Audi Q5 — As good as it gets

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

For the person who wants to venture into the luxury world of crossovers, the Audi Q5 offers a right-sized vehicle for up to four passengers that will reward its owner every time he or she cranks up the engine. We found it a delicious mix of outstanding driving dynamics and luxury appointments, with a silky, comfortable ride.

The Q5 comes with standard all-wheel drive (called Quattro in Audi-speak), an eight-speed automatic transmission, and with three excellent powertrains. Regardless of choice you simply can't go wrong. Let your need for speed and your pocketbook dictate.

We drove the base 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that can be found in a variety of Audi and Volkswagen products, and the 211-horsepower engine continues to amaze us with its smooth and reliable performance.

In real-world driving Audi says it will complete a 0-to-60 run in seven seconds and to us it feels even quicker in off-the-line runs to 35 or 40 mph. And passing and merging angst is totally removed. We experienced very little turbo lag, just satisfying straight-ahead speed. We figure the responsive eight-speed transmission has a lot to do with the sprightly feel of the engine and perhaps with the gas mileage rated at 28 highway, 20 city and 23 mpg overall. Premium gas is required.

The Q5's electrically assisted power steering offered good feedback, and the small crossover proved very engaging on our favorite winding back-road blacktop.

Here's the thing. The 2.0T in base form brings perhaps everything many people need and desire including all-wheel drive for a competitive price of $36,795. We recommend adding the navigation package for $3,4550 because in addition to the advantage of having a navi with Google Maps onboard, knobs and buttons are moved from the center stack to a more convenient location around the shift lever, and a rearview camera is included.

The other two engine options are definitely worth consideration. We had the opportunity to drive the 2013 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 making 272 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. This is an excellent choice for those needing towing capacity rated at 4,400 pounds or simply desiring more performance. It makes the Q5 one of the fastest SUVs in the segment with a measured 0-to-60 time in the upper ranges of five seconds. The price premium for the base 3.0T is steep at $8,000 over the base 2.0T.

A hybrid is also offered paring the 2.0T with an electric motor and battery pack good for 245 horsepower and a prodigious 354 pound-feet of torque in addition to achieving 30 mpg highway and 24 city. The downside — it's $15,000 more than the 2.0T and $7,000 more than the V-6. No matter what the price of gas, 15 grand will cover a lot of pump stops.

The interior is a showcase for proper fit and finish. Materials are of top quality — hard plastic has been relegated to the dustbin of history — and the controls are easy to use, ergonomically satisfying. Standard leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel and wood accents give the cabin an upscale feel.

Audi has done a good job of balancing screen commands and old-fashioned knobs and buttons to make the Q5's controls easy to use. Typical is the way you change the settings on the heated seats — push a button on the central console, and a dial appears on the video monitor. By turning the dial on the console, you can set the heat from 1 to 10 via a virtual dial on the video screen.

Four passengers can ride in comfort. The front seats are all-day comfortable, and the rear passengers are treated to seats that not only move fore and aft, but recline. Luggage and cargo space are adequate. With second-row seats in place, luggage capacity is 29.1 cubic feet, and with seats folded it increases to 57.3 cubic feet.

Safety is well covered with traction and stability control, four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and a full array of airbags. Rear-side airbags are a $350 option on all models. We think in our advanced age of electronics that all luxury segment vehicles should have a blind-spot warning system (BLIS) and a rear view camera as standard equipment. Unfortunately, BLIS is not offered on the 2.0T (it's standard on the 3.0T and Hybrid) and a rear view camera can only be obtained by ordering the navigation package.

Out 2.0T test vehicle included the aforementioned navigation package and also the premium Plus package that includes among other things a panoramic sunroof, power tailgate and automatic headlight leveling for $4,300 bringing the bottom line to $45,120.

Base price: $36,795; as driven, $45,120
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged four
Horsepower: 211 @ 4,300 rpm
Torque: 258 foot-pounds @ 1,500 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.5 inches
Length: 182.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,079 pounds
Turning circle: 38.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 29.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 57.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19.8 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 28 highway, 20 city
0-60: 7.0 seconds (manufacturer)
Also consider: Lexus RX 350, BMW X3, Acura RDX

The Good
• Class-leading fuel economy
• Solid performance, sporty handling
• High quality interior appointments

The Bad
• BLIS and rear view camera not standard

The Ugly
• Hybrid model commands $15,000 more than 2.0T base