STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. -- Snow coats a slippery and snaky Elk River Road near the Colorado ski town of Steamboat Springs, and we're using the slick white stuff to test the tenacious traction grip of Audi's 2015 Q5 2.0T, a high-hiking crossover utility vehicle outfitted with a turbo-boosted powertrain and Audi's smart Quattro full-time all-wheel-drive traction system.
The Q5 provides a luxurious passenger compartment with seats for five plus a rear bay for cargo and rails on the roof for parking sports paraphernalia like bikes or kayaks. It delivers the silky-smooth ride quality of a luxury sedan yet also behaves like a curve-craving sports car as well as a dirt-trekking or snow-sledding SUV.
German car designers at Audi managed to blend these seemingly disparate concepts, one a sleek pavement speeder that slinks snug against asphalt, the other a boxy off-road machine hiked in the suspension in order to clear rough bumps on a twin-track gravel trail.
The consequence of this crisscross is the Q5, a CUV for the compact segment with a unibody structure like a car, a muscular powertrain stuffed below the streamlined prow and high-tech vehicle controls and safety equipment packaged with a leather-lined and amenity-laced cockpit.
Theme for Q5's exterior design is a fluidity of lines drawn in rectangular format with an exaggerated snout and abbreviated tail linked by the arching canopy over the cabin with low-slung windows and side pillars muted.
On the prow Audi's designers planted a vertical single-frame waterfall-style grille sandwiched between sharp-edged and narrow composite headlamps featuring signature white-light LED tube rings and lower corner foglamps.
Side panels cascade at the doors, although interrupted by the wheel blisters and a character line notched on each side that swings upward in swift movement toward the tail.
Pop the tail-side clamshell gate and you'll find a cargo compartment which contains more than 57 cubic feet of room with rear seatbacks folded flat.
Open the driver's door and slip into a supportive bolstered bucket that fits like a custom-built lounge chair. Cabin layout shows a pair of buckets in front and a second row bench for three with reclining seatbacks and sliding seats.
Now consider the power package in the base Q5 2.0T.
The 4-in-line engine, displacing 2.0 liters with turbo-charging plus Audi's remarkable FSI (fuel straight injection) technology applied, nixes the customary lag in timing for launch -- that annoying lull of a second or more after pushing the accelerator while the turbo-charger spools up before spitting out boosted torque to turn the wheels.
It feels vigorous and quick, drawing on the full force of the engine's production of 220 hp at 4450 rpm plus 258 lb-ft of torque at 1500 rpm.
The transmission is a fuel-saving 8-speed automatic outfitted with Tiptronic manual shift mode. The EPA-estimated fuel economy figures for this powertrain tally to 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
Brakes, with a big disc at every wheel, rely on electronic and computerized links to tame the all-season tires. Anti-lock brake (ABS) controls are standard, along with electronic brake distribution (EBD), plus Audi's electronic stabilization program (ESP) that checks lateral slippage and skidding.
And Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system for traction at every wheel sets up the tire grip of a sticky-toed gecko. Using a self-locking center differential with rear-biased torque split, the Quattro device automatically shifts the majority of all engine torque to whichever wheels, front or rear, attain the best bite of traction.
Audi constructs the 2015 Q5 2.0T CUV in three trims: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige.
The Premium edition stocks xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, a panoramic sunroof, leather seat upholstery, heated front seats, 8-way power controls for front seats, 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats, a tilting-telescoping steering column, Audi advanced key (keyless start/stop/entry), 3-zone automatic climate system, cruise control, driver information system and a 10-speaker Audi concert radio with CD player, plus Bluetooth and iPod connectivity.
Audi starts the MSRP chart at $38,900 for a 2015 Q5 2.0T Premium.