Tuesday
Mar202012

Test Drive: A Pair of Sporty SUV’s

Yea, we know. The name of this website is Sports Car Insider, and these two vehicles are certainly not sports cars. They’re not even sporty cars. Don’t worry – we’ll soon get back to reviewing cars that are at home on a track, but we also know that many of you own an SUV (or a Crossover, whatever you want to call it) as a daily driver or as something to get you through the winter while your sports car is in the garage. I live in northern New Jersey and keep the fast cars off my schedule until at least April, so thought it would be fun to test a couple of the sportier SUV’s from a couple of manufacturers that are involved in road racing. We lined up one model from Germany, the Audi Q5, and one from the USA, the Cadillac SRX. The original idea was to see how good these models are in the snow, but we had one of the mildest winters ever (thank you global warming) with almost no snow at all, so that gave us more of a chance to see if these models are any fun on roads typically reserved for sports cars. First up, the Audi Q5.

Audi Q5 2.0T

Sitting here at my desk, I just finished watching Audi qualify 1-2-3 for the 12 Hours of Sebring. Audi is heavily involved in motorsport, from endurance racing to DTM, and they also sell some very cool sports cars like the R8 and the TT RS, but most of the sales volume that helps to budget their racing efforts comes from four door sedans and SUV’s, like the one you see here. Audi’s flagship SUV is the Q7, which can be ordered with a choice of two supercharged V6 engines or with a turbocharged diesel V6. The Q5 looks almost identical to the Q7 but is smaller and more economical. Q5 buyers can choose from a normally aspirated 3.2-liter V6 or a 2-liter turbocharged inline-four. The four actually produces more torque than the six (258 lb-ft at 1,500rpm compared to the V6’s 243 lb-ft at 3,000rpm) and the four-cylinder model weighs over 200 lbs. less than the six-cylinder model, which makes for better handling dynamics.  

I’m not a big fan of SUV’s, but I understand their appeal as a family car and as a tool that can be used for things like moving furniture. Models like the Q5 really strike a balance between sedans and larger SUV’s, as they have some of the SUV benefits but are more like sedans when it comes to fuel economy and handling. Our test car was the Q5 2.0T, and we were pleasantly surprised with the power and drivability of Audi’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, which delivers smooth power and moves the Q5 along more smartly than you would expect. BMW has been getting a lot of kudos for their new 2.0-liter turbocharged four that is now powering various models including the X3 (which competes directly with the Q5), but the Audi four is just as nice to drive and just as smooth.  

On a twisty road, the Q5 is not the type of car that you’re going to go barreling around corners in, but it’s predictable and nicely balanced and is more fun to drive than many sedan’s I’ve driven. It’s also quiet and comfortable to drive on the interstate and was consistently returning a little better than its rated highway fuel mileage of 27mpg. Even though it’s a fairly compact SUV, the Q5 was very nice to live with for a week, which included everything from grocery runs to trips with four people onboard. Audi has done a nice job with design, as the Q5 is small but has enough room for everyone to be comfortable and is very functional for handling other duties. Our model didn’t have all of the bells and whistles that are available, but I appreciated the simplicity of the car and the controls.  

One word that kept popping into my head during the week with the Q5 was “fluidity.” Everything works with a smoothness and precision that makes it a very desirable small SUV. I don’t drive too many SUV’s that I end up really wanting to own, but the Q5 2.0T was one of them. I highly recommend it if you’re in the market. Q5’s start at an MSRP of around $35,600 for the four-cylinder 2.0T or around $43,000 for the six-cylinder 3.2 model, which both come with eight-speed Tiptronic transmissions and Quattro all-wheel drive. We certainly understand the appeal of a six-cylinder engine, but if I were buying today I would opt for the 2.0T, which delivers the added torque that is especially beneficial in an SUV, and also gets better fuel economy. Find out more information at www.audiusa.com.

Cadillac SRX

Cadillac has worked hard over the last several years to change their brand image from a provider of cars for the elderly to a maker of performance cars that can compete with the best the Europeans have to offer. They have achieved a lot in that regard, thanks to the goodness of the CTS-V models, which are also raced in Speed World Challenge. Some of that performance influence has also been rubbing off on the other models, including the SRX, which combines commendable performance with a good dose of luxury. Like the Audi Q5, the SRX is fairly compact and is much smaller than the enormous Escalade. The SRX is also much nicer to look at than its big brother, as it has tidy dimensions combined with nice lines and some interesting design details. Cadillac stayed with a normally aspirated V6 for the SRX, a 3.6-liter unit that puts out 308hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. 

The Cadillac suspension engineers have done a nice job with the SRX, with a ride that combines sportiness with comfort. The SRX has a firm ride for an SUV, but it also soaks up bumps very well and we never found it to be jarring. One great test for a cars suspension, besides the obvious handling qualities, is that the car feels smaller and lighter than it really is, which the SRX does. It’s easy to get this car moving along very quickly on a favorite twisty stretch of road and forget you’re driving a 4,200 lb. vehicle. The SRX even has a robust exhaust note that sounds more like a sports car when you get hard on the throttle. The luxurious interior of the SRX also makes it a pleasure to take on a trip and there’s a lot of useful luggage and storage space, with a nicely adjustable luggage holder in the trunk, a huge glove box and two big pockets in the doors. 

Overall, I really liked the SRX but I do have a few niggling complaints. Cadillac tried to carry over some of the sharp-edged styling to the interior and the door handles have a bit of a sharp edge to them and are awkward to reach. The automatic transmission works well enough with the engine, but it isn’t the smoothest shifting unit around if you want that, and the SRX handles well enough that it could use some added lateral support from the seats. This is a fun to drive, practical and distinctive looking SUV though, and it stands out on the road among the myriad BMW and Mercedes SUV’s that are everywhere. The SRX can be ordered with either front-wheel drive, starting at around $36,360, or all-wheel drive, starting at around $43,385. Our choice would be the version we drove as our test car, which had all-wheel drive version with the Performance trim, which includes a continuous damping suspension and a ZF Servotronic steering rack that provides good communication to the driver. Find out more information at www.cadillac.com.

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