Audi has been the “yes-we-will, no-we-won’t” carmaker when it comes to hybrid vehicles. Since 2007, company executives have made several announcements stating the arrival of either the Q7 Hybrid full-size sport utility or the smaller Q5 Hybrid crossover, and then reneging. As part of the Volkswagen group, along with Porsche, Audi has dissed hybrids and championed diesel. The lukewarm attitude surfaced in 2009 in a quote from Wolfgang Hatz, head of powertrain development for the VW group. “We have to do hybrids to show people that we are able to do them.”
Well finally, after all the stumbling about, Audi indeed will show people that it is able to do a hybrid when the 2012 Q5 Hybrid arrives at dealer showrooms this fall.
Actually, the German automaker showed people it was able to produce not only a hybrid vehicle, but a plug-in diesel hybrid back in 1997. The Audi Duo III, AKA A4 Duo, followed three previous Duo hybrid concepts dating back to 1989. The Duo III used a 1.9-liter TDI diesel engine and a 21 kW (28 horsepower) electric motor with a cabin switch to change between the engine and electric motor. Fuel economy wasn’t much improved compared to the standard 1.9-liter diesel, and coupled with a high price there were few buyers. Around 60-65 were produced.
The Duo III may have flopped, but the Q5 Hybrid is positioned to have success. In addition to saving fuel—the Q5’s combined EPA fuel economy could approach 26-27 mpg versus the gasoline model’s 22 mpg—the Q5 Hybrid teems with engineering, technology and performance. Seeing hybrid technology spread further into the luxury market is certainly welcome. It appears that Audi is changing direction and the Q5 Hybrid is a nod toward gas-electric technology (although Audi still likes diesels).
Under The Hood
Under the Q5 Hybrid’s aluminum hood, the main power producer is Audi’s 2.0-liter direct injected and turbocharged four-cylinder TFSI engine. Direct injection is a state-of-the-art feature that precisely distributes fuel directly into the cylinders, maximizing power and fuel economy and minimizing emissions. Turbocharging is an engine downsizing method that reduces engine displacement by forced air induction.
Behind the engine is a modified eight-speed tiptronic automatic transmission. The torque converter has been removed and replaced with a 54 horsepower (40 kW) electric motor and a multiplate clutch pack. One clutch separates the engine from the motor; the other separates the motor from the rest of the drivetrain (necessary for the electric motor to restart the gas engine when required).
Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive (AWD) system is standard on the Q5 Hybrid, and during normal driving conditions 60 percent of the torque is directed to the rear wheels. Unlike some other AWD hybrids, Quattro is the real deal with a driveshaft and rear differential. And the transmission’s design allows power from either the engine or electric motor to be directed to the rear axle.
Audi joins other manufacturers in the move away from the continuously variable transmission (CVT) employed by most hybrid vehicles. It is a less costly approach and is helping bring hybrids to mainstream vehicles.
Completing the hybrid system is a 72-cell lithium-ion battery pack tucked under the rear cargo floor where the spare tire normally resides. At 266 watts, its nominal energy is 1.3 kWh and its output 39 kW. In typical German engineering fashion, the battery is cooled two ways. Under normal conditions, it’s cooled by air from the Q5’s cabin; but if it gets too hot, a separate refrigerant line connected to the air conditioner kicks in.
Exterior And Interior
The Q5 Hybrid’s body styling is not ground breaking, but its excellent proportions, smooth lines and bold grille make it one of the most appealing luxury compact sport utilities on the market. Refined fender flares and slightly angular cut headlights add an air of resolve.
Outwardly, there is little to distinguish the Hybrid from the standard Q5. The trademark single frame grille is glossy black, fenders and sill panel strips bear hybrid badges and the tailpipes feature chrome trim. For improved aerodynamics, ride height is lowered by 0.98 inches and underbody panels along with exclusive 19-inch wheels in a ten-arm turbine design smooth out air flow under the car and along its sides. These tweaks result in reducing the drag coefficient from 0.33 to 0.32, the lowest in the compact SUV segment, according to Audi.
Inside, the cabin is the essence of German luxury. Audi puts emotional quality into its leather, trim pieces and switches and designers created a light and spacious interior. It is elegant in appearance, the build quality is of the customary superb standard. The cockpit has a bias towards the driver; its controls can be operated with intuitive ease.
Like the outside, the Hybrid’s interior has minimal changes. The large speedometer remains on the right side of the instrument cluster, but on the left side, the tachometer is replaced with a power meter that shows the driver the overall output of the system. Between the two gauges, the multi media information (MMI) display now includes a pictogram showing which part of the hybrid system is operating, The other change is an almost hard to find “E” mode button on the center console. The E mode setting gives priority to the electric motor in urban driving.
Seating, as expected, is comfortable but even though the rear bench seat can slide fore and aft by about four inches, some rear seat passengers may find that legroom is short. The 16.24 cubic feet cargo volume behind the rear seat easily expands to 52.27 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
It’s a given that all of the power convenience features are standard as is leather seating, cruise control, air conditioning, a navigation system, Bluetooth connectivity and a Bang & Olufsen audio system with a USB interface for iPod or MP3 players.
On The Road
Engine output of the Q5 Hybrid’s four cylinder is 211 horsepower, with the maximum torque of 258 pound feet available at 1500 to 4200 rpm. The electric motor adds another 54 horsepower and 155 pounds feet starting at one rpm. When both power sources are combined, the net output rates at 245 horsepower and 354 ponds-feet of torque. This promises that hybrid and boring are no longer synonymous. Indeed, Audi claims that 0 to 60-mph acceleration is 7 seconds flat.
While quick acceleration is necessary on occasion, it isn’t the norm and in the world of everyday driving the 2012 Q5 does earn its Hybrid badging. For example, just like the boring hybrids, the engine shuts down when the vehicle stops and seamlessly starts up again when the brake pedal is released. It also operates with electric power only, gasoline power only or a combination of both, meaning it is a “full” hybrid. And, the battery is recharged via regenerative braking.
The driver has the choice of three operational modes. With the gear selector in “D”, the Q5 Hybrid works to optimize the motor and engine for fuel economy. In the “S” position, the mapping changes towards performance and sporty driving where the paddles of the tiptronic transmission can be used. Pushing the EV button at the bottom of the center stack gives priority to electric drive at low speeds, such as city driving.
About that electric only propulsion, from a stop, if the battery pack has an adequate charge, the Q5 Hybrid will ease away under electric power. If your hybrid driving skills are honed, electric only driving range is about 1.8 miles if a steady 37 mph is maintained. Mash the go pedal and electric power will take you to 62 mph, then the gas engine takes over.
Like hybrid systems used in the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid and Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid, the Q5 Hybrid’s system has a unique hydraulic clutch between the engine and motor that disengages the engine so it can shut down under light loads. The electric motor then takes up the load until the engine restarts. Engineers call the result “sailing”—for the quiet sensation of speed using only electric power. This operational mode is engaged when the driver lifts off the accelerator at highway cruising speeds, up to a maximum of 100 mph. Combine the sailing capability with the top two overdrive gears of the transmission and the benefit is a gain in highway fuel economy, a result not associated with hybrids.
Audi likes to say that the 2012 Q5 Hybrid has four-cylinder fuel economy with V-6-like power. Based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), which gives more weight to start-stop driving than the EPA test cycle does, Audi says combined fuel economy is 34 mpg. Expect EPA estimates at around 25-26 mpg city/ 27-28 mpg highway and a combined rating in the neighborhood of 26-27 mpg. That’s a significant 5-6 mpg improvement over the four-cylinder gas-powered Q5. In comparison to other luxury sport utility and crossovers, the Q5 Hybrid bests the BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Mercedes ML 450 Hybrid 4Matic, Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid and is just shy of the Lexus 450h AWD.
Pricing for the 2012 Q5 Hybrid won’t be released until closer to launch this fall, but best guess is it will start at around $50,000 -$52,000. That places it at least $5,000 more than the Lexus RX 450h and around $3,000 less than the Mercedes 450 Hybrid 4Matic, which will be the closest competitors.
While most hybrid drivers would prefer to emphasize efficiency rather than performance, an Audi customer may not be concerned about paying his gasoline bill. But he wouldn’t mind having bragging rights that his new SUV doesn’t just go fast, it actually uses a bit less fuel.
The Audi Q5 Hybrid is an example of how the company is keeping its focus on luxury and performance, while integrating slow steady fuel efficiency improvements, which, by the way, come with the package. It’s an Audi first, and a hybrid second.
Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of writing and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.