Driving Northwest: The new Audi Q5 is versatile and a looker

Driving Northwest: The new Audi Q5 is versatile and a looker

Credit: KING

Driving Northwest: The new Audi Q5 is versatile and a looker

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by TOM VOELK / KING5 News car expert

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KING5.com

Posted on January 14, 2010 at 11:44 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 14 at 1:13 PM

Who’d have thought 5 years ago that the hot luxury category would be crossovers? Sure there were rumblings. The Lexus RX350 has been the brands top seller for years. But really, it could be argued that they’re simply tall station wagons. Into the fray comes the versatile Audi Q5.  Audi has always made great looking wagons, the departed allroad (they have a thing about not capitalizing names) was a handsome rig that hardly looked like the family truckster. But Americans just can’t seem to embrace that body style. Therapy, perhaps?These days it’s necessary to have a dedicated crossover.

Need proof? Check out exhibits A, B, C, D, E, F and G.

Those would be Acura RDX , BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes Benz GLK350, Volvo XC60 and of course, the gig kahuna, the Lexus RX. All the premium marks have one, all with alphanumerical names. Coincidence?I think not. Q prices start at around 38 grand. My Premium Plus tester stickers for $45,335 including shipping.

The best advice for car shoppers is to test drive at least 3 different vehicles because there are a lot of surprises out there. Q5 has a lot to offer, let’s start with style. It’s a looker. The silhouette is simple and clean, a Cole Haan hiking boot if ever there were one.

That said, up against Cadillac SRX and Volvo XC60 the Q5s lines might appear overly conservative to some both inside and out. SRX is all drama and angles, an edgy extrovert. XC60 is about curves and swerves. Audi goes the elegant route with minimal lines and seams. Different strokes for different folks. Vote with your checkbook.

Power to the (wealthier) people

A person could buy on power and the Q doesn’t disappoint here. 0-60 runs take just 6. 7 seconds according to Audi (I saw a smidge quicker). This is due to a smooth 3. 2-liter V6 that serves up 270 horsepower. 243 lbs-ft of torque happens at 3000 RPM so power is available in quick satisfying fashion.  Audi now crows that they are the first brand with direct fuel injection on all of its gasoline powered cars. It can tow 4,400 pounds, best in class. EPA fuel economy is 18 city/ 23 highway. It prefers premium fuel.

Silky shifts are courtesy of a 6-speed Tiptronic transmission (that’s an automatic with manual shift mode in Audispeak).  No steering wheel paddle shifters, none needed.

Throw in quattro all-wheel drive with its power bias normally set at 60 percent to the rear axle and the drivetrain is pretty darn satisfying.  It can send the majority of power to the axel that needs it when the situation arises.

If handling’s your thing, that V6 is mounted low for better balance. Tossing Q5 into a curve is great fun, among the best in class. It’s a flingable crossover, one that can often lull a driver into thinking they’re at wheel of a sedan. The Qs turn signals give 3 blinks with a slight nudge of the stalk. Nice.

With quattro all-wheel drive Audi claims it’s a decent off roader too.  There’s hill decent control for steep grades. The Q has 25 degree approach and departure angles and 8 inches of ground clearance. The worst I’m seeing is muddy roads but it should be nearly as rugged as the Volvo XC60 and 70 that I abused on 175 miles of forest service roads. A neat trick? Load crossbars onto the roof rack and the electronic stability control adjusts for the change in balance.

What an owner sees the most of

For those who demand a quality interior, Q5 doesn’t disappoint. The materials are first rate and it’s easy to see that everything is screwed together perfectly. I especially like the appearance of the raised grain on the ash wood trim. A natural finish assures the eyeballs that it’s from a real tree, where other brand’s bark is so perfect it looks fake.

The parking brake is electric. A bag/purse hook on the front passenger side comes in handy. Next to it is what looks to be an umbrella holder that Seattle folks will appreciate. The MMI interface knob gets some new tricks and the voice recognition works well. Overall the user interface is fine though I still find it a bit cumbersome. My brain keeps rotating the knob to the right to scroll down menus. Nope. To the left.

The upgraded nav system uses a 40 gig hard drive instead of DVDs for its data, there’s plenty of space to load music onto it too.  That along with 2 SD memory card slots should get a person from Seattle to Miami without hearing the same tune twice. Even without the Bang & Olufsen sound system, tunes sound good. 

In back there’s a separate climate zone plus seats that recline and slide fore and aft to max out either leg or cargo room. $300 buys additional side torso bags here to compliment the side curtain units. Control freaks take note, those sliding chairs are split 60/40 opening up vast possibilities for legroom scenarios. The seatbacks are divided 40/20/40 where most only get a 60/40 split. They drop with handy trunk mounted releases. Width is good enough for three average sized adults but the middle passenger has to straddle a fairly substantial driveshaft tunnel. Finally, go for the optional panoramic glass roof. It transforms the interior and at $1,450 it’s a steal

Gripes? Mostly it comes down to certain features. At $45,225 as tested, cross shoppers will find no motorized or memory function with the steering wheel. Seats are heated (an option) but not cooled. Keyless ignition is MIA. I’m also disappointed to see that Bluetooth and iPod integration aren’t standard on base models. Handsfree ability will set a buyer back a minimum $700 and the iPod connection at 300 clams costs more than the player itself. 

Moving to the cargo area

There’s some storage under the load floor and a space saving spare (now days some vehicles only come with repair kits). The solid security cover oozes quality and is easy to remove but difficult to store in the vehicle when taken out of its proper place. With the sliding rear seats set in their middle position the cargo hold swallows 8 packs of Kirkland brand premium bath tissue. About average for this class.

In the market for a luxo crossover? There are a lot of choices but the style and performance of the Audi Q5 makes the decision easier.  There’s a reason why this brand is ascending, they make good product. For those fortunate enough to shop in this segment, Q5 should be on the test drive list.

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