kilometer magazine

celebrating european cars and motorcycles


km : First Drive


14 September 2012

Let’s be honest. Most car enthusiasts loathe crossovers. It’s not that spanning the gap between full-on SUV and low-slung station wagon is a bad thing, it’s just that their very presence is likely the reason for the endangered-species status of good station wagons here in America. With its quick rise to the #2 position on Audi of America’s sales charts, you can’t deny that the Q5 is suited to American tastes. But as a driving enthusiast, I’ve always opted for something like an S4 Avant over a Q5. And with that mentality, and the knowledge of our readers’s like-minded persuasion, I boarded a plane to Ingolstadt this summer to test the new and improved 2013 Audi Q5 range.

While virtually every configuration of the new Q5 was on hand to sample, I immediately gravitated toward the 3.0 TFSI decked with the S-line equipment (starting price $48,270, though fully loaded as tested will net out at $59,020). It’s the closest one in the lineup to an S4 Avant, unless America gets the green light for the muscular – if awkwardly named – SQ5.

As with the rest of the 2013 Audi lineup, the Q5’s former 3.2 FSI V6 is being phased out and replaced by a more potent supercharged 3.0 TFSI, the same mill fitted to the S4 and S5, though running slightly different software. Rather than the S4’s 333 hp, the Q5 is rated at 272 hp backed up by 295 lb-ft of torque. That new engine is paired with Audi’s 8-speed Tiptronic transmission – the same quick-shifting and highly efficient unit available in the A6, A7 and A8.

Equipped with the S-line package – which, with 255/45R20 tires on 8.5-inch-wide alloys but no extra power, is more of a sport appearance package than an outright performance option – Audi figures the Q5 will make the run from 0-60 mph in about 5.7 seconds. And thanks to improvements in efficiency, it also returns an average fuel economy figure of around 27 mpg.

Outwardly all 2013 Q5s gets some very subtle changes. The Audi grille has morphed from rounded shield to hexagonal in keeping with Ingolstadt’s latest look, and the deeper S-line bumpers like those on our tester get “pincer-split” lower air ducts. Other than a slightly revised hood to accept the new grille design, the rest of the Q5’s previous sheet metal – complete with those oh-so-subtle box flare fender creases that pay homage to the original quattro – carries on largely unchanged.

Press the start button and the non-sheetmetal differences come to light. Literally. Audi’s newfound love of solid tubes to shape its outward LED light signature is markedly different than the lit dots of the previous model, giving the new Q5 a most menacing looking with its running lights activated.

Another subtle but significant upgrade is the Q5’s adoption of Audi’s latest MMI system complete with Google Maps, Google Search and Audi connect. This means the new Q5 can be a rolling WLAN hot spot for up to eight mobile devices, and that navigation will now be augmented by satellite overlays of maps via Google complete with traffic data. A much-lauded voice-controlled search pings the vaunted Google search engine in the cloud rather than just what is saved on your phone or the car’s own hard drive.

The most notable change in the driving experience, aside from the new engine, comes from the Q5’s changeover to electromechanical steering. It replaces the less-efficient hydraulic pump, which constantly demanded energy from the engine, with an on-demand electric servomotor to assist with leverage. That means it’s programmable for various levels of input with the Audi Drive Select (ADS) option. Like other EPS systems, there is a level of artificiality in the feel, but strides in both programmability and efficiency make that seem well worth the price.

ADS, which also allows fine-tuning of the throttle and transmission, is part of the Driver Assist Package ($3250) along with adaptive cruise control. The S-line package ($2,500) adds adjustable damping suspension to this system, along with the 20-inch wheels, brushed aluminum interior inlays, black cloth headliner and a flat-bottom sport steering wheel.

Speaking of options, there are two more that need mentioning. First, there’s the rear-seat entertainment system ($1,950) that includes a pair of 10-inch LCD screens with controls to a separate media server on the center armrest. The second option, this one geared toward the performance enthusiast, is a no-cost sunroof delete that will drop a lot of weight where it is all but welcome – above the belt line – and add a little extra space for tall drivers or, wishful thinking, a helmet.

To my enthusiast palate, the Q5 3.0 TFSI S-line felt slightly stiffer and more composed than the previous model on the roads outside of Munich. It is a satisfying setup that someone seeking an S4 Avant might find acceptable, though neither as aggressive nor satisfying as the European-spec SQ5 that I also drove.

Nevertheless, the wagon lover within me starts to nag at the mere thought of it, as though I’ve thrown in the towel for a minivan. “Once you go minivan, you’ll never look back,” say my friends who have traveled that road. As an enthusiast I’ve often wondered if that’s just their way of defending the choice to give in. And while I can confidently say I’ll never go minivan, Audi’s buttoned down 2013 Q5 with the 3.0 TFSI engine and S-line package might be just cool enough to lure me to the crossover side.

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