Strong engines, fabulous handling and a quiet cabin, but a bottom-bruisingly firm ride
The cabin looks the business but has its foibles
Plenty of clever technology but extra cost for rear airbags is disappointing
Q5 feels well screwed together but its reliability record isn't as solid
Roomy cabin for four, and massive boot for their stuff
Standard kit is so generous that you shouldn't need to upgrade
As SUVs go, the Q5 is one of the most enjoyable to drive - it holds onto the road firmly, stays upright round corners and the steering feels satisfyingly responsive. Things aren't nearly as enjoyable if you're a back-seat passenger, though, because the firm ride takes its toll, and it's even firmer if you go for optional S line suspension or the larger alloy wheels on the options list. The 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel should be both fast and strong enough for most buyers. The 175bhp version is even perkier, and both are so good that they make the 242bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel a bit pointless, especially when it costs so much more to buy and run. Petrol choices include 2.0-litre engines with 178bhp or 22bhp, and a 268bhp supercharged 3.0-litre. The range-topping SQ5 is another diesel, this time a twin-turbocharged unit with 309bhp - it's very fast indeed. Whichever engine you choose, the cabin remains calm and quiet, and all models have four-wheel drive as standard.
There's all the style and simplicity you'd expect to find in an Audi, and the elevated driving position you'd expect from an SUV. However, prepare to be seriously annoyed by the offset position of the pedals in models with a manual gearbox - hitting the footrest when you're expecting the clutch gets very tedious. The infotainment system is simple to use once you know how; the four corner buttons perform a different function depending on which menu you're in. The air-con controls are a little fussy, too.
Four adults can travel very comfortably, but a fifth passenger won't relish the centre rear seat, which is firm and cramped, with a huge hump in the floor to straddle. That said, it may be possible to fit three child seats in a row here, depending on which model of seats you have - only a booster cushion is likely to fit on the centre seat, though. Bear in mind that the car's styling means the rear door sills relatively high so young children on booster cushions or high-backed booster seats (Group 2/3) won't get much of a view out of the side windows. The boot is bigger than that of most rivals and will easily take a family's luggage. Each of the 60:40-split rear seat sections has an adjustable back to help the rear passengers get comfortable; even more flexibility can be added with a 'Seat plus' option which, for £175, allows the seats to slide forward and back on runners so you can adjust the bias between rear legroom and boot space. Only real gadget freaks need look further than entry-level SE trim, which includes 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, four powered windows, leather seats, three-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers, and parking sensors. S line versions bring sporty aesthetic touches inside and out (including a firmer, sportier ride and xenon headlights), while S line plus adds sat-nav, metallic paint and privacy glass. Isofix child seat anchor points are fitted both to the front passenger and each of the outer rear seats.
The Q5's interior build quality feels impressively solid but Q5 owners rated the car as 'below average' in the 2013 JD Power ownership satisfaction study, and Audi came only 31st out of 38 manufacturers in What Car?'s latest reliability survey. Safety features include an off-road stability control programme and clever technology to help it respond quicker to the risk of a rollover if the roof rack is loaded. Front and side airbags are fitted, but you'll need to pay around £250 extra for curtain 'bags to protect those in the back, which is disappointing for a family car. The Q5 was awarded a full five stars in the Euro NCAP crash test results, however, scoring 92% for adult occupant safety and 84% for children.
Nobody buys an Audi to save money, but the Q5 will remain desirable so resale values are strong. Running costs are reasonable for an SUV, too, with our favourite engine claiming an official mpg of over 46mpg. If you're buying this as a family car, make sure someone sits in the back on the test drive to make sure the firm ride isn't going to be a nuisance.