In real estate, it's location that matters most. In the car business, it's more about timing. Audi's full-size Q7 is a good example. It's sold well, but it could've done better had it reached market earlier in that sinking segment's boom-and-bust cycle. The Q5, however, hits this market in March, when more shoppers will be looking for smaller, more efficient vehicles. Still, pricing will be a key factor. In this respect, the Q5 could be the right vehicle at the right time.

The Q5 will be powered by a 3.2-liter FSI V-6 with 270 horses and 243 pound-feet of torque. Gear selection is through an updated six-speed Tiptronic automatic, and a self-locking center differential can split power to front and rear tires, normally in a 60-rear/40-front ratio.

Pricing has yet to be determined, but the Q5's MSRP should be comparable with its chief rivals, the BMW X3 and new Mercedes-Benz GLK. Several levels of option packages and stand-alone extras, as well as an off-road package and a sportier S-Line model, provide good excuses to spend much more.

European Q5s (starting at 38,300 euros) made their debut in late 2008 with three other engines, all with direct injection and turbochargers; the 3.2-liter V-6 will join them in 2009. A brand-new gasoline 2.0-liter TFSI with 211 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque comes with a six-speed manual, while the two diesels--a 2.0-liter TDI with 170 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque, and a 3.0-liter V-6 TDI with 240 horsepower and an enormous 368 pound-feet of torque--are both fitted with a completely new seven-speed twin-clutch S-Tronic automatic transmission, developed and built by Audi.

Yes, we're disappointed, too, that the diesels won't come to our shores until 2011 at the earliest, and we're also disappointed we aren't getting the twin-clutch gearbox until it's deemed polished enough for American tastes. Still, the gasoline V-6 isn't bad at 25-mpg average on the European test cycle, and the Audi Tiptronic is so refined it ranks among the world's nicest automatics.

The new six-cylinder features Audi's innovative valve-lift technology, which adjusts camshaft lift on the intake side, in two stages, to broaden the torque curve for better off-the-line acceleration and midrange power. The result is suave delivery and more than enough pull for the sub-4000 pound SUV. Zero-to-60 mph is reckoned to be about 6.8 seconds, and maximum towing is 2400 pounds.

Built on the new Audi A4 platform but longer, wider, and, of course, taller than the sedan, the Q5 is at or near top of class in every dimension (except for height; Audi wanted a relatively low stance for sportier handling). The Q5 sits on a 110.6-inch wheelbase and provides for a spacious five-passenger interior with 19.0 cubic feet of cargo space.

There are plenty of clever touches throughout for storage and safe hauling, and the U.S. models also get the Rear Bench Plus system with 60/40 split and separate fore/aft adjustability. Folded flat, they free up to 55 cubic feet of cargo space and a load length of almost 67 inches (the front-passenger seat folds forward for even longer loads).

Notable options include bi-Xenon headlamps; a power tailgate; the largest sunroof in class; sideview assist; 19-inch wheels; Audi Drive Select, the slick system that manages throttle position, steering ratio, and electronic shock control for comfort or performance; and a 505-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system with 14 speakers.

We sampled all four engines on short hauls around the outskirts of Valencia, Spain, and all fared well in the matadorial dramas played out on Spanish streets. Audi expects the Q5 to add lots of numbers to Audi's ever-growing bottom line. We won't argue the point. The company sold over a million cars worldwide for the first time in 2007, but that seven-figure sum should easily increase, say, by a factor of Q5.


2009 AUDI Q5
Base price$39,000 (est)
LayoutFront engine, AWD, 4-door, 5-pass SUV
Engine3.2L/270-hp/243-lb-ft V-6, DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Transmission6-speed automatic
Curb weight, lb3850 (mfr)
Wheelbase, in110.6
Length x width x height, in182.2 x 74.8 x 65.2
0-60 mph, sec6.8 (mfr estimate)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ, mpg18/25 (est)
CO2 emissions, lb/mile0.94 (est)
On sale in U.S.March 2009