The classic cars from the ‘70s and ‘80s you want to save from extinction the most
What – Audi Q5 2.0 TDI SE
Where – Valencia, Spain
Date – July 2008
Price – £30k (est)
Available – December
Key rivals – BMW X3, Land Rover Freelander, Audi A6 Avant
Long-awaited small Audi SUV could be one of the cars of the year. It's talented, frugal and, by class standards, decently priced.
Likes: styling, ride and handling, superb engines, even better cabin, in tune with Audi customers
Dislikes: people may wrongly dislike it because it’s an SUV, predicted waiting list, prices if you indulge in options
Read more Audi car review
Q5 is Audi's belated entry into the premium compact SUV sector. Defined by BMW with the X3, Land Rover's upmarket drive of the Freelander 2 gave it a bit more weight. But otherwise, it's been short of entrants before this - the A4-derived Audi slant on things. When Volvo later joins with the XC60, it could suddenly be a battleground.4x4s have a bad press; that's why Audi's not pretending this is one (its own survey shows but 2 per cent of people actually take them off-road). Instead, think all-utility vehicle. We're heard all this lifestyle nonsense before, but given the mountain-biking, windsurfing, active-stuff interests monied customers like Audi's have, maybe it's profiling that's found a home.
That's certainly why design was a Q5 design priority. Overall, the profile is SUV, but there's definite dynamism to the lines (in complete contrast to the blocky X3), particularly at the front end where edgy, vertical lines all rush rearwards, making it look sporty. In the metal, you'll see what we mean...Indeed, this is how best to appreciate it. Images don't do justice to the curving roof, the A5-style waistline crease, gently flowing in and out, nor the long wheelbase which gives it a stretched, lowish-slung look. The more time we spent with it, the more it satisfied. Mind you, that's true of all modern Audis.
Only one in 10 will take the revvy, rapid 2.0-litre turbo petrol, and hardly any more will choose the sublime 3.0-litre V6 TDI. No, the vast majority of Q5 sales will sensibly be of the 170bhp 2.0-litre TDI diesel. It's not hard to see why. It is, in short, great. Less turbo lag than the petrol, a revvy nature and a cammy, un-diesel-like growl mean it's really only the vibrations you feel when you press the clutch that reveal what fuels it. This genuinely is a smooth, peachy engine, with bags of torque and a willingness to rev. It's quick enough despite base status.
Ride and Handling
The first bump we met in the Q5, we knew it would be good. Because, unlike as in an X3, it was absorbed. There's compliancy here, far more than the harsh-riding BMW. But if you're fearing this means mushy handling, fear not Audi has, rather successfully, managed to blend the two. Steering is quick to respond, giving direct turn-in. Yes, there's some initial roll, but it's very well controlled, and the planted feel you get in corners is testimony to the advanced quattro drivetrain. It also feels 'solid' and indestructible, an intangible that nevertheless adds to the feeling of well-being.
Even better was that V6 we drove. That had Audi's electronic dampers, called Audi Drive Select, which lessened the roll, improved the body control and boosted the squat, four-square confidence a lot. It made the Q5 chuckable, full of feel and agile beyond its dimensions. The icing was just a tweak of oversteer when hard on the power out of bends. How so? The quattro system permanently juggles the front-rear drive split, and can send up to 85 per cent to the back. It adds greatly to the Q5's composure when pressing on. Of course, BMW's xDrive is even smarter, but have they managed to blend it with a ride as supple as this? Far, far from it.
The class has a new champion. With ease. In one fell swoop, Audi has demolished any pretensions its rivals had to class-leading quality, with quite brilliant finish, cohesive design and the sort of detailing that surprises even in a premium-orientated machine. The X3, in contrast, should scuttle into the corner and head its pasticky head in shame. Controls are well-placed and the seats are high set and very supportive. But it's the tactility of the 'deep' dash and architecture that most satisfies. This sector hasn't seen intelligent design like this before, nor such a premium-feeling ambience, and how special it does make the Q5.
The chrome detailing around the air vents, and the centre console, is exquisite. Dials just have to be stared at. The steering wheel is gorgeous. On petrol and V6s, paddles are fitted to it, controlling the superb seven-speed S tronic semi-auto. Think VW DSG - and this works even better, with seamless shifts and brilliant throttle blips on downchanges.Oh, and the optional 3D sat nav will have you driving into all sorts as you stare at it. Quite amazing. The rear cabin, with sliding, reclining seats, is roomy and comfortable too, and the boot is big, plushly-trimmed and flexible. Shame the wrap-around tailgate conceals an opening not as wide.
Economy and safety
42.1mpg from the diesel is what both Audi and Q5 drivers will be shouting about. This is seriously impressive for a 170bhp motor with quattro, and once again proves how idiotic those who want to 'ban all 4x4s' are. There are Fiestas less economical than this. Even the V6 TDI averages over 37mpg.quattro means assured grip and traction, all-weather predictability plus greater confidence (and, thus, safety) when conditions turn nasty. All the rain we've been having at the moment? You'd be surer underfoot with four-wheel drive. Particularly one with ESP so clever, it even knows when you've heavy stuff on the roof rack, and compensates accordingly.
The MSN Cars Verdict 5/5
We don't give five-star ratings out lightly, but the Q5 deserves one. Look at what else is on offer in its class, then list its many attributes - design, engine performance, economy, cabin quality, ride and handling - and it's hard to say it's not the class leader. By far. It's also well in tune with the lives its customers lead, without being that all-too-common non-entity, an SUV-cliché. We came to it suspicious, as we dislike the Q7, despite sales proving us wrong. But there's hardly anything to fault. It's even cheaper than an X3. £30k, with leather and big wheels? Orderly queue, please.
Need to know:
Diesel engines 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Power (bhp) 170
Torque (lb/ft) 258
0-62 (secs) 9.5
Top Speed (mph) 126
Combined mpg 42.1
Ratings out of five: (Specific model) - Audi Q5 2.0 TDI
Ride & handling ****
Fuel economy ****
MSN Cars verdict *****
More images of Audi Q5s from Live Search
Spied: Audi Q5 SUV
On test: Audi A6 Avant 2.7 TDi (2005 onwards model)
First Drive: Land Rover Freelander (2007 onwards model)
Watch a video roadtest of the Audi Q5
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
On the road with the landmark Lambos for special golden anniversary drive.
Date 13/05/13, Duration 4:26, Views 8234