Audi is gradually dipping its toe into every area of the luxury vehicle pond. Four-door sedans of every size? Been there. Two-seat roadster? Done that. Midengine exotic supercar? Bought the T-shirt. With several rivals, the German luxury brand is now diving into the rapidly deepening compact luxury crossover segment with the 2009 Audi Q5. Whether it sinks or swims will depend on how well the tried-and-true Audi formula translates to this new niche. We say "swims," but the Q5 comes with a hefty price tag that may leave its appealing competitors with a leg up.
Based on Audi's A4 sedan and resembling a shrunken Q7, the Q5 will never be mistaken for anything other than an Audi. The crossover has all the typical design cues inside and out. Under the hood is a more powerful version of the 3.2-liter V6 available in the A4, which feeds all four wheels through Audi's ubiquitous Quattro system.
As such, the 2009 Audi Q5 feels and drives similar to any Audi not called TT or R8 -- there certainly won't be any surprises for loyal customers. It's also one of the sportiest entries in the compact luxury crossover class, a compelling standout in a field where it's difficult to declare a clear leader. Ultimately, your choice may come down to style (advantage Audi) and/or price (disadvantage Audi).
Our nearly loaded test car rung in at $48,275, which is steep, but also the result of excessive options selection. Similarly equipped competitors like the Lexus RX 350 and Mercedes-Benz GLK350 would be the same price. However, the Q5's base price is dearer than those models, as well as the more family-oriented Volvo XC60 and sport-tuned Infiniti EX35. As such, we suggest exploring all members of this rapidly expanding market niche, as each offers its own unique take. It's a big pond; go out and swim.
The 2009 Audi Q5 Quattro comes only with a 3.2-liter V6 good for 270 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque, connected to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. This is a strong engine that delivers class-competitive acceleration from zero to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds. The brakes are also on par with its main competition, bringing the Q5 to a stop from 60 in 123 feet, though the firm pedal feel is especially confidence-inspiring. Fuel economy is higher than its rivals, with EPA estimates of 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
Optional on the Q5 is the $2,950 Audi Drive Select, a technology that allows you to alter the car's steering quickness and effort, suspension firmness, throttle response and transmission shift response. Drivers can choose among Comfort, Dynamic, Auto (which optimizes the various aspects for the present driving condition) and Individual (which allows you to set each separate aspect into its Comfort or Dynamic modes).
This type of choice appeals in theory, but in reality, it was hard not to feel like Goldilocks choosing between one setting that was too hard and another that was too soft. And besides, the Dynamic mode might have made the Q5 "feel" sportier, but its track-testing handling numbers are no better than those of the comfier-riding Benz GLK and Volvo XC60.
If the 2009 Audi Q5 is anything like the Audi A4, which also is available with Drive Select, the standard setup should be just right for all but the most enthusiastic drivers. If you're really into spirited driving, buy the more nimble Audi A4 Avant.
The steering, in true Audi form, is an extreme example of speed-proportional power assist. In parking lots (regardless of Drive Select), the wheel can be twirled around with the force of a baby's finger. When driven aggressively (especially in Dynamic mode), it weights up well, being tighter on center and exhibiting more feedback.
Between those two speeds, it can be difficult to tell when that weighting will assert itself. We started calling it random-assist power steering. Slow down for a turn into a parking lot, expect loosey-goosey effort and you'll get stiff-armed instead. The other way around can lead to steering more than is needed -- more irritating than dangerous.
The 2009 Audi Q5 is a veritable cocoon of comfort: quiet with a compliant ride. Road and wind noise are suppressed better than in its competitors, while its firm and supportive seats make road trips a welcome proposition. Tall and short drivers alike were able to find an acceptable driving position.
The backseat is about average for this compact crossover segment, with just enough head- and legroom for most occupants. Thankfully, the optional panoramic sunroof didn't impinge upon headroom as it can in other crossovers. However, families will find the Q5's aft quarters to be tight compared to the XC60 and midsize models like the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 350.
As with most Audis, the Q5's major cabin functions are controlled by the Multi Media Interface or MMI, which consists of a large screen operated by a knob and buttons grouped on the center console. Without the navigation option, these are inexplicably located farther away on the dash. Either way, MMI has been upgraded for the Q5, leading to more user-friendly navigation use and improved radio control. The optional iPod interface in particular is excellent. Still, some technophobe car buyers may find the setup a bit overwhelming, preferring the more traditional layouts in the XC60 and GLK.
The same can be said for the dual-zone climate controls. Two large knobs (one each for the driver and passenger) adjust fan speed, air direction and the heated seats, but require you to first press a button that corresponds with each. There's also no "sync" function that allows you to tie the driver and passenger temperature settings together.
As a utility vehicle, the 2009 Audi Q5 lives up to its compact crossover descriptor. With the 60/40-split rear seat raised, there are 29.1 cubic feet of available space. This is numerically more than the GLK, but the area is shorter in height and narrower, making hauling bulky items and golf clubs harder. Duffers with longer drivers will need to place their bag diagonally.
Like the backseat, the Q5's cargo area should be big enough for most shoppers in this segment, but be aware that certain competitors offer more. A child seat will certainly fit in the Audi's rear seat, but it's a cleaner fit in others like the XC60, RX 350 and MDX. There is no factory-installed rear-seat entertainment system available.
Design/Fit and Finish
The Q5 looks unmistakably like an Audi and is built unmistakably like one, too. The front and rear fascias appear sourced from one of those "what would our baby look like?" Web sites, with Audi's A3 and Q7 serving as parents. The cabin is much of the same, with a look that's tough to tell apart from the Q7 or A4.
Interior materials quality and craftsmanship are second to none, with textures and surfaces that are as pleasing to touch as they are to view. Buttons, switches and knobs operate with a richly damped fluidity that encourages you to press and prod them just for the fun of it.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2009 Audi Q5 should appeal most to DINKs (Double-Income, No Kids) and empty nesters who want a more reasonably sized luxury SUV. Families may find the Q5 a bit wanting for space, in which case the Volvo XC60 and Lexus RX 350 might better suit their needs. The Q5 is also one of the priciest models in the segment, with a base price that's thousands more than most of its competition.
† Edmunds.com received the highest numerical score in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study℠. Results based on responses from 3,381 responses, measuring 14 companies and measures third-party automotive website usefulness among new and used vehicle shoppers. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of owners surveyed from January 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.