If not the newest prestige SUV of the year it's still the one to own. Even one immune to the prevailing and seemingly preternatural urge toward wagons with an elevated driving position “gets” Audi's Q5.
I'd cross-shop it against almost any car at the pricepoint. The headliner of the four variant range has - like the lot of them - got the usual negligible visual update but its value and tech enhancements are wholly worthwhile.
Explore the 2012 Audi Q5 Range
Wayne Swan's brainless luxury car tax means a luxury SUV will be priced cheaper than any comparable sedan or wagon. The Q5's pricepoints are further held in check by excellent fuel consumption - even the V6 turbo diesel discussed here runs well under the 7.0L/100km cut-off the Greens managed to tack on to this ill-conceived and arbitrary legislation.
The entry 2.0 TDI quattro S tronic (Audis run ever leaner but their nomenclature still threatens to run off the page) starts at $62,200 (the turbo petrol four is $700 more). The whooshing supercharged petrol V6 is $74,100 and the headliner tested here starts at $75,500. Audi claims some $7000 extra value in its standard kit for no price increases - multimedia system linked navigation, reversing camera, electric passenger seat, memory functions in the seats and side mirrors, drive select and hill-hold assist.
Our tester came in at $82,000 with the addition of metallic paint (an absurd $1850), painted lower body and chrome sill strips ($900), 19-inch five-arm star alloys ($1750), Bang & Olufsen sound ($1550) and the useful luggage rail system with load securing set ($450).
The newest turbo petrol engines are all but eradicating the perceived advantage of diesels in cars but the economy and torque delivery of the latter remain of the essence in heavier SUVs. A favoured example, this 3.0-litre six-cylinder is fettled to shed weight and increase output, to the formidable 180kW/580Nm.
The transmission is a seven-speed twin-clutch automatic, feeding torque-sensing all-wheel drive - that is, proper quattro as opposed to the Haldex set-up on the essentially Volkswagen Q3. At 6.5 seconds from 0-100km/h, the Q5 is sports sedan fast. At 6.4L/100km it's more frugal than most four-cylinder hatchbacks. Too many drive-select packages do too little. This one makes distinct and worthwhile changes to engine response and suspension settings.
Doubtless some will spot the visual tweaks. The point is these are subtle enough so that owners of the first-issue model won't feel aggrieved or suffer at resale time. In line with the latest round of freshened-up Audis, the drive-select mode button is usefully located on the centre stack, a hand span from the gear lever. No need to dive into the multimedia menu to switch from comfort mode to sport. The auto tailgate is so handy and convenient that SUVs lacking it suddenly seem a bit third world.
Five stars, all the kit, plus the active capability to ensure the passive devices will never be troubled. Human stupidity notwithstanding, of course.
We requested a diesel for our drive before last week's launch and expected the worthy four-cylinder. That we had something rather more - having climbed in without scoping the badging - became apparent when the thing got off the mark like an engorged hot hatch and with an almost petrol engine growl. It's a gun donk all right, one that with 600km (and barely more than delivery km on the clock when we got in) returned a little over 7.0L/100km.
This is the point at which Audi reviews tend to get peevish about the dynamics and steering feel not reaching the heights of the drivetrain. That's far less important in an SUV but the disparity also isn't as obvious. In sport mode, this Q5 is as tied down and dynamically adept as 1850kg of kerb weight (plus the heft of four big blokes and their gear) could reasonably be.
The latest version of Audi's electronic steering is a big step in the right direction. There are shifting paddles attached to wheel but this transmission is smart enough to require minimal intervention. The turbo diesel/twin clutch hook-up is apparent only when stepping off the mark, though the combination of lag and the transmission's hesitancy to engage from go is more a characteristic than an outright fault.
To ever more buyers, an Audi means an SUV. This is the best of them.
Audi Q5 3.0 TDI quattro S tronic
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Resale: 66 per cent
Service interval: 12 months/15,000km
Safety rating: 5 stars
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel, 180kW/580Nm
Transmission: 7-speed twin-clutch auto; 4WD
Dimensions: 4.6m (L), 2.0m (W), 1.6m (H)
Weight: From 1850kg