While the BMW brand is our main focus (and passion) here at BimmerFile, we love the idea of competition. Competition in building the best car leads to innovations and improvements we as enthusiasts drool over. Each brand has its purpose and each brand has its pluses and minuses.In general Audi was/is renowned for its interiors along with Quattro all wheel drive and BMW for its superior driving prowess. To many the interior makes or breaks a car, and to others it is the love of the drive; either way it is a personal call, though we love to drive!
Audi has sat back and taken it all in for the past 5 plus years while the BMW X3 racked up sales in the compact luxury SUV market before recently launching the Q5. The Q5 joins a crowded class which now includes offerings from not only BMW but Mercedez, Acura, Infinity and Land Rover to name a few. With SUV sales in the tank due to the gas crisis last summer and the current state of the economy, the Q5 comes to market at what would seem the wrong time… but is it?
One of the most subjective parts of buying a car or judging it, is the styling or “looks “. The Q5 like most current Audi designs has a classic, timeless look to it. Aside from the large front grill, and LED lights nothing on the car really screams, “look at me ” or has a “wow ” factor. The Q5 has a quiet elegance and a design that seems like it would still be relevant well after purchase. It is not a polarizing design and most would tend to agree that it is a good looking vehicle.
On the inside the Q5 is classic Audi. Audi as a brand has always focussed on the fit, finish and design of its interiors; the Q5 does not disappoint in this area. The controls are ergonomically placed and with your seating position adjusted properly everything is within an arms length, so there is no reaching.
Fit and finish are superb. The seat are comfortable and supportive, with the back seats offering the ability to recline and slide forward or backwards. The HVAC system even includes a third zone for the rear passengers; so they really have little to complain about except for seating is a bit cramped for a full size adult.
Having spent time in most of the newest Audi offerings, one thing has stood out: more and cheaper quality plastics are placed in areas that they would not have been in the past. The newest A4 and A5 for example, feature plastics in the gauge cluster and center console that are thin and cheap in feel. They also lack trim on the dash, doors and console which in the past would have featured wood or real aluminum. The Q5 is different. The Q5 has a nice balance of materials, you touch/tap them and they are solid. The front passenger is not left staring at a large faux textured dash but a nicely appointed piece of trim in addition to that dash. Soft touch materials are everywhere you would expect to find them in an Audi. There is a large difference in the overall interior quality between the Q5 and the A4 or A5 and it is immediately noticeable and welcomed.
The MMI interface is a large component of the Audi ‘s newest models and unlike in some BMWs there is no choice; you are stuck with it. That is not a bad thing as the MMI is intuitive, powerful and does not create unnecessary distractions. Since the system is designed and manufactured by the same company as the latest BMW iDrive system (Preh Inc.), there are a great number of similarities and almost all the features are identical though the menu system and graphical interface are different.
One major difference between iDrive and MMI is in the Audi voice recognition system; once the car is trained to your voice it is capable of understanding phrases that do not not necessarily request a specific destination or item. Want something to eat? Just activate the system and say “I am hungry “, a list with the closest restaurants will be summoned. This feature works as advertised and was very successful. All in all, you can ‘t go wrong with the latest hard disk based version of MMI.
While built on the latest generation A4 platform, the Q5 has been widened by almost 4 inches to help increase the interior dimensions and overall handling. Though not intended to do any hardcore off roading the Q5 still offers 7.9 inches of ground clearance; good enough for curb hopping or dealing with a significant amount of snow. Like most Audis the Quattro system is a dominant feature of this SUV. In its latest guise Quattro now features a more performance oriented 40:60 (front/rear) power split. This bias towards the rear and moving of the engine behind the front wheels has greatly improved the overall feel and handling of Quattro equipped models. While still present, the overwhelming tendency to understeer is not as prevalent as in the past. The new system is a huge improvement over prior generations while still doing what it does best; shifting power.It looks like after years of preaching 50:50 power supply is best Audi took a note from critics and realized that rear wheel drive is more sporty and provides improved performance. Rumors continue to circulate that Audi will be dropping its line of front wheel drive cars for US consumption in the coming year.
The 3.2l aluminum V6 features direct injection and produces 270hp and 243 ft/lbs of torque while obtaining an EPA rating of 18 city and 23 highway. With a towing capacity of 4400 lbs (currently best in class) and standard trailer brake controls the Q5 will not only get you from 0-60 in 6.7 seconds but also tow your boat or horse trailer. This engine mated to the six-speed auto provides enough muscle to keep you entertained and makes those merges onto to the highway less of an issue than in some other SUVs. In typical Audi fashion the six speed Tiptronic allows you to select sportier preset shift points or manually shift on your own, for an auto it is a nice piece of equipment.
While the steering is vague and over-boosted, one must realize this is not a vehicle designed for all out performance so it is not a huge surprise. What was a surprise is how well this SUV handled as it was put through the paces. Body roll was not overwhelming and it took corners as well as some in price class sedans would (Lexus; ahem). Completing emergency lane change maneuvers did not send it into a panic, it was composed and never gave a sense of being top heavy or that it was going to roll. The Electronic Stabilization Program does intervene a bit early but is able to be shut off so you can drive at your own risk, an in between stage of the system was not discovered on this go around. The ESP system also adjusts the system if it detects the roof rack is installed; tightening the reins in as the center of gravity is raised (a great idea). On the pot hole laden roads of NY the Q5 softened the bumps out adequately while not overly compromising handling, a nice happy medium.
In relation to braking, BMWs always seem to have more pedal feel and just an overall increased braking capacity compared to Audis; the Q5 is no different in this regard. While braking was adequate and the ABS system does an admirable job stopping this 4200 lbs machine they just felt soft and spongy rather than firm and linear. When towing a 1500 lb load (Audi recommends trailer brakes on anything greater) I would be hard pressed to say the current breaks would be adequate, I may be wrong but the reported 12 inch front rotors just do not seem like they would cut it.
While the Audi Drive Select option was not available on the test vehicles it is reported to increase handling and overall performance a great deal. The suspension, shift points and throttle mapping are all adjustable with this system. Anything that improves those areas is a welcomed sight to a driving enthusiast and should be considered and tested to see whether it merits the $3300 price tag it comes with.
Yes, it is an Audi and yes it is an SUV, but it is actually fairly engaging to drive. Right now you will be hard pressed to find a vehicle that offers the ride, performance, style, luxury and versatility the Q5 does. The other in class options all excel in one way or another but the Q5 currently has the advantage of doing multiple things well in a well executed package that looks just as good. It starts just north of $37000 as standard and escalates as you move up the line and add options (a whole host of safety and luxury features are available), so it is not cheap by any means.
Having put the Q5 through the paces on a closed course and helping burn through a set of tires I walked away thoroughly impressed. I also realized again that while once a great class leading vehilce, the current X3 is deserving being put out to pasture. It appears grossly outdated (even after the facelift) and almost irrelevant in a class with mostly newer models. The end should be near for the current X3 but BMW has some stiff competition in the Q5 to consider in designing the next generation. From what we hear the new X3 will be up to the task.