Five Qs -- all answered

Much of the challenge in making the new Audi Q5 a success will lie in navigating South Africa’s treacherous market.

Conservative estimates put vehicle sales for 2009 at about 260 000 units, a figure similar to those of 2003, just before South Africa’s four-year boom. Premium sectors were most affected in last year’s continued sales dip—falling 26.2%.

Worst hit were sports cars, down by nearly 50%, and large premium SUVs. The days of above-average-income households flaunting one large and a second not-so-large premium SUV or sports model just for the hell of it appear to be over—which suits the Q5 just fine because it shouldn’t be seen as a baby SUV.

Advancement within a tradition is the way Audi plans to deal with a declining market, something reinforced by Audi’s candid new managing director of sales and marketing, Ryan Searle.

“Relying on the progress and heritage of the past 100 years, Audi is still forging ahead with its product planning. Audi understands it’s a challenger brand in South Africa, which is why we are positioned at a price advantage over BMW and Mercedes-Benz. We want the Q5 to take volume directly away from the X3.” Well, no mincing of words there. Mercedes holds a 7.1% market share, ahead of BMW’s 5.8% and Audi’s 2.9%, so you can see his point.

Getting a Benz or Beemer owner to change his spots for the four rings is as daunting a task as the work of a lone mop lady at an airport hangar. But in the Q5 Audi have a vehicle worthy of pulling it off.

Considering the Freelander and BMW X3 are both in the middle to end of their model lives, anyone able to afford, and who’s still attracted by, the SUVs on the daily commute, the school run, or weekend getaway cannot ignore the Q5. It’s a vehicle that succeeds in appealing on a rational and impulse level.

I’ll begin with impulse because, as a passerby shouted to us on our travels, the Q5 looks “kwaai”.

Worthy of particular mention is the rather sexy rounded tailgate and the Knight Rider-meets-Kitt tail-light arrangement, should you opt for the LED xenon light package. It looks less blatant an SUV than the X3 or the Freelander because of its long sedan-like bonnet and flatter roof line. As SUVs go, it looks brilliant.

Gaps in the Q5’s rationality are few and far between. It’s an Audi, so it’s as solid as a lump of granite. It’s longer, wider and longer wheelbased, with more storage capacity and better approach and departure angles than the X3. Great practical features are the rear bench seats, which can slide back and forward as a unit—perfect for increasing boot capacity when the rear is seating only small-limbed children. Again, being an Audi, the interior is a best-in-class offering of luxury and functionality.

The Q5 undoubtedly has an on-road versus off-road bias in its set-up and performance. Quattro all-wheel-drive sticks you to the asphalt, making you aware of the granite at all times.

Hill descent control is standard on all models, but the Q5 can tackle reasonable dips and obstacles without having to engage it.

This premium SUV is a stand-alone winner and against the X3 it’s as far out in front as you can get. Yet it doesn’t feel as though it’s meant only to fill a gap in the market. Despite its carefully orchestrated target, it isn’t a guilt-edged conveyance. The Q5 is energising and deserves all the praise it’s getting.

Model pricing

  • 2.0-litre TDI quattro manual (125kW): R407 000.

  • 2.0-litre T-FSI quattro S-tronic (155kW): R460 500.

  • 3.2-litre V6 FSI quattro S-tronic (199kW): R515 000.

  • 3.0-litre V6 TDI quattro S-tronic (176kW): R533 500.

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