/7.7 highway. Better still for Audi, this version of the Q5 starts at $700 less than the base version of the rival BMW X3 ($41,900), which is newly redesigned.
True, the X3 with its 240-hp, six-cylinder engine is quicker than the Q5 and has some options not offered on the 2.0T. Nonetheless, the Q5 is a compelling alternative to the X3.
No doubt many buyers who want six-cylinder power will opt for the BMW X3 over the V-6-powered Audi Q5 3.2 ($45,500 to start). I would argue, however, that the Q5 2.0T's remarkable turbocharged four-cylinder engine is all the powerplant most will ever need.
And let's not overlook another issue: while the V-6 in the Q5 3.2 is rated at 270 horsepower, it generates only 243 lb-ft of torque - notably less than the turbo four. Meanwhile, the inline-six-cylinder in the BMW X3 xDrive28i generates only 221 lb-ft of torque. It's easy to argue that the engine of choice here is the four-cylinder turbo in the Audi.
Really, it is nearly as quick as the more expensive V-6-powered rivals. Audi says the 2.0T accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 7.3 seconds, compared with just less than 7.0 seconds for the Q5 3.2 and X3 xDrive28i.
Now if you really want to go fast, pay extra for the BMW X3 xDrive35i. It's powered by a 300-hp turbocharged engine, sprints from 0-100 km/h in 5.7 seconds, and starts at $46,900. The moral of the story: if you want the most power, get the X3; if you want fuel economy, enough power and a more elegant execution overall, get the Q5.
In either case, the X3 and the Q5 come standard with all-wheel-drive regardless of engine. However, the Q5 2.0T has Audi's marvellous Tiptronic automatic transmission, a state-of-the-art gearbox that allows the driver to shift manually through the eight gears. The new X3 also comes with an eight-speed tranny, but the Q5 3.2 has an older, six-speed Tiptronic. Another reason to choose the base Q5, in my book.
Let's not overlook the safety story, either, because it's compelling. The Q5 has earned the top "Good" rating in all categories of crash tests from the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Standard equipment includes stability and traction control, front-seat side and head protecting side-curtain airbags. You'll be as safe as can be in the Q5.
You'll also enjoy the behind-the-wheel experience. It would be a stretch to call it "pure joy," but I would say no vehicle in this class is more entertaining to drive. The suspension setup is just stiff enough to deliver sporty handling without being too harsh. The eight-speed Tiptronic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly. Nudge the throttle and off you go, with just the slightest bit of turbo lag when punched but nothing annoying at all. Steering is tight, braking responsive and easy to modulate.
Better than all of that, though, is the cabin. This is a tight package that looks good and is comfortable all around. Standard leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel and aluminum trim give the interior a sporty feel. The front seats are very comfortable and more than supportive; in the rear, foot, knee, and head space are decent for average-size adults.
As for instruments and controls, Audi has done a pretty good job of balancing screen commands with old-fashioned knobs and buttons. Take the way you operate the heated seats: push a button on the central console, spot the dial on the video monitor and manipulate it on the console from settings 1-10. A tidy mix of old and new approaches to basic control.
Still, not all the controls are perfectly intuitive. Why is the trip computer operated via switches on the windshield wiper control arm? For the most part, you should be able to figure everything out without resorting to the owner's manual, but only if you're patient and curious.
An assortment of small luxuries and convenience items rounds out the picture. For example, a cooler box in the glove compartment is handy, a bin under the rear deck is useful for storing dirty or wet items, and a driver's armrest that slides backward and forward to accommodate drivers of different heights makes a lot of sense.
Cargo capacity isn't bad, either, and it expands if you fold down the rear seats - which do so in a 60/40-split. If you plan to tow, the maximum rating is 2,000 kg. A roof rack is standard, too.
2011 Audi Q5 2.0T
Type: Compact luxury SUV
Price: $41,200 ($1,995 freight)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged
Horsepower/torque: 211 hp/258 lb-ft
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city/7.7 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLK350, Volvo XC60, Infiniti EX35
Correction: The Audi Q5 2.0T at the Premium Plus trim level (base MSRP $45,300) offers both a navigation package ($3,200) and a Bang & Olufsen sound system ($1,100). Incorrect information appeared in an earlier online version.