The crossover is the new minivan, and in an age of $4-per-gallon gasoline, the fuel-efficient crossover is all the rage. While minivan-mommies may disagree for the sake of image, ask yourself: how is your crossover different than your parent’s minivan? The minivan sprang out of the station wagon revolt and the CUV is the result of minivan denial. As usual, the formula is the same: start with a sedan, add a taller box, toss in some optional AWD to make buyers think they are getting something rugged and you get instant sales success (unless you’re a Chrysler, but that’s a different review). This CUV formula wrought on an A4 creates the Audi Q5, one of Audi’s hottest selling models in the US market. Sales of the cute-ute soared over 70% to just over 23,000 in 2010 and show no signs of cooling with January sales up 50% over 2010. To keep the momentum (and CAFE numbers) going in the right direction, Audi has mated the corporate 2.0T engine to the latest 8-speed auto from ZF creating the 2011 Q5 2.0T Quattro.
Outside, the Q5 plays the same farm girl card as the majority of the Audi lineup. The wholesome sheet metal is attractive, but completely devoid of the dramatic styling cues that grace the new X3, GLK, SRX and even the XC60. Some might even call the Q5 slightly boring. The sterile exterior was accentuated by the rental-car white paint our tester wore. Sales of the old X3 paled in comparison to the Q5, but by early indications, the X3 has the Q5’s sales crown in its sights this year. Will the wholesome farm girl beat the beauty queen with its newly found frugal practicality? Since it will take a while for the market to let us know, give us your take now in the comment section below.
In order to maintain brisk sales, the base Q5 has received an engine down-size for 2011. With the likes of the Ford Explorer sporting a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine option, it was only a matter of time before one of VW/Audi’s turbo engines was found under the Q5’s hood. Audi followers know that the TT, A3, A4 and A5 are now available exclusively with the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-pot in the USA and if the numbers tell the full story, buyers may not miss the 3.2L V6 when the option is finally removed at some point in the future. Forced induction lovers rejoice! The turbo charged fuel sipper is the base engine, not an expensive option (unlike the new the new Explorer).
While the 211HP Audi 2.0-liter TFSI engine is nothing new, the lighter duty version of the 8-speed ZF cog-swapper found under the hoods of certain Rolls Royce and BMW models is. According to ze Germans, the 2 extra cogs alone are worth an 11% improvement in fuel economy over the previous 6-speed. The result of the displacement right-sizing and extra gears means the Q5 in 2.0T guise delivers 20MPG city, 27 highway and 22 combined. On paper this is only a 15% increase, in practice during our 800-mile week-long test of the A5, we averaged an impressive 26.5MPG in mixed driving; a practical real-world 25% increase in mileage over a Q5 3.2 I drove a year ago. 26.5MPG would be good in a FWD CUV, but even better when you note that all US bound 2.0T models are equipped with Quattro.
By offering AWD standard on all Q5s in the USA, Audi succeeds in distancing themselves from the likes of the two-wheel-drive XC60 or GLK chionophobic base models. For MPG comparison, the new BMW X3 xDrive28i delivers 19/25 MPG, the Volvo XC60 3.2 AWD gives buyers 18/24, the Acura RDX spools up 17/22 and the Mercedes GLK rounds out the bottom gulping a lowly 16/22 MPG. No wonder Audi expects 60% of Q5 buyers to stick with the base four.
At the first stab of the accelerator it seems that there is a replacement for displacement after all: while the 3.2L V6 in the Q5 3.2 may deliver 59 more horsepower, it’s actually 15lb-ft down on its two-liter cousin. Torque comes on early, lag is minimal and the twist doesn’t quit until high in the RPM band. It is therefore no surprise that our tester scooted to 60MPH in 6.8 (Audi claims 7.1 officially), down only .2 seconds to the 3.2 equipped Q5 we have tested in the past. It’s worth pointing out that the 2.0T beats acceleration expectations while the 3.2 merely meets them. The numbers are close enough to make little difference to most shoppers.
The only impediment to sporting progress in the 2.0T seems to be the 8-speed transmission. The sheer number of gears seems to leave the transmission software confused about which gear is right for you. The result: acceleration can be a varied experience depending on your speed. Still, overall performance is quite good having a far more linear feel than the 3.2L I6 in the XC60 or even the 2.3L turbo four in the RDX. Buyers paying extra for the Q5 3.2 may be disappointed to find that the 3.2 is still mated to ye olde ZF 6-speed. Towing capacity is the same between engines at a lofty (for a small CUV) 4,400lbs when properly equipped.
Out on the road, the 2.0T’s suspension tuning is similar to the 3.2: stiff for a CUV. Wide tires, a wide track, beefy brakes, fairly svelte curb weight (the 2.0T is 209lbs lighter than the 3.2) and oddly well balanced weight distribution of 50.5/49.5 (TTAC estimate) and quick steering (3.2 to lock) combine to give the Q5 athletic prowess on the track worthy of a BMW badge. If you are used to your Audi plowing like a nose-heavy freighter, the Q5 will surprise you. A quick-shifting DSG gearbox or at the least some shift paddles (available on the 3.2) might even turn the 2.0T into a pleasing corner carver. Compared to the likes of the XC60, RDX and GLK, the Q5 is certainly the road feel champ but it can’t quite match the new X3 for road manners.
First released as a 2009 model, our 2011 tester brought few changes to its largely monochromatic interior. Audi’s limited and tasteful use of wood trim helped break up the large expanses of black in our tester but let you know the price tag is lower than the wood-laden Q7. Unlike some of the competition (and some Audi models) buyers can opt for lighter leather and dashboard shades resulting in a feel that is far more airy than the black-on-black-on-black theme of our tester.
The latest MMI system is the largest change inside the Q5. Along with a large high-resolution LCD in a dedicated dash binnacle, a revised MMI controller knob that now includes a mini-joystick and revised software. The high-resolution 3-D navigation screens are crisp and comparable to BMW’s latest iDrive. BMW’s wise-aspect ratio screen gets the nod for the wow factor, but Audi delivers a close second in both form and function. Bluetooth and iPod integration are both about average in the class with logical controls and fairly good media device browsing ability on the main screen or the small LCD between the speedo and tach via the steering wheel controls.
My only major gripe with the MMI system continues to be the lack of voice commands for media device voice control ala Ford Sync, in truth this is a complaint against everyone but Ford. A less critical niggle is that Audi has done nothing to address the ergonomic flaw in the button and knob layout. While you can change the volume on the steering wheel (and voice command is available for some functions) I found myself spending a great deal of time looking down at the array of buttons surrounding the MMI dial or hunting for the volume knob. In a CUV with a moderately high beltline, this poses a distraction issue. Some upgrades, including steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a backup camera, and intelligent cruise control are available only on the 3.2 Prestige (the most expensive version of the Q5) so they were not available to test on our loaner.
Great, but how much does it cost? Our Q5 came in Premium Plus trim with a base MSRP of $39,400, the $3,000 navigation and parking sensor package and the $850 Bang & Olufson sound system. Only a $350 rear side-airbag option, 19”” wheels and some sparkly paint remained un-selected on our nearly loaded $44,600 tester. While the navigation system wears a big price tag, even for the luxury market, the functionality of the MMI is worth it. To achieve the lower ticket the 2.0T is “de-contented” to 18-inch wheels, a manual lift gate, and washerless headlamps. In our book these features (or lack thereof) are worth the $7,300 discount and greater fuel economy. A quick drive by my local Audi dealers revealed that all but two examples on the floor had had the MMI, so if you want a stripper, be prepared to order.
In comparison, a similarly equipped Volvo XC60 3.2 (albeit larger and more powerful) is the value leader coming in $2000 less with more interior room. A comparably equipped Mercedes GLK? $46,400. If BMW is more your style, an X3 xDrive28i will set you back an eye bulging $47,825 comparably equipped. Admittedly the Q5’s sporty dimensions (read: small) limit cargo room compared to the GLK and XC60, both which can easily swallow a 10-foot PVC pipe or 6-foot ladder from the home improvement shop of your choice. Practicality lovers note that the XC60’s fold-down front seat actually allows the Swede to sword-swallow a 10-foot ladder if you are careful. As pictures can attest, a two-tank water softener will fit in the Q5 no problem. If a sporty ride with cargo hauling capacity is what you seek, look no further than an Audi A4 Avant. If you really must CUV like the Jones’ then the Q5 2.0T is certainly a well-balanced choice.
Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for the review.
Performance statistics as tested:
0-30: 2.5 seconds
0-60: 6.9 seconds