Audi is pitching its late-to-the-party Q5 against Lexus’ recently refreshed RX350. Audi’s ad men would have you believe that the Q5 buyer is making a forceful statement of individuality and taste—in contrast to the RX buyer’s safe, boring, follow-the-herd mentality. It’s a strange play during these times of economic uncertainty but understandable. The Q5 is preaching to the choir. The majority of the Q5′s buyers will come from within the brand’s established audience, who consider Audi’s products the automotive equivalent of an Armani suit. Which makes the Q5 yet another fine young cannibal preying on whatever sales the Q7 may have generated and stealing business from the gotta-have-an-A4-on-stilts crowd. Hang on. Whose product line is this anyway?
Audi marketing punditry aside, the Q5′s exterior is breathtaking . . . for all the wrong reasons. You know you have problems when Audi’s website displays retouched renderings that make Playboy’s centerfolds look like Diane Arbus photographs. The discrepancy between the pictures and the actual car is shocking. The 2D representation seems more agile, angular and, well, better looking.
Unlike some, I quite like Audi’s shield grille (a.k.a. Billy the Big Mouth Bass). But it’s become an excuse for poor design. Audis were once known as the best-proportioned cars on the planet. In fact, you could say Audi’s proportions were their design. Not so here. So not so here. It’s too squat at the rear and too bulbous at the front. Although the Q5 is based on the same platform underpinning the A5 coupe, it’s not even in same league. Founding member, the League of Extra-Ordinary Gentlemen?
Fortunately, the Q5′s interior is a brand faithful rendering of the A4′s posh cabin. If there’s one reason to choose an Audi product over anything else at a similar price point, here, again, it is. Suffice it to say, the Q5’s color scheme, textures, fit and finish, lines and shapes upstaged my wife’s Coach Bag. I’m not a fan of wood inlays (too stuffy), but I’ll take mine in Cardamom Beige, please. The Q5′s rear seats offer fore-and-aft adjustment and recline. Although there’s not enough movement to provide any significant comfort advantage, and THE KIDS WILL DRIVE YOU NUTS, it’s a nice touch to impress nosy neighbors. As is the 3D sat nav, which is no more useful than a 2D system but a whole lot prettier.
Bonus! The Q5′s wider than big brother Q7 AND gives occupants more legroom. But lurking in the Q5′s rearview mirror: the ugly part of the horizontally truncated crossover equation. The Q5 has no more real usable trunk space than the A4. OK, the Q5 trumps the A4′s cargo capacity by five cubic feet (accommodating 29 cubic ft of luggage) you have to stack stuff to the rafters to do it. Needless to say, that’s an excellent way to kill whatever rearward visibility the Q5 can muster. And braking hard with said stuff stacked, well, one Briggs & Riley to the head can ruin your whole day.
Moving back to the front, all US trim levels are equipped with a 270hp TSI V6 and Quattro. The power provided is no more than merely adequate (i.e. perfectly suitable for a 4178 lb five-passenger vehicle that gets 18/20 mpg). Infiniti’s EX35 feels infinitely punchier, but so be it. Like Volvo’s XC60, the Q5′s strong suit is stability. A heavy crosswind sweeping the test course moved our sedan with an irresistible force; the Q5 was an immovable object. As you’d expect, the Q5′s handling dynamic is understeer über alles, Schätze—despite all this torque about rearward bias and repositioned engine weight.
As you’d expect, wheel size is critical to the Q5′s ride quality. The bigger wheels create a harder ride than you’d expect for one not-so-svelte. And once again, still, an Audi is let down by its steering. The Q5′s variable ratio steering is far too light, with about as much visceral feedback as a videogame. Dare I say it? Women. Parking.
The motoring press is ga-ga over Audi Drive Select, a press car standard option that blesses the Q5 with adjustable shocks and transmission settings. It’s a pointless $3000 expense given that the Q5 is what it is: a vehicle that likes being hustled about as much as an American tourist changing money in a Turkish bathhouse. That said, when you install the Q5′s roof rack’s cross-members, sensors tell the computer to adjust the ESP handling nanny to account for a higher center of gravity. In other words, the Q5′s stability control becomes more intrusive, earlier. Or, as Audi says, less intrusive without the cross members because the designers don’t have to account for the safety implications of roof mounted items that aren’t there. How great is that?
Put it all together and it’s clear that the Q5 is an excellent place to sit that’s a much better than the vehicle it replaces: the Q7.