Few motor manufacturers have had such a long association with four-wheel drive as Audi – the quattro system has underpinned some of the most memorable sports cars in its history. But only in recent years has the brand begun to apply this knowledge to SUVs.
The newest arrival to benefit is the Q5. As with the Q7, the car is late to the prestige 4x4 party – main rival BMW’s X3 turned up five years ago. Yet it’s joining at a time when demand is at a record high. Volvo is about to launch the XC60 and Saab the 9-4X, while there’s existing competition from Land Rover’s class-leading Freelander. The Q5 should be one of the best models to drive in its sector – so has Audi got it right?
With prices from less than £30,000, the SUV sits above the A4 in the line-up, yet it shares a lot with the executive car. At the front is a big chrome-ringed grille and familiar lights (S line versions get LED daytime running lamps), while the A4 Avant-on-stilts shape mixes Q7-style tail-lights at the rear with chunky but neat proportions.
Inside, A4 owners will feel at home. The dash is good-looking and solidly made, while all the switchgear and materials look and feel classy. The MMI cabin control set-up is logical, and new features include sat-nav that replicates buildings in 3D to give a bird’s-eye view in towns.
In the rear there’s a sliding bench, while the front seat backrest folds flat to allow long items to be stowed. The Q5’s boot is more spacious than the A4 Avant’s, too, at 540 litres with the chairs in place and 1,560 litres with them folded.
Under the skin, the quattro system is biased 40:60 in favour of the rear wheels. As with other Audis, the engine is mounted longitudinally and almost entirely ahead of the front axle. But despite this, the car doesn’t feel nose-heavy and turns quickly into corners.
Body roll is well controlled and there’s plenty of grip. The front end runs wide eventually and very safely at the limit, and while the steering is devoid of much feel, the Q5 is agile and fun on a twisty road. The ride is firm, though, and is likely to be unsettled on bumpy UK tarmac.
Should you venture off-road, the Q5 has reconfigured ESP stability control, Hill Descent Control and even a roof rack sensor. This tells the ESP if a rack is mounted, and adjusts the car’s balance to take account of the shift in the centre of gravity.
Engine choices include a 208bhp 2.0-litre TFSI petrol unit and a 237bhp 3.0 TDI. But most Q5s will have the 168bhp 2.0 common-rail TDI diesel. This is smooth and torquey, with 350Nm from only 1,750rpm, and blends swift and refined progress with 42mpg economy.
It comes as standard with a six-speed manual box, although Audi’s seven-speed Touchtronic twin-clutch set-up is likely to be offered as an option. Spec levels are impressive, with the SE getting 18-inch alloys, leather trim and climate control.
It comes at a price – expect to pay just under £30,000 for a 2.0 TDI SE. But with best-in-class residuals predicted and the allure of the Audi badge, the Q5 is the most desirable compact SUV bar none.