Audi's Q5 moves into 2014 with a few upgrades to what was already a good all-around compact luxury SUV.
A luxury car can overcome shortcomings by offering a high level of comfort, amenities, materials and performance, but the Q5 is on the higher side of the price equation for what you get. You can compare the 2013 and 2014 versions here.
What you can get in 2014 is an all-new diesel variant called the Q5 TDI. It joins a pair of available gasoline engines, including a turbocharged four-cylinder and a 3.0-liter six-cylinder. I tested both the TDI and the 3.0 for this review.
Exterior & Styling
The Q5 perfectly embodies Audi's current design theme in SUV form. The large grille looks more subtle on a higher-riding vehicle than it does on its sedan siblings. The headlights have also been updated, and most trim levels house standard LED running lights and xenon headlamps.
Relatively little else has changed for 2014, but the Q5 looks perfectly modern and seems even less generic when you line it up next to the Acura RDX, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLK or Volvo XC60.
How It Drives
Audi continues to release impressive engine after impressive engine. The latest is a new turbo-diesel offering. The 3.0-liter, turbocharged V-6 produces 240 horsepower and an amazing 428 pounds-feet of torque. That's more torque than the 5.0-liter V-8 in a Ford Mustang GT.
Getting all that power to hit the wheels requires a bit of finesse. There's a delay in accelerator response from a standing start that I found slightly annoying, but I assume it helps prevent wheelspin and spares everyday drivers from whiplash. The Sport mode is activated with a simple shift downward from Drive via the eight-speed automatic transmission's shifter. That gives you more immediate acceleration and will certainly satisfy the speed demon in the family … who needs to drive a somewhat family-friendly vehicle.
The gas-powered V-6 didn't slack in the acceleration department, either. With 272 hp and 295 pounds-feet of torque, it's more than powerful enough for most drivers. The standard V-6 in the RDX is similarly powerful, and the turbocharged sixes in the X3 and XC60 are a step above both Acura and Audi.
The TDI boosts mileage to 27 mpg combined, up from 23 mpg in the 2.0 and 21 mpg combined in the 3.0. Since you'll be pumping premium unleaded into the latter two, the price of diesel fuel will generally not be a penalty for TDI buyers.
Past experience with the 2.0-liter Q5 always left me a bit flat in terms of exhilaration, but it proved to be competent versus other base engines in the class.
The Q5's power may be a standout — and braking response is above average, as well — but steering and handling are much more of a mixed bag.
Audi's speed-sensitive steering has been a benefit and a bane for some time. In some vehicles, especially high-performance Audis, it's nice to have the lighter response in the steering wheel during slow maneuvers, like in parking lots, with a firming up when you increase speed. But the variations in more pedestrian vehicles like the Q5 often seem too lax to me in all situations.
The Q5 also exhibits more body lean than I've noticed in other SUVs of this size in this class. Taking curvy highway off-ramps, tight U-turns and one unexpected emergency reaction were tumultuous affairs in which I dramatically felt the SUV's body tilt to the outside of the turn.
I'm regularly reminded how well Audi executes its interiors — not when I get into the latest redesign, but into a model that's a few years into its shelf life, like the Q5. The materials are top-quality and the cabin layout sophisticated. Getting this mix right isn't easy, and Audi has figured it out.
The sporty nature of traditional Audi sedan and sports car cabins is here, too. It feels like a "cockpit," a descriptor thrown about too easily these days. And visibility all around is quite good.
The driver and front passenger have plenty of room, and the comfortable leather seats in both of my test models offered plenty of support. In back, where the seats slide back and recline, there's "enough" room that an average-sized adult male won't be cramped. The middle seat, however, is too tiny even for a teenager squeezed between two others.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The word "cockpit" is good not just for the design and feel of the cabin but also for the complicated nature of some of its controls. Newcomers to Audi will take several days to get used to the placement of certain buttons and how to use common features like climate control and the stereo.
Audi's multimedia system is on par with those from BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and other luxury automakers. None provide a perfect interface, and Audi's is no exception. The knob controller on the center console clicks as you turn its outer ring to select various functions, displayed on a 7-inch screen in the center of the dashboard. It's a nice feel. However, with a new directional button in the center of the knob, it's become a little harder to simply enter the command you've selected. Competitors like BMW also have significantly larger screens in their latest models.
The knob itself is for moving the cursor on the navigation screen. That's an expected function for many GPS users, especially those accustomed to smartphone applications.
Audi continues to offer optional Bang & Olufsen stereos with 14 speakers, some of which bear good-looking metallic casings, but I didn't find the sound quality stellar enough in the Q5 to justify the cost, even though it's a relatively affordable $850 option.
Cargo & Storage
In the past I've always thought the Q5's cargo area was a bit small compared with the competition. I was surprised to discover while researching that it exceeds most of the class at 29.1 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. The cargo area with them folded is 57.3 cubic feet.
I found that the low load floor was a benefit in real-world testing, hauling the family's gear for a week. It might also be an aid to the family dog that has to jump in the back.
The Q5 was rated four stars overall in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. It also scored the top rating of good in four tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has not been through the organization's new frontal small-overlap test at this time, which would determine if it is a Top Safety Pick.
In addition to a standard array of airbags, there are optional seat-mounted airbags for the rear seats at a cost of $350.
Blind spot monitoring, called Audi Side Assist, is available, but frontal collision warning systems aren't offered.
The Q5 performed exceptionally well in our child-safety seat testing. You can view the full Car Seat Check here.
Value in Its Class
The Q5, in gasoline and diesel forms, impressed me in terms of acceleration, luxury feel and practicality, but besides my handling qualms there are also issues of price.
At $38,195 (all prices cited include destination charges) for the base 2.0 model, the Q5 costs significantly more than the RDX, which has a standard V-6 and optional all-wheel drive for $36,815. All-wheel drive is standard on the Audi. The BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK350 both start higher than the Q5 with similar engines and all-wheel drive, but you'd likely have to move to a more expensive Q5 trim to get similar equipment. You can compare all four here.
If you're purchasing outright, the Acura or Volvo will be better values, but if you're leasing, the playing field may be evened more in the Q5's favor. The TDI version, however, pushes prices much higher, starting at $47,395.
In the end, the styling and excellent powertrains give the Q5 enough weapons for a very competitive fight.
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