Reviewed by Michael Woodhouse
People used to like a good soapbox… a bloke in a market square would stand tall on a wooden crate, shouting down to the passing crowd about all things political or religious, often provocative and always loud. It was a great time. Peering down from your lofty station you could see the faces of your audience and get them really riled up about the latest inflammatory diktat from the powers that be.
Modern life has more or less done away with shouting in public – although certain politicians do still enjoy impromptu interactions with the great unwashed – but the idea of rising head and shoulders above the masses is still with us.
Today people buy a sport utility vehicle (SUV) so that they can sit higher on the road looking down on people, and if you buy a big enough engine then it will shout just as loudly as any political activist: SUVs are the automotive equivalent of a soapbox. Well, in my mind they are.
And they're everywhere. SUVs have long since relinquished their agricultural heritage and become luxury suburban run-arounds, but they're no less rabble-rousing than those unwanted proclamations.
Many people's first thought when they see an SUV bimbling around town is that they're gas-guzzlers belching out noxious gases, bought by stupid people with no common sense. Why buy an SUV when a run of the mill family hatchback will do? Because they're safer is the simple answer and in this day and age no more polluting than any other vehicle on the road. No-one screams blue bloody murder at an estate car for killing the planet, so why do it at a SUV?
I don't mean that they're going to save the planet, of course, and I don't mean that they're safer because they're bigger than other cars so you can rely on more metal to save you in an accident – but you do get to see a whole lot more of the road when you've got your seat raised higher in the air and with Dumbo-the-Elephant-sized wing mirrors.
As for those noxious gases, it's fair to say that car makers have been slaving over a hot engine trying to reduce emissions before they're spanked with heavy fines from the EU when new legislation comes into force.
And Audi has revamped its Q5 SUV to make it that little bit more acceptable. Size first.
The Q5 is 4,629mm long and 1,898mm wide; that's nearly the same as a Ford Focus, so not that big and unwieldy for town driving. And this is one of the deciding factors: whereas the Focus is 1,461mm tall, the Q5 is 1,655mm. You can see for miles even when the streets are clogged with traffic. So that child walking out into the street without looking… no problem, you've seen them before you ever need to slam on the brakes and smack your head on the steering wheel.
And as far as the fumes are concerned, if you buy the entry level 2-litre diesel it pumps out 159g/km. A 2-litre diesel in a Focus isn't that much better at 139g/km.
Okay, I admit it sounds like I'm a salesman for SUVs; I'm not. The Q5 is at the smaller end of the SUV scale. Vehicles such as the Range Rover and Audi Q7 which are often driven around the narrow streets of the city are a nuisance, ridiculously and unnecessarily large.
And the Q5 isn't a perfect car. Yes, the interior is well nailed together and there are all the bells and whistles that a modern carbuyer could wish for on the options list, but if you hit a corner too quickly the body rolls enough to make you seasick. And while the base diesel model is reasonably efficient, the larger 3.0 litre TFSI petrol engine I drove was choking flowers to death as I passed. And it isn't cheap; £37,000 for the flower killer, and £33,400 for the opening diesel gambit. Oh, but that driving position…
Soapboxes may have all but disappeared, but SUVs are sure to be with us for some time to come. They let you pop your head above the parapet, and you just can't do that in a run of the mill hatchback.
Price: from £33,400
Model tested: 3.0-litre TFSI
Top speed: 145mph
0-62mph: 5.9 seconds
Fuel economy: 33.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 199g/km