The Audi Q5 is one of the rare crossover vehicles with true multiple personalities--in the best possible sense. With a choice of five engines, all the different Q5s impart their own driving feel, from brightly enthusiastic to sensibly pragmatic. In every case, the Q5's well-sorted suspension responds capably.
The base Audi Q5 has an energetic, torquey power delivery that makes the most of its 220 horsepower. The Q5 isn't a lightweight; it weighs about 4,100 pounds in base trim. Still, even the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is pleasantly assertive. The turbocharger doesn't lag much, power comes on smoothly, and 0-60 mph times of 7.0 seconds put this basic version well within luxury-car standards, as does a top speed of 130 mph.
Above that drivetrain, Audi's supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 is the direction in which most luxury buyers will steer. It turns in 272 horsepower, and runs it through the same quattro all-wheel-drive system and eight-speed automatic standard on all Q5 crossovers. It weighs about 250 pounds more than the turbo four, but still drops its 0-60 mph time by a second, to 6.0 seconds; top speed stays at 130 mph. The lower gas mileage and higher curb weight don't dissuade this Q5 from blasting through exit ramps and needling in and out of traffic-inducing inertia, but the magnitude of change over the turbo four isn't tremendous.
Where the green-eyed Q5 shoppers will peel off is with either the Q5 TDI, new this year, or the Q5 Hybrid, new last year. The TDI is the less complex, more rational piece of the fuel-economy puzzle. With the usual diesel differences--a much narrower powerband, more vibration through the driving inputs--the TDI snares excellent combined fuel economy ratings of 27 mpg while still keeping a pace with the turbo-four edition, thanks to 240 hp and 428 pound-feet of torque. There's some additional tire noise too, but the compromises are slight for those leading EPA figures.
New for 2013 and back for 2014 is the Q5 Hybrid, which couples the four-cylinder turbo to lithium-ion batteries and an electric motor. Total net output of 245 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque are said to deliver a 0-60 mph time of 6.8 seconds and 26 mpg combined on the EPA cycle. We've had some brief exposure to the Hybrid, but only in controlled track driving; we'll bring you more as we learn more.
Shortly, we'll have the story on the SQ5, the first Audi crossover ever to earn the S badge. With the high-output version of the supercharged six, the 354-hp SQ5 promises 0-60 mph times of 5.1 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. Stay tuned for more on this version, soon.
No matter which Q5 you choose, the paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic has closely spaced gears and responsive shifting. Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system plus eight inches of ground clearance make the Q5 a good pick for deep snow and steep driveways. The Q5 can also tow up to 4,400 pounds, depending on which engine is underhood.
Driven back to back against some other luxury crossovers without German heritage, the Audi Q5's dynamics come off as taut and carlike. Especially in the lightest-weight turbo four model, the Q5 excels in passing maneuvers, and out of corners. That's with an asterisk: we're less convinced by Audi's adaptive Drive Select controls here. They can tweak the steering, transmission, and throttle responses, in concert with the adaptive suspension, but Q5s without the system have firm but good ride control, and more natural response to road flaws. Steering in this case is still typically electric-assist numb, but at least it's predictable and tracks well, which we haven't always found to be the case with Drive Select.
Should you choose Drive Select, you'll get four modes of operation--Auto, Sport, Individual, or Comfort. Each one has distinctive feel programmed into each of the vital driving input channels, but each one feels out of touch with the other. Take a note: save the money for the B&O audio.