Well, you do have to admire the attitude… Whilst my colleagues in the media remain determined to talk us all into ‘the forthcoming recession’ just because a pox of relentlessly greedy estate agents have had to give their Minis back and get proper jobs, Audi is having none of it.
At the recent 2008 Paris motor show, Audi obersturm gruppenfuhrer Rupert Stadler was asked how Audi is preparing for the financial crisis. His response was: ‘We’ve had a board meeting, discussed it thoroughly, and decided not to participate.’
Predictably, then, any suggestions that the introduction of the new Audi Q5 in the current climate is tantamount to re-arranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic have been swatted aside with the gently bullish rejoinder that Audi has never been interested in overheating any of the rapidly burgeoning number of market segments it occupies, and that they’ll undoubtedly sell every one they make.
And, having driven it, I suspect they’re right. Largely because the damned thing’s so bloody convincing.
Really? The Audi Q5 doesn’t look that enthralling…
True, but to those of us who find the my-God-it’s-moving-towards-us Q7 so preposterously gargantuan that it’ll never really look the part until Audi fits a gun turret on the roof, the Q5 represents a welcome return to sizing sanity.
Boasting beefed-up A4 architecture under the skin, the Q5 doesn’t look instantly off-road friendly in the manner of a Freelander or Volvo XC60, but then again, it doesn’t look utter cack like an X3 either. Oversized front grille aside (and, no, I’m never going to stop complaining about that), this is classic, safe, Audi styling simply left a tad longer on the party balloon pump.
What’s the Q5 like inside?
On board, space afforded by the five-seat layout is considerably abetted by the cunning relocation of the drive differentials in front of the clutch, buying an extra 152mm of wheelbase. Astern, sensibly engineered lever systems make rear seat origami a doddle, and Audi has no plans to insert a Bangalore torpedo up the exhaust of the Q7 through the introduction of a seven-seat variant.
The driving position’s first class, and only marred by a constriction of the footwell aggressive enough to push your resting clutch foot rather too far to the right; the only downside to that differential relocation. Happily, this model’s fitted with Audi’s superb seven-speed DSG gearbox (which we must now call ‘S tronic’), but I wonder, in manual guise, just how much room there would be for three pedals and two feet….
The tidy, A4 sourced dashboard is elegantly oriented towards the driver, and loaded with good stuff, including an extremely trick sat-nav which not only gives you topography in something akin to 3D, but also affords views of major cities’ landmark buildings in remarkable detail. Zoom in on Paris, for instance, and you can actually see blokes scrambling about on the Eiffel Tower’s steelwork with paint brushes. OK, I lied about that, but it’s still a nice conceit.
There must be something you don’t like about the Q5!
Well, yes, there are one or two things. A potential fly in the ointment is the electronic handbrake. We’ve had trouble with these before in an off-road context, but since the only off-roading we’re afforded at launch is a quick thrape along a donkey track previously swept for donkeys, we’re not about to find out today.
Oh, yes, that and the fancy cup holder; an option which cools drinks to 5 degrees centigrade and heats them to 55. Important, then, to push the right button having stashed the Mars bar, unless you’re happy to tuck in subsequently via a forest of marshmallows on sticks.
And I suppose the Q5 drives like any other pocket SUV?
Rather better than most, in fact; think tall A4 quattro. Though nothing like as quiet and frugal as what will undoubtedly be the best-selling 2.0 TDI variant, this 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol unit bungs out a respectable 208bhp and shares the turbodiesel’s 258lb ft of torque, and is quoted as offering it from just 1500rpm, even lower down the rev band than the diesel.
In a quoted time of 7.2 seconds, it sprints to 62mph over two seconds faster than the diesel, but it doesn’t half make a fuss about it, bellowing its intent rather more vocally than is seemly most of the time, particularly in the context of that master of the oleaginous slush change, the DSG (sorry, S tronic) gearbox.
End-of-term report on the cornering ability please!
Though UK specification Q5s will be equipped with conventional suspension, the one I drove sported something called Audi Drive Select, another take on the group’s adaptive suspension system. This one offers Comfort, Auto and Dynamic settings which adjust suspension firmness, steering weight and throttle mapping, with the facility to adjust steering and suspension independently of each other via the Multi-Media Interface. As usual, the chassis gubbins are best left alone to do their thing in Auto mode.
Thus armed, the Q5 goes straight to the top of the class. Audi clearly benchmarked the X3’s make-it-handle-like-a-hatchback-at-all-costs dynamics and, having all but matched them whilst besting the nasty little BMW in every other respect, it’s now safe to assume that every single person you see driving an X3 does so simply because of the badge on the hooter.
I fear you’re about to suggest the new Q5 is actually fun to drive…
Um, yes. It is rather. In the quest for the predictably early onset of understeer and pig-in-shite rolling proclivities I hunted down a dusty back road. And… nothing. Ganging up with adaptive dampers and Quattro drive, the long wheelbase and wide track deliver just enough body roll to keep you informed and such a total absence of understeer that I suspect the next step would be for the Q5 to simply fling itself, wholesale, into the shrubbery.
The steering feels pretty meaty at everything but car park speeds. But that’s appropriate to the Q5 and, once you start to hoon a little, is surprisingly accurate and informative by Audi’s traditional, numb-nuts standards, accessing a level of agility that the little porker’s couture completely fails to even hint at.
Vocal albeit, the engine’s eager enough for me slot the gear lever into manual mode, and then feel instantly frustrated. The lever operates, as is so often the case with manual override, the wrong way round, requiring a forward push for up changes and rearward tug for changes down. This is, as they say in Germany, not correct. Just ask any racing driver, or, indeed, Spike, the bulldog in Tom and Jerry cartoons, who inevitably pushes up mountainous divots in a futile effort to stave off an impending collision.
None of this would matter if this sublime gearbox were linked, as it so often is on an Audi, to steering wheel mounted paddles. But here, for some reason, they don’t appear to be standard fit….
Which brings us to one, major gripe…
Yes indeed. The list price of this model (too long to write out again so please refer to the headline) is an ostensibly reasonable and competitive £30,600. But the car I drove sells for, erm, £41,400. And that doesn’t even include the essential £250 extra for paddles. Looking around, it’s hard to see where that £10,800 has gone, and it does leave me gently perplexed about what would be missing on the standard, option-free car. Paint? Steering wheel?
Amongst a fitted options list too long to bore you with here, £1995 for MMI technology which lets you watch men paint the Eiffel Tower and £1000 for Audi Drive Select must be taken on the chin. As must £1200 for 20in alloys. But tumble down through the numbers further and you soon reach territory I’d hoped had long since been abandoned by Germany’s Big Three.
A cheeky £450 for something called ‘Mobile phone prep low’, £100 for a steering wheel with buttons on it, £170 for ‘Rear bench seat plus’, and even £160 for an ‘Interior light package’. Rear bench seat plus what? And what’s the standard interior lighting; a Maglite in the glovebox?
Am I alone in expecting an SE spec car to offer far more of this stuff as standard equipment these days?
Understated but horribly good. The meek are about to inherit the earth. But they’ll need fat wallets.