The BMW X3's a bit Bangle-quirky, and the forthcoming Mercedes-Benz GLK looks like a blocky mini-truck. So clean, simple, and sporty is the logical route for Audi's entry in the compact premium SUV segment, the all-new Q5. The new Q5 combines Audi's trademark single frame grille with clean surfaces. Subtle fender flares hint at the A5 from some angles, and the roofline is one of the lowest in the segment.
The Q5 is built off the same architecture as the new A4 sedans and wagons and the A5 coupes. That means longitudinal engines, and a Quattro drive system with 60 percent of the torque directed to the rear wheels in normal driving.
The longitudinal engines bit is important because that means the Q5 can run anything from an inline-four to a V-8 under the hood, like the A4/A5. For the U.S., however, the Q5 will initially be available only with Audi's 3.2-liter direct-injection V-6, driving through a six-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. With 265 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque, the FSI V-6 provides grunt enough to propel the Q5 to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds.
Aimed squarely at BMW X3, Benz GLK, Infiniti Ex35, Land Rover LR2, Lexus RX 350, and the Volvo XC60, the Q5 rolls on the longest wheelbase in the segment -- 110.6 inches. That's a full half-inch longer than the X3 and almost six inches longer than the LR2. It's strictly a two-row vehicle, but the second row folds flat to provide just over 55 cu ft of load space.
The Q5 features extensive use of high-strength steel in the body structure. The hood and tailgate are made from aluminum to reduce weight, and aluminum is used extensively in the suspension. The compact trapezoidal-link rear-suspension layout allows a low floor in the rear cargo area. The Q5 will come standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, but wheels up to 20-inch diameter will be available as options.
Though basically a soft-roader, Audi claims the Q5 is reasonably adept off the tarmac, capable of climbing 31-degree slopes, with a break-over angle of 17.5 degrees. Ground clearance is almost 7.9 inches, and Audi says the Q5 can handle water up to 19.7 inches deep.
The Q5 will be available with the usual array of Audi features, including the latest-generation three version of the MMI computer interface, power tailgate, keyless entry, Bluetooth hands-free phone, a Bang & Olufsen 505-watt 14-speaker sound system, and even a heated and cooled cupholder.
Perhaps the most innovative feature, however, is on the roof. The Q5's roof rack features sensors that detect when it is being used to carry a load. The sensors feed the information into the electronic stability control system, which then automatically adjusts its operating parameters -- basically lowering the dynamic threshold at which it begins to intervene -- to compensate for the upward shift in the vehicle's center of gravity.
The Audi Q5 will go on sale here in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2009, with pricing close to BMW's X3 and other rivals.