For Audi's Q5, the big news for 2014 is that the compact luxury crossover gets a turbo-diesel option, which is the model we drove. We're fans of the TDI engines — Audi calls them "clean diesels" — and this Q5 did nothing to change our opinion.
Appearance: Aside from the huge TDI decal on the body, there's nothing that's ostentatious about the Q5. (Rest easy, buyers. Audi is proud of its diesel technology, but these large decals are only for vehicles in its press fleet.) The Q5, of course, sports Audi's trademark large trapezoidal grille, which is flanked by xenon headlights with sharp LED running lights. We like the chiseled good looks of this SUV, which also sports attractive integrated roof rails and 20-inch five-arm aluminum wheels.
Performance: Besides the estimated fuel economy — 24 city and 31 highway — the diesel engine has a noticeable advantage in low-end torque (428 pound-feet). What that means is there's always power when you need it, and that comes in handy if you have to tow something. Audi's standard quattro all-wheel drive helps out, too. The Q5's 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 diesel engine puts out 240 horsepower and comes with a standard stop-start system to save fuel. Lyra found this feature annoying (you can deactivate it) because it locks the steering wheel when the engine shuts off at a stop, sometimes snapping it into your fingers. The standard transmission is an 8-speed automatic that shifts smoothly. The Q5 handles nimbly for an SUV, with only a bit of lean felt while cornering. Overall, it has a composed driving feel — the sensation is that this small SUV is substantial. The ride leans toward being firm, yet it is comfortable. We did find the speed-sensitive power steering to be on the light side.
Interior: As we've come to expect in Audis, the quiet cabin has excellent quality and finish. The optional leather sport seats are plush and comfortable, and we both liked the handsome chestnut brown color. The rear seats slide fore and aft, as well as recline, which is good because it's a cozy fit for those passengers. The armrest slides back and forth, but there's no locking mechanism, so when you lean on the armrest, it can slide out from under you. We appreciated the panoramic sunroof, as well as the navigation system with its vivid satellite images and precise voice commands. The cargo area felt narrow, but that was compensated for by a hidden under-deck storage bin. Whenever we talk about Audis, our constant lament is the overly complicated Audi multimedia interface. Adjusting the AC can be a two-step exercise in frustration for something that should be as easy as turning a dial.
Our 3 favorites
MPG: I'm confident you can exceed Audi's estimates.
Feel: The Q5 is solid and well-made.
Sporty: The handling and acceleration are surprising for a small SUV.
Nav: Crisp satellite images with good voice recognition to input your destination.
Sunroof: Covers almost the entire roof.
Diesel: Good fuel economy, better for environment.
The bottom line: The Q5 with Audi's TDI clean diesel offers outstanding fuel mileage, a well-crafted interior and a sporty demeanor. All of this, of course, comes with a premium price.