The crossover SUV market is the mosh pit of automotive marketing and sales. This sector of the car universe is marketed to the heaviest with the greatest volume of research and the most frequent focus group polling to see which way intending customers’ minds are headed and which way the market winds are blowing. If it were a city, the crossover market would be London with all of its 51,000 closed-circuit police cameras. Miscalculate in this playground, and you’ve cost your car company serious money and face.
This big action has been here for several years due to many factors. The crossover (or CUV) is at the intersection where customers of many different classes of vehicle can be convinced to go CUV. Sedan buyers can easily view themselves in a slightly more interesting and perhaps more useful crossover. Traditional SUV buyers wishing for better fuel economy and trimmer size daydream about CUVs. Lastly, minivan avoiders can see themselves in a medium-sized CUV that offers some of the minivan’s practicality, but want a plausible excuse to shun it and the suburban bourgeois persona which has clamped onto it like a lamprey.
So, while the center of that crossover mosh pit churns with mud, sweat and soccer cleats flying, the Audi Q5 TDI looks on from a well-placed balcony seat, observing the melee, while attracting a few iconoclasts to follow in its tire tracks. Based on the engineering architecture, chassis, suspension and layout of the A4 sedan, the Q5 comes from good family stock. It is not the biggest seller in the sector, nor is it the least expensive, but if you consider any CUV will be a primary car for any family or couple, the Q5 TDI’s athletic looks, luxury, refinement, German engineering and 24/31/27 city/highway/combined fuel economy numbers are compelling.
The crossover class has a great number of potential design pitfalls. These are not enormous vehicles, so big, sweeping lines, curves and topography that can establish themselves over vast acreage of bodywork do not exist. The designer has to get it done in short order. Crossovers are also anything but low to the ground like a sports car, another well-practiced way to make visual drama. Lastly, one needs to maximize interior room, especially in the cargo area; it’s a prime customer consideration in any vehicle with “utility” in the classification. Leave it to Audi to make their CUV attractive, despite opportunity for mediocrity.
The Q5’s nose is similar to the A5 coupe’s, which is an award-winning place to start. The front body corners at the headlights are even more beveled than the A5’s, avoiding a blocky look to the Q5 as it approaches you on the road, which, given the height and expanse of the rest of the car, would be an easy trap to fall into.
From the A-pillar rearward, the Q5 wears several arcs: the roof line, the upper window line and window sill, a rocker panel accent and one character line the establishes a shoulder. These all envelope the passenger compartment smoothly, making what could have been a stubby-feeling car look elegant, almost buff. Maybe metro. Also, there’s far more design detailing at the very front end with the primary grille, the secondary grilles and bottom breathers under the bumper than at the sides or the rear. Lastly, as the roof terminates at the tailgate, it descends toward the ground, but not anywhere as much as some other utility vehicles of late, and doesn’t suffer the same encroachment on interior space and rear headroom. The tailgate itself is larger than conventional practice. It covers almost the entire rear end of the Q5 except the bumper cap, as Audi also does with the larger Q7.
Though Audi didn’t invent the car interior, it just about re-invented it in the 1990s and 2000s with function, elegance and a touch of modernity. Though others have come a long way to catch up, few in the price neighborhood have reached Audi’s level of finish, tactile refinement and soothing calm. Someone, or a team of someones who you will never meet has spent months getting the metallic click of switches and the resistance of pulls and buttons right to the point of maximum-quality weightiness.
The Q5 TDI uses a four-spoke steering wheel and redesigned infotainment interface that debuted with the refreshed 2013 Q5. Visibility is excellent and blind spots minimized toward the rear.
Despite this being a diesel with all the subterranean clacking, clicking and compression-ignition forces masked deep within the bowels of the car, you hear none of it. None. Sitting in a whisper-quiet parking lot, windows down, ventilation off, all that’s audible is a very faint, low-frequency constant drone. Under the right conditions, the TDI’s start-stop system shuts the engine off at traffic lights and re-fires as you lift off the brake pedal. While this might be odd for the first-timer, it’s familiar within about 20 minutes of driving. You can also simply switch it off, but fuel economy will suffer slightly, at least in theory.
The fact that this turbo-diesel engine belts out 240 horsepower and a towering 428 lb-ft of torque will warm the insides of anyone with even a scintilla of auto enthusiasm in their veins. That it does so and also idles at rest and does the highway cruise at speed with almost no trace of engine noise is a marvel. Tire thrum is the dominant sound at speed.
With Quattro all-wheel drive, the turbocharged Q5 TDI accelerates moderately right off the line, but builds additional rate of acceleration as boost climbs. After 6.5 seconds, you’ve reached 60 mph, which is .5 sec. quicker than the base 2.0-liter variant. More importantly, the TDI makes such prodigious torque at low rpms under part-throttle operation that the ZF-sourced, eight-speed transmission need not downshift as much as it would when mated to a gasoline engine in order to provide the passing power expected. Put another way, where the TDI will take one gear lower when prodded, the gas engine will need two or even three downshifts to belt out the urge you want. Since it’s a Tiptronic transmission, you can also always make your shifts manually.
Despite steering feel that isolates, the Q5 manages to dig deep when the road gets twisty and never trips over itself. While it is no lightweight at 4,475 pounds, the Q5 nonetheless feels lighter.
As a diesel, a prime objective is great fuel economy and the Q5 TDI delivers. Rated at 24 mpg city and 31 highway, it also carries a combined driving figure of 27 mpg. In a week’s worth of suburban, city, steady highway and mountain road driving where I threw everything at it except serious off-roading, yet much of it loaded with luggage and a full cabin of people, the Q5 TDI returned 25.5 mpg over 500 miles.
Hunters and sportsmen won’t likely flock to Q5s, ready to strap fresh game to the hood for the drive home. No, the Q5 is correctly aimed at the urban and suburban set with a metro sensibility for design and serenity, frequenting Whole Foods and city zoos to forage for food and consume wildlife. Mated to perhaps the most refined diesel engine on the market today, you’ll make 10 stops at the market to feed yourself for every one stop to feed the car with a maximum driving range of about 618 miles.
Civility and frugality. Fine bedfellows for a luxury CUV.
– By: Jim Resnick
– Photos: Jim Resnick