2013 Audi Q5 First Drive

2013 Audi Q5 First Drive

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Midlife Upgrades for an Unexpected Sales Star

Some vehicles hit a sweet spot for no apparent reason. Originally launched in 2008, the Audi Q5 wasn't groundbreaking in any way. It was not only late to its segment, it didn't offer anything particularly new or innovative either. Yet despite its unheralded entrance, it quickly became one of Audi's best-selling models.

Compact yet versatile, it appealed both to social climbers and image-conscious downsizers. Four years on from its launch and faced with renewed competition from the BMW X3 and Range Rover Evoque, the 2013 Audi Q5 has been given a refresh.

It looks and feels familiar but subtle revisions freshen its appearance, while changes to the engine lineup give it more versatility than ever.

A Minor Nip and Tuck
Audi rarely rolls out revolutionary designs anymore. Even its all-new models are instantly familiar, so it's no surprise that the Q5 face-lift amounts to little more than a squirt of Botox.

The original trapezoidal grille has been given a couple of extra corners, while the front fender has been redesigned and incorporates chrome-ringed foglights. At the rear there are revised LED lights and a new diffuser that incorporates a pair of chrome-trimmed exhausts. Audi's design gurus say the changes serve to visually lower the car, which they do in a very subtle, almost indistinguishable way. The Q5 still doesn't have the visual impact of the fashion-focused Evoque, but many Audi customers may see that as a virtue.

Inside, the changes are even more subtle. There are new instrument needles, a revised steering wheel and a new ignition key design. There's also a new range of colors, although we remain intrigued by the difference between Pistachio and Truffle Beige, which can be combined with beige headlining and beige carpet. Never let it be said that Audi's stylists aren't sometimes beige in their outlook.

Dubious color schemes aside, the 2013 Audi Q5 cabin remains the usual mix of good taste and exceptional build quality. There's even a temperature-controlled cupholder capable of chilling or heating your beverage of choice. No doubt the product of hundreds of hours of German engineering, it works well.

The Engines Are the News
First, the bad news. In Europe, Audi has comprehensively updated its 2.0 TFSI engine so that it now produces 225 horsepower. But the revisions were significant enough to require recertification with U.S. authorities for approval, a process that Audi says now costs too much to make it cost-effective. As a result, we'll continue to get the current 2.0 TFSI, which delivers a more modest 211 hp.

Now the good news. Audi will be replacing the 3.2-liter V6 with its newer and more powerful supercharged 3.0-liter engine. This 2,995cc V6 develops 268 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque from 2,150-4,780 rpm. These figures represent a 2 hp and a 52 lb-ft improvement over the 3.2-liter it replaces.

Fitted as standard with Audi's excellent eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, the 3.0 TFSI is capable, says Audi, of zero to 62 mph in 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 145 mph. From the driver seat, the only real indication that it's supercharged is the confident slug of low-to-midrange torque. In many ways, it behaves more like a modern diesel than a traditional gasoline engine.

Still Sedate Behind the Wheel
The big change to the driving experience is the introduction of electromechanical power steering, which alters its level of assistance according to vehicle speed. In contrast to a hydraulic system, which constantly draws energy from the engine, the electromechanical system operates only when necessary. If you're going in a straight line, it effectively disappears.

The efficiency benefits of an electric system are not in dispute but in common with a number of similar systems from rival manufacturers. Unfortunately, the Audi setup is disappointingly devoid of feel. At low speeds in particular it feels horribly artificial. If Audi, like BMW, continues to aspire to be regarded as a sporting alternative, then details like this are critical to improve.

Audi claims to have tweaked the setup of the five-link front and trapezoidal rear suspension, too. From behind the wheel, the changes are subtle at best. The 2013 Audi Q5 remains a capable companion, with well-contained body roll for an SUV. The ride quality is still a little too stiff, though, especially if you opt for the S line sport suspension.

A Diesel Conundrum
Audi is currently in the process of certifying the 3.0 TDI engine for launch next year. A mainstay of Audi's larger sedans and SUVs in Europe, its impact could be significant. Over 40 percent of Q7s sold in the U.S. and more than 50 percent of A3s now run on diesel fuel. We wouldn't be too surprised if the Q5 achieves a similar rate of success.

The 2,967cc V6 produces 241 hp and a not-inconsiderable 428 lb-ft of torque between 1,750 and 2,750 rpm. Audi says it will hit 62 mph from rest in 6.5 seconds and top out at 140 mph. In the real world, the additional midrange thrust makes it feel even quicker than the 3.0 gas engine and it's exceptionally quiet in all conditions.

Sadly, there are two more diesel engines Audi won't be offering in the U.S. Its 2.0-liter TDI is the biggest selling Q5 model in Europe and is offered in both the A3 and Volkswagen Jetta in the U.S. However, the extra weight of the Q5 would require more exhaust-cleansing hardware that would add too much additional cost.

Nor, sadly is Audi willing to take a chance on the new SQ5, which employs a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 diesel with 313 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. Capable of zero to 62 mph in 5.1 seconds, it's a hoot to drive but Audi reckons it couldn't sell more than a thousand a year. Shame.

Hybrid Solution?
Beating the 3.0 TDI to the U.S. market will be the Q5 Hybrid Quattro. It has been on sale in Europe since last summer but this is the first time it will be offered in the U.S. Audi has taken a different approach to archrival BMW with this car. While the Bavarians are concentrating on performance hybrids, offering V8 performance with V6 consumption, Audi is focusing on efficiency, providing V6 thrust with four-cylinder efficiency.

The Q5 employs the same system as the A8 hybrid. It combines a 2.0-liter gas engine and a 54-hp electric motor. Their joint output of 245 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque is enough to propel the hybrid from zero to 62 mph in 7.1 seconds and on to 140 mph, according to Audi.

In other words, it's slower than the 3.0 TDI and also likely to be cheaper. The four-cylinder diesel isn't as refined as its six-cylinder sibling either. So what's the point? Well, it can run for up to 1.8 miles in pure electric mode, so if you happen to live 2 miles from your office it will be a most efficient option.

Clearly the hybrid's appeal lies more in the allure of its badge than any significant real-world benefits. Even Audi accepts that it's a toe in the water and is unlikely to account for more than 1-2 percent of Q5 sales in the U.S.

Not Much Has Changed
Given the Q5's popularity across the world, it's no surprise that the update is modest in both its intent and effect. The new gas engine is a welcome addition to the range and marks a useful improvement over the outgoing 3.2. The 3.0 TDI is a gem and should also help broaden its appeal when it arrives in a little over a year. The case for the hybrid, though, is harder to make and we don't suspect it will make much of an impact.

Where the 2013 Audi Q5 will make an impact is the compact luxury SUV segment. Just as it did when it was first introduced, this revamped Q5 is apt to attract buyers who like its usable size, sharply tailored interior and clean, if forgettable, design. They're not likely to notice the lifeless steering or worry that it's not as flashy as a Range Rover. It's comfortably in between and that's what most of the customers in the segment seem to prefer.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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