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Car reviews - Audi - Q5 - 2.0 TFSI and 3.0 TDI

Our Opinion

We like
2.0 TFSI and 3.0 TDI performance, fuel consumption, interior and exterior design, build quality, solidity, safety features, ride quality, road holding, surprising off-road ability, ergonomics
Room for improvement
Feels heavier than its rivals, steering not quite as sharp as the X3’s, 3.0 TDI performance comes with 125kg weight penalty, power steering durability question mark, lack of serious off-road features like low-range, no full-size spare, expensive options

Audi logo13 Mar 2009

THE Australian media launch of Audi’s vital new Q5 almost came unstuck before it had even finished when two 3.0 TDI variants suffered terminal power steering failure within a kilometre of each other after a challenging 35km fire-trail section in the Kosciuszko National Park this week.

The cause of the steering system problem, on the second of three identical instalments of the event, is yet to be revealed, and it took the gloss off an otherwise convincing introduction to Audi’s first mid-sized luxury SUV.

True to form, the Q5 wraps its higher-riding A4-based chassis architecture in a stylish five-door wagon bodyshell that looks as good inside as out, where Audi’s hallmark design and build quality is the overriding theme.

Of course, all the Q5s on hand were almost fully optioned, which took the base price of the entry-level 2.0 TFSI we drove from $59,900 to a hefty $82,780, or almost as much as the most affordable Q7.

That meant we couldn’t sample items such as the 2.0-litre variants’ standard ‘Leatherette’ seat trim, which would nevertheless have no bearing on the vault-like structural integrity of every model we drove, which gives the Q5 the same undeniably premium feel as its two chief rivals.

Ride quality was impressive too, given the minimal level of bodyroll, no matter how hard we pushed on the twisty country NSW tarmac – and the fact the Q5 also proved surprisingly compliant on the lumpy, bumpy off-road section that presented many unexpected hurdles but never fazed our Q5.

Just as the new A4’s revised chassis layout has improved its handling and steering prowess markedly over its predecessors, the Q5 offers a satisfying mix of crisp, responsive steering with enough feedback to make it feel decidedly un-SUV-like at the wheel.

Yes, as with the A4, there is still a level of steering rack rattle and even a touch of steering wheel kick at the limit of adhesion on rough surfaces and, no, the Q5 probably falls short of offering the same vice-free level of steering precision and response as BMW’s benchmark X3.

And while the V6 diesel’s considerable extra weight up front doesn’t allow it to change direction as effortlessly as the 2.0-litre turbo Q5 we drove, all Q5s somehow feel a little heavier than their kerb weights suggest.

However, there is little to separate the Q5 from the X3 in 99 per cent of usages, and if money were no object we’d happily sacrifice the 2.0 TFSI’s better-pointing nature for the bullocking reserves of torque that are always on offer from the Q5 3.0 TDI.

That said, the turbo-petrol Q5 was much more spirited than we expected, as well as smoother and quieter than even the super-refined 3.0 TDI.

We suspect that’s not just because it is blessed with more performance than anything this side of the 169kW Golf GTI Pirelli in the VW Group’s 2.0-litre turbo armoury, but because the rapid-fire new seven-speed dual-clutch auto is simply as good as anything similar from either Porsche (PDK) or BMW (M-DCT).

It’s a shame the oh-so-convenient paddle shifters are optional on four-cylinder Q5s, but given the obscenely-priced metallic paint option box ($1900 in this case) is ticked by 90 per cent of Audi buyers, perhaps Q5 buyers won’t be discouraged from extending to what we think would be the best $585 they will ever spend.

We never sampled the 2.0 TDI or 3.2 FSI (both on sale by May), but while the latter is expected to comprise just five per cent of all Q5s sold, the much slower 2.0 TDI’s improved fuel economy is expected to attract just as many buyers as the identically priced 2.0 TFSI.

Overall, we think the slippery and stylish looking Q5 deserves to be as popular as BMW’s segment-leading X3, which maintains a narrow dynamic edge over the Audi but now falls short in the key areas of luggage space and interior design and quality.

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