Audi is a latecomer to the luxury crossover game, but the company's engineering and product planning staffs seem to have used their late arrival to good advantage. The second of Audi's three crossover SUV offerings, the Q5 was introduced for the 2009 model year, and has been a popular player amid a steadily growing group dominated by German makes, in particular the BMW X3.
Classified as a compact SUV, the Audi Q5 structure is consistent with contemporary crossover engineering, a unitbody incorporating the frame rails within the body shell. This approach keeps curb weight down while simultaneously yielding higher structural rigidity, which pays dividends in fuel economy and handling response. The old body-on-frame tradition is a better bet for durability in rugged off-road use, but like its contemporaries the Q5 isn't likely to see anything more challenging than a gravel road.
Like the BMW X3, the Audi Q5 offers two rows of seats, and is rated for five passengers. The reality is that four of those passengers will ride in comfort, while the fifth, in the rear center position, will be unhappy. This isn't limited to the Q5; it applies to all the entries in this segment: BMW X3, Infiniti FX, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class, Range Rover Evoque, Volkswagen Touareg, Volvo XC 60, and the Acura RDX.
The similarities between BMW X3 and Audi Q5 don't end with seating. The dimensions of the two vehicles are essentially identical, as are their cargo capacities, and pricing structures. We suspect this is not coincidence.
All the vehicles competing in this segment offer all-wheel drive, but for several it's an optional feature. It's standard equipment with the Audi Q5, regardless of engine choice.
There are two of the latter. A turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder became the standard engine in 2011, and the formerly standard 3.2-liter naturally aspirated V6 is now available as an upgrade option. The 2.0-liter turbo is ubiquitous in Volkswagen/Audi vehicles, a durable engine with years of development on its resume. Now with direct fuel injection, it's rated for 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque in this application.
The V6 raises the horsepower ante to 270 hp, although its torque rating (243 pound-feet) is a bit lower than that of the turbo four, it adds substantially to vehicle mass (about 250 pounds), and the extra power output comes at the expense of fuel economy. The turbocharged four is EPA-rated at 20/27 mpg City/Highway, whereas ratings fall to 18/23 mpg for the V6.
The 2.0-liter engine is paired with Audi's new 8-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, while the V6 delivers power via an older 6-speed automatic.
Audi wants us to perceive the Q5 as the sportiest entry in its segment, which is a bit of a tough sell as far as power is concerned, since the BMW X3's optional 3.0-liter turbocharged six-cylinder engine delivers 300 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque.