New Car Reviews

First Drive: 2011 Audi Q5 2.0T

We recently spent a year with a 2010 Audi Q5 3.2 and thoroughly enjoyed the vehicle. The size was quite nice, the premium materials held up well to four seasons of hard use, and the Quattro all-wheel-drive system got us through snow and mud without compromise during daily driving. During our year with the V-6 Q5, though, several editors wondered if Audi’s stout 2.0T four-cylinder engine could meet our performance expectations while returning better fuel economy. To answer that question, we recently sampled a Q5 2.0T, which is a new offering for the 2011 model year.

If you aren’t familiar with the VW/Audi 2.0T, you might be questioning the use of a four-banger in a 4000-pound vehicle. Don’t let the displacement fool you, though. This little four makes use of direct injection and a turbocharger to deliver all the torque you’d need (15 lb-ft more than the V-6, in fact) while returning a respectable 20/27 mpg in the Q5. Perhaps the 211 hp looks meager on paper, but the eight-speed automatic does a fine job of maximizing the little engine’s power and we never thought the Q5 2.0T was in need of more thrust, even when fully loaded. All 3.2-liter V-6 Q5s make do with Audi’s existing six-speed automatic, which is still expertly, but fuel economy is estimated at 18/23 mpg. We would only recommend upgrading to the V-6 model if you plan on towing with any regularity.

Thanks to the smaller engine and decontenting, the Q5 2.0T starts at $7000 less than a V-6 model. Choosing the 2.0T, however, doesn’t require that buyers sacrifice luxuries or technology since the most desirable equipment can be added back as options. Audi only offers the Q5 3.2 with 19- or 20-inch wheels while the Q5 2.0T comes with standard 18s. Even after upgrading a Q5 2.0T to 19-inch wheels, customers will see a $2300 savings for giving up two cylinders. You can’t fully load the Q5 2.0T with a leather dash and armrests, wood trim, adaptive cruise control, or the S line exterior cosmetic package, but those options certainly don’t define the Q5 experience. Audi shoppers have reinforced that, favoring the Q5 2.0T over the Q5 3.2 consistently since the four-cylinder models became common on dealer lots in August of 2010.

Enthusiasts will quickly point out that the Audi A4 Avant also offers an eight-speed automatic, Quattro all-wheel drive, and the superb 2.0T engine along with better driving dynamics and a mere 1.1 cubic-ft loss in cargo capacity with the rear seats upright. Sadly the wagon costs a little more than the crossover, so most Americans will completely ignore the 276-pound weight savings, two-mpg improvement (EPA combined rating), and 0.2 second 0-60 mpg advantage the wagon offers. We love the A4 Avant, but the Q5 manages to sell a lot better — nearly six Q5s leave the lot for every A4 Avant that finds a home.

During our year with the Q5 3.2, we also wondered if Audi should consider stuffing its diesel 2.0 TDI engine in the Q5 for America. Having driven the 2.0T, though, we think Audi’s chosen the right four-cylinder engine for the Q5. The 2.0T is fuel efficient enough that we never felt guilty about driving a small SUV and the TDI’s relative lack of horsepower and rev range would likely take away from the Q5’s fun-to-drive factor. We’re no longer wishing for an Audi Q5 TDI. That’s how good the 2.0T is in the real world.

One wish the 2.0T didn’t fulfill is our desire for more natural steering feel, a common problem in this segment. Several editors still lament the light steering at low speeds and its abrupt change in effort at speeds above parking-lot velocity, but once the road starts to turn we all agreed the suspension does a great job keeping the two-ton Q5’s body motions in check. The small SUV/crossover segment isn’t exactly a driver’s paradise, but the Q5 is as good as it gets. If you’re in the market for a luxury ute, the Q5 provides a much more involving driving experience than a Lexus RX without pushing the needle too far from a comfortable ride on long trips. Now that the Q5 2.0T saves about $3000 from the 3.2’s sticker and adds two mpg combined, it’s better than ever.