First Drive: 2013 Audi Q5

2013-audi-q5

Audi's Q5 SUV arrived in the United States in 2009, and quickly established itself as the brand's number two volume offering, second only to the A4. So far in 2012, sales continue to be strong (up 22 percent through June), but Audi is looking to keep the momentum going with some mid-cycle updates this fall, mostly concentrated in the engine room.

Hello, Hybrid

The big new is that Audi is bringing to the United States the hybrid powertrain that debuted in the Q5 last year in Europe. It pairs the 211-hp 2.0-liter TFSI turbo four-cylinder -- which carries over as the base engine -- with a 40 kW electric motor. Together, the combo is good for as much as 245 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. Rather than a CVT for its hybrid, Audi uses the same eight-speed automatic as in the standard car, although here an electric motor replaces the torque converter. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard.

This is the brand's first hybrid, but it doesn't drive like a first effort. The powertrain works seamlessly. You really have to listen to catch the gasoline engine shutting down or restarting, and the regenerative brakes are natural feeling and easy to modulate. With more power and torque on hand than with the 2.0T engine alone, acceleration is lively -- Audi predicts a 0-to-62 mph time of 7.1 seconds. Throttle response is quite good, unless you hit the button for EV mode, which dulls throttle inputs. (The car can drive very short distances -- less than 2 miles -- using battery power only.) Also, the hybrid system's battery is packaged so as not to impinge on cargo room. EPA ratings are an impressive 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway for the Q5 hybrid, which starts at $51,795.

New V-6 Choices

The hybrid isn't the only powertrain news for 2013. There's also a new six-cylinder, as Audi's 3.0T supercharged V-6 replaces the previous, naturally aspirated 3.2-liter. The supercharged engine, seen also in the S4 and the A7 among others, is somewhat less potent here. It makes 272 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque; still, that's enough to send the Q5 from 0 to 62 mph in 5.9 seconds. As before, the V-6 is paired with an eight-speed automatic and Quattro is standard. To help with fuel economy, the V-6 will get an auto stop-start system for our market (all Q5s get it in Europe). We found that each stop and restart is plainly audible, but if the system grows annoying, you can switch it off.

A second six-cylinder offering won't arrive for another year, but we got an early drive of that one as well. Audi's 3.0-liter TDI is coming to the Q5 with the 2014 model year. Already available in the Q7, the TDI is actually a bit more potent in the Q5, with 245 hp and a hearty 425 pound-feet of torque. This diesel V-6 is exceptionally smooth and silent. There is no diesel clatter, even at idle. It's also extremely responsive, giving up nothing -- or virtually nothing -- in acceleration to its gasoline cousin. Audi estimates it to be 0.6 second slower than the supercharge six from 0-62 mph, but once on the move, the TDI, subjectively at least, feels every bit as quick thanks to its tremendous torque. It was a champ passing on two-lane roads and pulled strongly all the way to 200 kph (124 mph) on the autobahn. The European-spec version that we drove was paired with Audi's 7-speed S Tronic dual-clutch automatic, reflecting its position as a performance engine. (In its home market there's also an S version.) In the States, it will likely use the same conventional eight-speed automatic as the rest of the line. Naturally, fuel economy figures won't be out for a while, but on our 37-mile test loop, we averaged 29 mpg, compared with 20 mpg for the 3.0T over the same route. The TDI we drove, however, had the auto stop-start system; it's not yet confirmed that it will be included on the U.S. version. Even without it, however, the Q5 TDI should do better than the much larger and heavier Q7 with the same engine, which is rated at 17/25 mpg

Minor Tweaks Otherwise

Outside of new engines, the Q5 is little changed. It's still firmly sprung and agile, although the available Drive Select system offers a degree of adjustability. The steering, now electrically assisted, is very light at low speeds becoming slightly less so out on the road. Design-wise, the biggest change might be the new headlights, with their LED signatures now rendered as parallelograms. There's also a new grille and the rear bumper has been reshaped. The in-car technology has been upgraded, as the car can now function as a wireless hotspot; the navigation system can make use of Google Earth and Street View images; and the MMI has been tweaked for slightly easier use. The Q5's just-right size and roomy interior remain, of course. Audi's midsize crossover seems poised for continued sales success, even if buyers' powertrain decision is about to get more difficult.

2013 Audi Q5
On sale:
September
Price range: $37,000-52,000 (estimated)
Engines: 2.0L I-4 turbo, 211 hp, 258 lb-ft; 3.0L supercharged V-6, 272 hp, 295 lb-ft; 2.0L I-4 turbo hybrid, 245 hp, 354 lb-ft
Drive: Front- or all-wheel

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