Some premium small SUVs sprint and corner like athletes, while others prefer to cruise comfortably down the highway. Experts say the 2009 Audi Q5 manages to excel at both, while towing more than its rivals (4,400 pounds) and wrapping occupants in total luxury. It easily beats its competitors in head-to-head tests.
The Audi wins Motor Trend's four-SUV shootout, easily topping the last-place 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 (Base MSRP: $34,600 to $36,600), which suffers from a cramped backseat and numb steering and brakes compared with the Audi. The Audi goes on to win a five-SUV comparo at Car and Driver, again routing the Mercedes and also edging out the sporty -- but stiffer, smaller and less plush -- 2010 BMW X3 (Base MSRP: $38,850). Other reliable sources prefer the Audi Q5 to any other small luxury SUV, including the 2010 Infiniti EX35 (Base MSRP: $33,800 to $37,400), 2010 Acura RDX (Base MSRP: $32,520 to $34,520) and 2010 Cadillac SRX (Base MSRP: $33,830 to $51,860).
While each of these other premium small SUVs has its good points, experts say the Audi is the total package -- starting with its strong, smooth powertrain, a 270-horsepower, 3.2-liter, V6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. A "drum-tight chassis" and standard all-wheel drive keep the Q5 sure-footed on curvy roads -- or off them, Motor Trend testers conclude after negotiating some rocky desert hills in the Q5.
Inside, the Q5 is a universal favorite of critics. Soft leather seats and wood inlays come standard, along with sliding, reclining rear seats and a clean, modern design that Car and Driver calls "sculptural perfection." Testers say four adults will be quite comfortable, but the fifth passenger has to straddle an obtrusive transmission tunnel in the middle rear seat. Other common gripes are the Q5's complicated controls (for radio, etc.) and poor rear visibility (a rearview camera is optional).
Crash ratings are excellent, and standard features include antilock brakes plus stability and traction control. Front, front-side and curtain airbags are also standard (rear side airbags are optional). Fuel economy is on par with other premium small SUVs at 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway/20 mpg combined.
With just over 29 cubic feet of luggage space -- or a little more than 57 cubic feet with the rear seats folded -- the Q5's cargo bay is a bit smaller than other small premium SUVs'. However, it's a lot smaller than the similarly priced 2010 Lexus RX 350 (Base MSRP: $37,700 to $39,100), a midsizer that competes directly against the Q5. The more placid Lexus can't compete with the Q5's dynamic performance, but critics at Motor Trend wonder whether many buyers will care.
"Unless there are legions of shoppers out there who can withstand the sticker shock and are willing to trade cargo room for driving dynamics in their compact SUV, it won't pry many sales away from the Lexus," Motor Trend's Kirill Ougarov says of the Audi Q5.
The Audi Q5 comes in one trim level with a choice of three equipment packages. The base Premium package includes the wood-and-leather trim, satellite radio, heated mirrors, a trip computer and more, including separate automatic climate controls for the driver, front passenger and backseat. A Premium Plus package (Base MSRP: $4,300) adds a panoramic sunroof, power liftgate, power-folding and auto-dimming mirrors and heated front seats with driver memory, among other features. The Prestige package (Base MSRP: $11,000) adds all that plus an upgraded stereo and wheels, keyless ignition and a navigation package with rearview camera.
Optional on the Prestige trim is Audi Drive Select (Base MSRP: $2,950), which allows the driver to control the suspension, steering, transmission and engine responses by choosing Comfort, Auto, Dynamic or Individual mode. Testers at Motor Trend and Car and Driver say each setting has its pros and cons. "After a few days of evaluating, we just decided to default to auto and forget about it," Car and Driver says. "Knocking three grand off the sticker is a better idea."
We found no reliability ratings for this new model. The 2009 Audi Q5 is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile warranty.
The most revealing tests of the Audi Q5 are at Motor Trend and Car and Driver, both of which pit the Q5 directly against its peers to pick a favorite. ConsumerReports.org also ranks the Q5 against its rivals, but it's such a new model that it has no reliability history -- a big factor in ConsumerReports.org's picks. Edmunds.com also writes a thorough, test-based review, neatly summing up the Q5 and comparing it briefly to its top competitors. SaferCar.gov and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety publish crash-test results, and FuelEconomy.gov compares the Q5's estimated fuel economy with that of other SUVs.
1. Motor Trend
The 2009 Audi Q5 wins this small luxury SUV faceoff on hilly roads and desert terrain. "From styling to performance, the Q5 is unmatched," editors say.
Review: Comparison: 2009 Audi Q5 vs. 2010 Lexus RX 350 vs. 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 vs. 2010 Volvo XC60, Edward Loh, July 2009
2. Car and Driver
As in Motor Trend's test, the Audi Q5 beats all of its closest competitors here. Car and Driver testers find a few nitpicks, but the beautiful cabin and quick, composed performance are "irresistible."
Review: 2009 Audi Q5 vs. 2009 BMW X3, 2010 M-B GLK350, 2010 Volvo XC60, 2010 Lexus RX350 -- Comparison Tests, Patrick Bedard, June 2009
The Audi Q5 holds its own in a fiercely competitive segment that includes the Acura RDX, BMW X3, Infiniti EX35 and Mercedes-Benz GLK350, editors say. It's not the biggest of the bunch, but Edmunds.com likes the Q5's quiet, upscale cabin, balanced ride and handling and exceptional crash safety.
Review: 2009 Audi Q5 Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
ConsumerReports.org subjects the Audi Q5 to the organization's usual rigorous testing, ranking it against dozens of other SUVs. Editors test fuel economy and accident avoidance as well as performance and comfort, but the Q5 is too new to have accumulated any reliability or owner-satisfaction data.
Review: Audi Q5, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
The Audi Q5 is one of the safest SUVs you can buy, with perfect 5-star front- and side-crash ratings and 4-star rollover avoidance ratings in government tests.
Review: 5-Star Safety Ratings, Editors of SaferCar.gov
6. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Like most SUVs in this class, the 2009 Audi Q5 earns the highest rating of Good in front, side and rear crashes here.
Review: Midsize Luxury SUVs, Editors of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Audi Q5 lands in the middle of this government chart, which ranks most 2009 SUVs by fuel economy. The Q5 gets an estimated 18 mpg city/23 mpg highway.
Review: 2009 Sport Utility Vehicles, Editors of FuelEconomy.gov