At a time when the term Sports Utility Vehicle has depreciated into nothing but a generic catchphrase for a high-riding station wagon, the Audi Q5 TSFI quattro is one SUV that still embodies the label’s true sporty spirit.
Armed with the same potent 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine as the current Golf GTI, but with considerably more torque on tap (350Nm to the Golf’s 280Nm), the Audi Q5 is no slouch.
It’ll cover the benchmark 0-100km/h sprint in a rapid 7.2 seconds and has a top speed of 222km/h.
More than that, the Audi Q5 feels fast, despite its hefty 1740kg weight. With maximum torque reached between a grin-inducing 1500-4200rpm, in-gear acceleration is what the Audi Q5 does best.
Mind you, the Q5 won’t blitz traffic light getaways - if you’re a tad too enthusiastic with the throttle you’ll experience the effects of turbo lag. Punch the throttle from 80km/h on a stretch of billiard-table-smooth freeway, though, and the Audi Q5 doesn’t feel like a dull and practical family SUV - it’s more like an overgrown hot hatch, at least in straight-line performance.
The 2.0-litre engine combines direct injection and turbocharging with Audi’s valvelift system for greater power output - and it pulls this medium-size SUV exceptionally well.
Our Audi Q5 test car was fitted with Audi’s latest eight-speed automatic transmission (Tiptronic in Audi speak) that replaces the previous seven-speed unit, but combined fuel-consumption remains the same at 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres.
While it's not ultra fast shifting dual-clutch transmission that's fitted to other Audi models, the eight-speed auto is a smooth and quick-shifting unit, regardless.
There’s a sequential manual option, too, using the shifter (there are no paddle shifters on this variant), but we found it only mildly useful given the ‘sport’ setting, which holds the shift points until higher up in the rev range.
If there’s a drawback with this version of the Q5, (and there is but one) it would be the sometimes-strained engine note when driving in ‘sport’ mode resulting from its overly revvy character.
The Q5 emits a more enjoyable note down low, provided you gently ease the throttle forwards rather that the proverbial boot full.
The Audi Q5 handles corners with the same elegance as its straight-line performance. It’s also beautifully balanced through the bends – better even than the rival Range Rover Evoque in this reviewer's opinion.
While there’s no eradicating body roll completely due to the Q5’s weight and high-riding stature, it’s minimal at best and doesn’t affect the vehicle’s confident composure through the more twisty sections.
There’s also plenty of weight in the steering, although while it’s responsive we found a distinct numbness and lack of communication transmitted through the steering wheel. Certainly, there’s less feedback than with the Audi Q3.
Despite riding on a set of optional 19-inch alloy wheels shod with not-so-wide 235/55 series tyres, Audi’s proven quattro four-wheel drive system maintains excellent grip, even under heavy loads in tighter corners.
Less appealing about the Q5 though is its ride quality. The Audi Q5 runs a sophisticated suspension system using a five-link front set-up with upper and lower wishbones and a trapezoidal-link rear suspension, but the result is a firm ride most of the time, with some suspension thump on poorer surfaces. It's especially over patchy surfaces, where it's never what we’d call a relaxed ride unless you’re traveling on smooth freeway-quality tarmac.
It's here that the Q5 reveals its links to the Audi A4 on which it is based. The Q3, which rides better and is still fun to drive, clearly benefits from its relationship with the accomplished Volkswagen Tiguan.
You do get more space in the Q5 than the Q3, of course, where it excels in practicality. There’s lots of cargo space and the cabin comfortably accommodates five adults.
Simply pop the tailgate and you’ll find 540 litres of cargo with a nice wide aperture for easy loading. Hit the remote-style levers in the cargo bay wall and the 60:40 divided rear seats automatically fold flat for a total load space of 1560 litres.
For extra long loads, buyers can also option a folding front passenger’s seat for $350, but that will mean foregoing the standard-fit power seats.
Despite the Q5’s tapered roofline, there’s ample head and rear legroom, as well as plenty of width in the seats, although some might say they lack sufficient side bolstering given its sporty nature.
While the Audi’s principle rivals in the medium-size SUV class - BMW X3, Range Rover Evoque (technically also a rival for the Q3) and Volvo XC60 - have all lifted their game in the interior styling department, it’s still the Q5 that has the upper hand.
The switchgear alone is exquisite. There are no faux-metal highlights inside the Audi Q5 – it's all-real metal accents along with elegant jewel-like dials around the centre tunnel.
The Q5’s ergonomics are superb: every button, every knob is perfectly positioned in this driver-centric cockpit.
Meanwhile, the four-spoke sports steering wheel is worthy enough of its own mention. Thick-rimmed and covered in especially tactile soft leather for added grip, it also boasts Audi’s scroll-style rollers for audio volume and track selection.
Our Audi Q5 2.0 litre TSFI was equipped with the optional MMI (Multi Media Interface) Navigation plus, which provides a 6.5-inch high-resolution colour monitor controlled by a central rotary joystick behind the shifter.
It’s a relatively intuitive system, but still falls slightly short of BMW’s iDrive system for speed and general ease of use.
Standard kit includes the usual luxury inventory including Bluetooth phone (no steaming on this model), climate control air-conditioning, audio system with 10-speakers and an electronically operated park brake.
The Audi Q5 also gets a full suite of safety equipment on board with eight airbags, electronic stability program and ABS (anti-lock braking) with hydraulic brake assist.
Audi is set to launch an updated version of the Q5 in the first quarter of 2013 with a slightly more powerful engine tune for the 2.0-litre turbo petrol generating 167kW, while the torque output will remain the same.
The Audi Q5 hits most of the right notes – with ride comfort an exception. It’s also beautifully built and finished, as well as being eminently practical and family friendly.