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The Q5 broke into a new market segment for Audi when it was introduced two years ago, to take on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLK and BMW X3. The Q5 wowed us with its excellent interior design and cohesive style—and now for 2011 the Q5 gets a more fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine and eight-speed automatic transmission that perform as well or better while not nearly as thirsty.
Smooth and softly sculpted on the outside, the Q5 still stands out in a class of handsome all-weather wagons. From some angles in fact, the Q5's silhouette looks more like a slightly taller version of the A3 hatchback than it does a smaller sibling of the Q7 utility vehicle. Inside, it's a well-executed driving environment, with the sort of stylish simplicity—trimmed with rich materials that add a luxury undertone—that Audi seems to do better than anyone else. There are a few too many small buttons, but Audi frames them in metallic trim, wood, and coordinated leathers and plastics to give the somewhat cluttered dash a unified look.
An all-new 2.0T model joins the Audi Q5 lineup for 2011, along with an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission and, as with the V-6, quattro all-wheel drive. And while we like the 270-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6, the new 211-hp TFSI four-cylinder engine is a charmer. First off, it actually produces more torque than the V-6—258 pound feet, versus 243 lb-ft—so it never feels off its game with the new automatic's closely spaced gears and responsive shifting, and secondly, it's a lot more fuel-efficient, at an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway. While it's not quite as quick in the dash to 60 mph (7.1 seconds, versus 6.7), the new engine feels faster in transitions, in passing maneuvers, and out of corners—though it sounds quite coarse.
The 2011 Audi Q5 offers a reasonably roomy interior for a compact vehicle, with more than enough headroom and legroom in front. The seats themselves are firm and adjust for great comfort, even in back, where the passengers can recline for long-trip ease. And thanks to the rather long wheelbase, even backseat passengers do get enough legroom—none of the surprise crunch you get in vehicles like Audi's own A4 Avant. You might not want the Panorama moonroof, though if you plan to carry tall passengers as it cuts into headroom.
Cabin materials are about the best they come in this class, with a rich, unified feel throughout and nice detailing. Furthermore, the Q5 has excellent build quality and a tight, refined feel overall. There's a little bit of road noise, and you do hear the four-cylinder engine a bit too much, though.
With top 'good' ratings in every test from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and its Top Safety Pick Status for 2011, the Audi Q5 is one of the safest vehicles in its class—and one of the safest vehicles of any size.
The Q5 starts around the $35k mark, but prices can be driven way up just by stepping up models or checking a few option boxes. The base Premium model comes with a lot of standard features, including a ten-speaker sound system, heated mirrors, leather upholstery, power front seats, tri-zone climate control, Sirius satellite radio, and an SD card slot that can manage up to 32 gigabytes of music. That said, Audi nickles and dimes buyers for things that should be standard and are on many rival models; for instance, Bluetooth costs $700 on the base model, and an iPod interface costs $300.