2011 Audi Q5 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 14, 2011

The 2011 Audi Q5 is one of the best upscale picks in a compact crossover, thanks to its sleek lines, practical interior, responsive feel, and city-savvy size.

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.

Review continues below

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.

9

2011 Audi Q5

Styling

There's really nothing to find fault with here in the Q5: A sleek, gently rounded exterior and fast-wagon roofline give way to an especially charming cabin design, with rich materials and top-notch detailing.

The 2011 Audi Q5 is smooth and softly sculpted on the outside, and stands out even in a class of handsome all-weather wagons. With the Q5, it's the height and stance that conveys its capability and, as with the Volvo XC60, it's going for subtle, carlike, and elegant, rather than tough, imposing and upright. 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. Up close, the Q5's prominent, rounded nose and sedan-like tail lamps (with LED lighting) walk the best line between sport-ute size and German-wagon efficiency.

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.

8

2011 Audi Q5

Performance

The 2011 Audi Q5 feels responsive while it's also fuel-efficient, with the new four-cylinder engine, though the Q5's Audi Drive Select might not be worth the money.

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.

V-6 models continue with the former six-speed automatic—a slightly lumpier combination, actually—and both models include Tiptronic manual shift control. With all-wheel drive, about eight inches of ground clearance, and hill descent control, the Q5 can handle moderate all-terrain activity, but it's clearly not meant for anything more than casual hill climbing. Towing capacity is up to 4,400 pounds.

With the standard setup in the Q5, handling feels responsive and just short of nimble—with a very damped steering feel the only issue for enthusiasts. Audi Drive Select is optional and as in other Audis allows the driver to dial in choices for steering feel, transmission shift speeds, and throttle tip-in—Auto, Sport, Individual, or Comfort—but it leaves you with several specialized, each-imperfect settings.

8

2011 Audi Q5

Comfort & Quality

The Q5 has the passenger room, cargo space, and quality construction that well-heeled buyers want, in a maneuverable size.

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.

The Q5's layout is straightforward and versatile. The second-row seats split and fold to create more cargo space, but even when five people (four adults, really) are seated inside, there's enough cargo room for four roll-on suitcases and a clear view out the rear hatch glass. Small storage abounds, down to the 1-liter cup holders molded in all the doors, the console, and the fold-down armrest in the backseat.

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.

10

2011 Audi Q5

Safety

The 2011 Audi Q5 is one of the safest compact crossovers you can get.

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 hasn't yet been tested in the revised, more stringent NCAP program introduced by the federal government this year, but last year it earned five stars in all categories of testing under the old program.

All the safety features are here, too, along with some that aren't typical in the class. Front, side, and curtain airbags are included, as are anti-lock brakes and stability control. Rear side thorax airbags are optional.

What's more, because it has more window space than most designs, and because of its height—and its almost ridiculously large side mirrors—the Q5 has good outward visibility without the need for high-tech solutions like rearview cameras and parking sensors (they're both offered though if you really want it). You're just a little (but not a lot) higher than most cars, and that's a good vantage.

8

2011 Audi Q5

Features

The 2011 Audi Q5 offers some impressive features and options, but its inexcusable that Bluetooth and an iPod cable aren't standard—and that they cost an extra grand.

The 2011 Q5, as with most Audi models, offers a good list of standard features that covers most of the luxury bases, but it teases you with an extensive list of high-tech entertainment, convenience, and performance options that can very significantly drive up the sticker price.

The all-new 2.0T model is offered in Premium or Premium Plus models, while the 3.2 model is offered in Premium Plus and top-of-the-line Prestige trims. With the new four-cylinder models, the 3.2 is no longer offered in Premium guise.

This year, all Q5 models get a trip computer with efficiency display, the 3.2 models now include an S line exterior package and 19-inch wheels standard, and adaptive lights have been added to the 3.2 Prestige. The available MMI Navigation Plus system that's standard on the Prestige model and optional on Premium Plus now gets HD Radio as well.

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. With the S line Package (20-inch wheels and summer performance tires, a sport steering wheel, black headliner, and brushed aluminum inlays), the Luxury Package (leather instrument panel, ventilated front seats, premium Milano leather), adaptive cruise control, and the Audi Drive Select dynamic chassis settings, a fully loaded Q5 3.2 totals more than $52k.

While it's tempting, you don't have to spend a lot more on the Q5; 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.

6

2011 Audi Q5

Fuel Economy

With a new, more fuel-efficient 2.0T engine this year, the 2011 Audi Q5 gets much greener.

In V-6 form, the Q5 performs well but sure isn't very fuel-efficient. The 3.2-liter version comes with EPA fuel economy figures of just 18 mpg city, 23 highway—embarrassingly low for such a compact vehicle.

Luckily, the Q5 performs nearly as well with the new 2.0T engine and eight-speed automatic—and achieves EPA numbers of 20 mpg city, 27 highway.

In a recent drive of the Audi Q5 2.0T, we achieved an average of nearly 24 mpg in an equal mix of rather spirited city and highway driving, essentially matching its EPA figures—and putting it near the head of its class based on our real-world experience with compact crossovers.

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Styling 9.0
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