Let’s face it: bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown would have been jealous of Audi’s signature styling cue.
The Gate took his leave from the rest of us in 2005, just as Ingolstadt was phasing in their gaping new biggie, The Grille – first onto the A8 W12, followed by the A6 and then the rest of Audidom.
Initially the new face divided opinion as decisively as Ernest Rutherford could split an atom. The “Nuvolari Nose” was not everybody’s cup of tea, even though it was directly transposed from Walter de’Silva’s critically acclaimed 2002 concept car called Nuvolari.
In the end, though, nay-sayers had to admit that the huge grille at least found a natural home on the nose of Audi’s first SUV, the intimidating Q7.
Now the Q7 has an off-shoot, a kleinboet, called Q5.
And yes, everything – including Ole’ Gatemouth – is smaller.
Except this: where Big Brother is kinda’ brash and bold, Kleinboet is really sporty and sophisticated.
It’s not that Q7 is a lumbering giant, no sirree. You’ll be surprised at how well double front wishbones and a finely tuned helm can handle such a behemoth.
Yet the smaller, sleeker, better balanced Q5 moves the SUV game forward in leaps and bounds.
Three critical elements
Thanks to three fundamental design solutions, Audi’s black-top-biased bush baby is truly nimble and agile. Virtually nothing of yore’s classic four-wheel drive handling curse remains, which is good news, as all Q5’s – now and in the future – will get quattro drive.
Thanks then, to Audi’s (1) innovative five link independent front suspension set-up, coupled to (2) new drive-train architecture incorporating underslung steering gear, plus (3) Ingolstadt’s modern emphasis on a rear-biased torque split (now with anything between 60 and 85% of engine power channeled southwards).
All of this helps to morph a 1.75 ton soft roader standing 200 mm clear of Mother Earth into quite a sporty soldier, even at first glance. The New Q on the Block is longer and wider than BMW’s X3, for instance, yet it squats lower and chunkier.
In relative terms, wheels also plant closer to the car’s corners than any Audi ever, bar the R8’s.
This yields an aesthetic advantage, of course. The Q5 comes at you with the slightly crouched but balanced intent of a boxer. The carriage is well strapped to its wheels, yet its torso floats with sprightly ease.
As such, the Q5 brims with a proud and purposeful presence.
It’s all Robin Hood, of course, rather than Rambo in the ’Hood.
There is the promise of capable power, damn right, borne from Ole’ Gatemouth plus the car’s stretched wheelbase and track.
Yet the Q5 also arrives loaded with style, beauty and sophistication, both inside and out.
Design, style and cabin
That’s standard Ingolstadt fare, of course.
Design is tops. Materials and execution are fantastic. The cabin is immaculate. Detail and jewellery sparkles just enough, in all the right places. Build quality makes the Rock of Gibraltar look wobbly. And fit and finish is tighter than a Scotsman’s fist.
Or for those who judge cars by the modern age’s gadgetry: the Q5 can combine MMI navigation with a hard drive, a Bluetooth phone, a TV and DVD, an intelligent speech control system, digital radio, an interface for iPod and MP3 players with USB connection plus Bang & Olufsen sound.
The Q5 cabin even beats the new BMW 7’s on overall perception of deep-seated quality and luxury.
Rear seat space and load capacity ain’t too shabby either, the Q5 riding on the new A4’s long underbelly (with a wheelbase one millimetre short of the A4’s 2808 mm).
Optional fore-aft plus reclining versatility for the rear bench is also available. And the boot offers clever under-floor compartments for dirty or wet sports gear, plus classy adjustable utility hooks like only Audi can do them.
The car’s entire look, furthermore, suggests smooth and rapid black top progress.
The nose is low and fast compared to the Q7’s.
The shoulder line kicks up a strong wedge.
Sturdy hind three-quarters and a short overhang prop up the roof’s slight but svelte coupé-like droop, preventing the rear from going soft like the Q7’s long jelly bean tail.
The aluminium tailgate’s shut lines having been cut around the lights, instead of straight through them, further creating a flat and wide look, rather than a tall and towering rear, like the X3’s.
The Audi’s wrap-around behind, and in fact the whole car, thus presents a clean and organically integrated look, even though the nose is well-stuffed with design detail (and, in the case of the 3.2-liter V6, a lot of chrome).
Engines and S tronic
It is also in that nose that Ingolstadt’s latest and greatest engine-gearbox combo nestles.
We’re talking the all-new four-cylinder 2.0-litre FSI Turbo, better know as TFSI, hooked up to a seven-speed S tronic gearbox – the first time Audi has coupled a dual clutch box to a longitudinally mounted engine.
Previously, S tronic (or DSG, in VW speak) has only ever been offered on the TT and A3’s transversely mounted 4-cylinders.
BMW, ironically, has beaten Audi to the punch with this specific combination in the M3 Convertible – and that with M DCT coupled to a V8, let alone a 4-cylinder!
Audi will catch up quickly, of course – the S tronic is slated to appear with all kinds of longitudinally mounted engines in rapid succession from now on.
But it must have been a shock to Ingolstadt when Munich beat them to the punch with such a prestige left field haymaker.
On top of that, Audi’s S tronic coupled to the north-south engine lay-out is not perfected yet.
There is a slight shudder on pull-off and just before the car rolls to a stop, yet so minimal is it that Wheels24 was the only publication to have noticed, Audi says, in six weeks of launching.
Audi also promised that the hick-up will be sorted in time for the Q5’s European launch in October, when three engines will be available – with the 3.2 V6 to follow early in 2009.
Here’s the real dynamite, however: the all-new 2.0-liter TFSI’s power figures of 155 kW and – wait for it – 350 Nm!
Yet this car, the Q5 2.0 TFSI weighing in at 1740 kg, consumes only 8.5 liters of petrol per 100 km.
That’s tremendous going, even though torque does not quite feel like 350 Nm.
Even so, the 2.0 TFSI shoves like hell, bearing in mind that it’s pulling one-and-three-quarter tons along.
This shove is mainly turbo-induced, of course.
But in the higher rev zones AVS (Audi Valve-lift System) contributes its bit as well (see separate story).
The 2.0 TFSI is a peach, then.
So is the 3.2-liter V6 with double-AVS (valve lift on the intake and outlet sides).
We didn’t have a chance to drive any diesels in Spain.
But both petrols were extraordinarily fast, lively, agile and stable for SUVs, with minimal body lean.
We’ve mentioned Audi’s new drive-train architecture for longitudinally laid-out component systems, which sees the front diff moved north of the clutch, allowing the front wheels to be positioned up-stream so that the wheelbase is lengthened and weight distribution shifted backwards, resulting in a sharper nose plus quicker damping and suspension.
Okay, okay, so the nose will push wide if you have thirty let alone forty winks in the apex.
Yet, wide awake drivers will notice that the Q5’s critical handling moment arrives long before corner exit, on entry already, under braking, at the moment of directional change.
If driven really hard, the Q5’s momentum – derived from mass multiplied by speed – might cause the vehicle to roll over the tyre sidewall of the outside front wheel ever so slightly, even on the 45 aspect ratio of the top model’s optional 19” wheels.
But take note: only if you drive, or can drive, exceptionally hard. The wobble, so slight that it’s hard to detect, also serves as a critical limit and therefore a handy warning for what the car is capable of on corner entry.
So, sit back and take a look at the line, not through the curve, but the line this story has taken.
We’re talking dynamics here.
Sharp, alert and sporty dynamics.
Off-road, steering and ESP
And it’s significant.
For where Audi has dynamically and performance-wise virtually matched BMW lately with certain cars (think RS4 and S5), the Q5 actually surpasses the X3 quite comfortably, especially as a package.
Well-ventilated and powerful big-disc brakes, for instance, leave nothing to chance. Balance and grip are exceptionally good. Body control is excellent for this type of vehicle.
And steering will accurately take you wherever you want to go, even off-road.
For yes, the Q5 is unashamedly tar-biased.
Yet it can hold its own on dirt, as we discovered during international launch drives when Wheels24 managed, exclusively, as far as we know, to slip away into the bundus of the Spanish countryside south-east of Valencia.
For such circumstances – meaning veld and hilly terrain – the Q5 is equipped with the latest in hill-descent control, as well as special ABS and ESP mapping for maximum traction and retardation on sand, gravel, etcetera.
The Q5 also boasts good approach (25 degrees), break-over (17.6 degrees) and departure (25 degrees) angles, with a bit of obligatory belly protection.
The sought-after captain’s chair elevation is thus guaranteed.
Yet, with the lower roof and therefore centre of gravity coupled to such excellent dynamic traits, the Q5 never feels tall or wallowy.
As such, the lively sporty touch is only sublimated – quite unexpectedly – when Dynamic mode is selected, via Audi Drive Select, for steering.
Instead of heavier weighting, the steering simply stiffens up and goes completely dead, which means hard work on turn-in without just reward in terms of feedback.
Far better, then, to leave the helm in comfort mode – even though it is a tad light for high-speed driving – and use the (optional) MMI Plus system to exploit throttle response and gear shifting points to the maximum.
Audi’s new ESP system also boasts a roof rack detection sensor for earlier activation because of the car’s higher center of gravity.
Audi’s new Q5 is dynamite – a highly attractive and hugely capable vehicle, boasting the very latest in technology and equipment.
It is, in short, going to devour the opposition like a Gatemouth processing plankton. Merc’s new GLK and even BMW’s next X3 (slated for 2010) had better watch out!
* The Q5 is 4.63 m long, 1.88 m wide and 1.65 m low with a cd of 0.33 and a trailer load of 2.4 metric tons (braked, at a gradient of eight per cent).
* Three direct injection turbo engines will initially be available:
a 4-cyl 2.0 TFSI with outlet-AVS (155 kW/4 300 - 6 000, 350 Nm/1 500 - 4 200, 0-100 in 7.2 s, topspeed 222 km/h, 7-speed S tronic. 8.5 liter/100 km);
a 4-cyl 2.0 TDI (125 kW/4 200, 350 Nm/1 750-2 500, 0-100 in 9.5 s, top speed 204 km/h, 6.7 liters/100 km, 6-sp tiptronic); and
a 3.0 TDI V6 diesel (176 kW/4 000 - 4 400, 500 Nm/1 500 - 3 000 rpm, 0-100 km in 6.5 s, top speed 225 km/h, 7.5 liter/100 km, 7-sp S tronic).
* Various body packages will also be available and a 3.2 V6 appears next year.
* Q5 arrives in South Africa at the end of the first quarter of2009.
Egmont Sippel is Rapport’s Motoring Editor and SA Motoring Journalist of the Year 2007/08.