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If you're looking for a definition of what Audi is about, you don't have to look much further than the 2009 Audi Q5. Of course, if you're looking for some kind of premium flagship, then the Audi guys will wave you over to the midengine R8 sports car or perhaps the S5 coupe or even the Q7 V10 turbodiesel sport-utility.
These are fine pieces, sparkling evidence of Audi's ability to think laterally and develop examples of unexpectedly useful technology, a tradition that began with the inline-5 engine, moved on into all-wheel drive and has since popularized everything from direct fuel injection to LED running lights. For all this, though, Audi's strength continues to be simple transportation, vehicles that take you down the road and deliver you safely. You know, sensible stuff.
And the 2009 Audi Q5 expresses these sensible values. It's stylish, luxurious and powerful, yet this is an Audi that's content to be itself, rather than striving to be an alternative to a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz or even a Porsche.
All Things to All People
At its entry-level price of $37,200, the Q5 is a rival to the Infiniti EX35 and the Lexus RX 350. Add all the convenience features on the options list and the $49,000 Q5 Prestige ranks with the way the BMW X3, Land Rover LR2 and Mercedes-Benz GLK are usually equipped. And thanks to electronics that help configure the Q5's power, handling and control feel for the sporting driver, this Audi also tries to deliver the personalized performance of the new coupe-style crossovers like the BMW X6 and forthcoming Acura ZDX. The Audi Q5 makes the idea of being all things to all people into something good.
Scaled up from the platform of the Audi A4 sedan, the Q5 measures 182 inches overall, 74.8 inches wide and 65.2 inches high. It's a couple inches longer than a BMW X3, Land Rover LR2 and Mercedes-Benz GLK, roughly the same size as an Infiniti EX35 and Volvo XC60, and a handful of inches shorter than a Lexus RX 350.
Of all its competition, the 2009 Audi Q5's 110.5-inch wheelbase is the longest, which helps maximize interior passenger volume. Indeed, the Q5 affords 101.5 cubic feet of living space, with 29.1 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the second seat and 67.3 cubic feet with the second seat folded. In comparison, the Lexus RX 350 has 100.9 cubic feet of interior passenger space, 40 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the second seat and 80.3 cubic feet of capacity when the second seat is folded.
The Audi Vector
None of this matters when you're rolling down the road, because the Q5 brings the refinement of an Audi to the whole highway proposition. There's none of the carved-from-carbon-steel, heavy-footed German thing that makes the Audi Q7 feel like a Hummer in a Hugo Boss suit.
The ride is supple for a crossover, even with the optional 19-inch 235/55R19 Goodyear LS2 tires, and the overall message is refinement instead of ersatz off-road capability. Somehow the A4's newly rearranged drivetrain components and the latest torque split for the all-wheel-drive system (40 percent front/60 percent rear) seem to make a more noticeable difference in this 4,327-pound package than the 3,870-pound 2008 Audi A4 sedan we last tested.
As with any crossover, there is a lot of weight to move around, but the 3.2-liter Audi V6 does a good job of it. Though this engine seems to lack any sort of personality, it delivers 270 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 243 pound-feet of torque at 3,000. You don't have to twist it hard enough to get peak output, as the standard six-speed automatic sweeps you along on the broad crest of the torque curve. The Q5 gets to 60 mph from a standstill in 6.8 seconds (6.5 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and on to the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds at 93.1 mph.
What makes the 2009 Audi Q5 unique among its competition is the fact that it can move around all this weight in a different style that depends on the way you set the optional Audi Drive Select. The Q5's electronics configure throttle response, transmission shift points, steering effort and suspension setting according to four different parameters: Comfort, Automatic, Dynamic and Individual.
This system might sound like a gimmick, but the difference in the way the Q5 behaves is immediately noticeable whenever you switch from mode to mode. When it came to acceleration, we discovered a half-second difference in quarter-mile time between Automatic mode with the stability control engaged and Dynamic mode with the stability control switched off.
Around the skid pad, the Q5 records 0.80g in Dynamic, and while the stability control remained active at the limit even when switched off, it intervenes very precisely, first trimming speed with brake applications before chopping the throttle. We noticed a distinct difference in steering effort between the Comfort and Dynamic modes. Under braking, the Q5 stops from 60 mph in 117 feet, and the brakes are effective and fade-free on every stop, while Dynamic mode makes a slight bit of difference in reducing brake dive.
Through the slalom, the Q5 proves surprisingly well balanced, and it turns into the gates crisply with a sensation of nicely weighted steering — very different from any Audi of only a few years ago. The stability control remains active and grabs the front brakes very aggressively — the sort of anti-rollover thing you find in any tall utility vehicle — but it still turns a speed of 61.9 mph.
Audi Does Utility
All this talk about driving dynamics is a little beside the point, though, as a utility vehicle — especially an Audi utility vehicle — is meant to be a little bit more about the experience of riding in the vehicle than operating the machinery.
And it's a fine ride. As always, the aesthetic experience is wonderful, as the combination of high-quality, soft-touch materials, design architecture that doesn't try to visually intimidate you, and a sound driving position really set any Audi apart from the competition. The field of view is commanding, obstructed only by the outside rearview mirrors, devices that seem to grow ever larger by federal mandate, which is one reason why you never see anyone turn their head to check a vehicle's blind spot before changing lanes (much less use the turn signal).
And as a utility vehicle should be, the 2009 Audi Q5 is a little miracle of clever utility. The engine oil level is monitored electronically. There's blind-spot protection warning. There are spaces for 1-liter water bottles in every door and a thermo-controlled cupholder in the center console. The seats are great and three-zone air-conditioning is standard. The power tailgate is broad and helps promote a low liftover height into the cargo compartment. There are levers in the cargo area to flip down the second-row seats for loading convenience.
The U.S.-specification Q5 also comes already equipped with a towing package as standard equipment, and it's rated for 4,400 pounds, which is 900 pounds more than the best of its competition. There's even a special sensor that recalibrates the stability control when the electronics detect that the roof rack is being used, since the vehicle's center of gravity has changed.
The Q5 also incorporates the new third-generation MMI interface for the navigation and infotainment systems, so good in its combination of layout and controls that the new BMW iDrive is simply a pretty frank copy. We like the new terrain mode, which gives you a true three-dimensional view of the oncoming road using terrain data originally recorded by the space shuttle.
The Price of Performance
You get a lot with the 2009 Audi Q5 when it's equipped with the Prestige package, but you also pay a lot — $49,025 for the vehicle you see here. Considering the Q5 is meant to belong to the class of relatively compact crossovers, it's difficult to rationalize when an Audi A6 sedan is staring you in the face for the same price. We found ourselves looking closely at the $37,200 price of a base-model Q5 and wondering what it would be like, while simultaneously scanning this vehicle's options list and wondering what we'd delete (to some, the Drive Select system and 19-inch wheels seemed likely targets).
Maybe this is a lesson that crossovers are not part-time utility boxes. Instead they are what they were meant to be, sedans that have been stretched and folded into a slightly different shape. There is no price discount just because it has a tall roof and a clamshell hatch.
But there could be a more affordable version of the Q5 on the way, as the Audi people tell us candidly that the newfound appreciation among Americans for the price of gasoline (and all things automotive in general) has made it likely that we'll soon see this crossover with the turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 with its 211 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque.
For all this, though, the 2009 Audi Q5 makes sense to us in a way that few other crossovers do. After all, making sense is the Audi way.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says:
It seems like a foregone conclusion that Audi would produce this vehicle. Heck, Acura, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz each have one. Of course, this means the Q5 might get lost in the sea of small crossover utility vehicles that already litter the multilevel parking structures here in L.A. I hope it succeeds, and here's why.
Dynamically, the Q5 is pretty special. Unlike some of its natural competitors, it successfully walks the tightrope between too-boring luxury and too-harsh performance. Of course, this attribute could also be its undoing, as it could earn criticism for being neither smooth nor fun. But I'd disagree with that.
The 3.2-liter V6 is more than sufficient to propel the 4,300-pound all-wheel-drive Q5, and the multimode transmission is well matched with the output. The steering isn't too light (unlike like that of pre-2009 Audi products), and the nifty Comfort/Auto/Dynamic/Individual meta-controller offers palpable differences in vehicle behavior. My only dynamic gripe is that the Q5 could've benefited from more rear-bias within its AWD system — like the so-not-like-an-Audi S5 so obviously has. There's still a teeny-weeny bit of understeer on the limit (and non-defeat stability control), so a slight sharpening up wouldn't hurt it otherwise.
Think of the Q5 as a plus-size Volkswagen R32 hot hatch and I think you'll agree it's got something none of the other German or Japanese compact crossovers have, and that's an ability to appeal to a wide range of people looking for a premium utility vehicle with few compromises.
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