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Audi Q5


I can't see any point in Audi's Q7 except its OTT boasting rights. But the Q5 is a different matter.

If anything its looks are understated. In theory it's an SUV, but at casual glance it looks more like a hatch. And though there's a highish-riding driving position, it doesn't feel impractically large in traffic. Yet there's still plenty of room in the cabin, both for four passengers (the centre-rear will suit only children) and for luggage.

The Q5 is effectively based on the A4 tech. Its quattro all-wheel-drive uses a 40:60 front:rear torque split like the A4 and even the suspension is modelled on that car, albeit beefed up for this one.

There'll be two engines, the 125kW/350Nm 2.0 common rail diesel (first seen in the A4) that won't arrive until late March, and the 176kW/500Nm 3.0-litre diesel we got in 2005 in the previous A4.

Both are matched to the direct-shift auto, here in its first longitudinal application.

This 3.0 is powerful enough for easy cruising or passing; grunty enough for punch at lower speeds; and smooth enough to barely notice it's a diesel. Audi claims a 7.5l/100km thirst. We saw a touch more, but weren't driving as if we had kids aboard.

All are loaded, as you'd expect at the $79,500 starting price, with the usual safety features plus electric seats, parking aids, tow bar prep, a roof rack and more. The 3.0, which starts at $99,500, adds larger 18-inch wheels, hill hold, heated front seats, and more.

But the cleverest bit you'll notice every day is the blind-spot assist, a $1500 option that really does work. When there's a car in your blind spot a largish orange light fires on the relevant side mirror. You won't notice it if you're cruising along, but glance to that side and you will. Indicate a lane change and you most certainly will, as it flashes ostentatiously. What the car thinks is a blind spot is generous - between the system (which you can switch off) and your own mirror checks you literally can't miss a vehicle there. And yes, it does appear to adequately register motorcycles.

There's also an adaptive suspension option twinned with the Satnav (it needs the screen to operate) that's cleverer than most. You can actually tune the throttle and shift points separately to the variable steering, so for example you can set soft damping for a bumpy road, but retain the dynamic shift and steering feel.

Oh yes - and there are almost endless entertainment options. At its best the car takes DVDs, SD cards, SIM cards, MP3s, iPods, USB - it's a tech geek's wet dream.

And wait - there's more. But we've run out of space.

Given the luxury market has dropped significantly - and is likely to continue to do so - the days of outdated behemoths like the Q7 may be numbered. The Q5's time has come. It's luxurious, packed with cleverness, yet with everyday usability and a refreshing lack of ostentation.


Auto Trader New Zealand