MONTECITO, Calif. Beginning at Butterfly Beach along California's Coast, Olive Mill Road meanders into the elite Santa Barbara suburb of Montecito, where the hedge shrouded estates of media stars and business moguls appraise at $20 million and more.
So consider this situation: We're driving up Olive Mill Road past the mega bucks mansions of Montecito in a luxurious new crossover utility vehicle which looks elegant and expensive and produces the silky smooth ride quality of a millionaire's pricy limousine.
But the new Q5 3.2 CUV from German automaker Audi, while providing a luxury lined passenger compartment with seats for five riders plus a rear bay for cargo and rails on the roof for parking sports paraphernalia like bikes or kayaks, also behaves like a curve craving sports sedan as well as a dirt trekking 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 2009 Q5 3.2, 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.
Q5 is a slick concept in five door wagon format featuring a sinuous and curvy exterior design and a spacious cabin containing two rows of seats with seatbacks of the back bench splitting and folding down to expand the capacity of the rear cargo bay.
However, it is a substantial vehicle, tipping the scales at more than two tons despite some weight saving measures like aluminum body parts (hood and tailgate) and aluminum suspension components.
And it carries serious hardware like a forceful V6 engine and electronics governing the vehicle's dynamic movements as well as communications, navigation and comfort.
The engine is a dual cam 3.2 liter V6 with AVS (Audi Valvelift System) and FSI (fuel straight injection) technology. It develops 270 hp at 6500 rpm plus torque peaking to 243 foot pound at 3000 rpm.
All of the torque is translated through a six speed electronic automatic transmission outfitted with Tiptronic manual shift mode.
Each Q5 also stocks Audi's Quattro all wheel drive (AWD) system that's always engaged.
The smart device, using a torsion sensing center differential, automatically shifts the majority of all engine torque to whichever set of wheels, front or rear, attains the best bite of traction.
Normal operation divides the engine's torque at 40/60 percent (front/rear), so the torque bias works like a rear wheel drive (RWD) car. Yet with wheel slippage the differential can channel as much as 65 percent of the power to the front wheels or 85 percent to the rear ones.
Further, the electronic differential lock (EDL) checks a single wheel from spinning through brake intervention.
And Audi adds many active safety systems, such as four wheel disc brakes tied to a computerized anti-lock brake system (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and the electronic stabilization program (ESP).
But a strong engine and extensive content in electronic controls are not what causes a Q5 3.2 to stand out among a gaggle of cars on the 101 freeway during our driving tests around Santa Barbara: It's the gorgeous design of the sheetmetal that makes the Q5 so much automotive eye candy.
We park one on a lot at Goleta Beach simply to scrutinize the sensuous styling.
Stretching long and decorated with a raked face flashing streaking headlamp clusters on front corners of a stubby prow plus curvaceous fender blisters bulging over big multi spoke alloy wheels, the Q5 looks different from the lot of square angled and too tall SUVs.
It's taut and athletic in sculptural shape, yet also sleek in a fluidity of lines which culminate in an arching canopy over the cabin with low slung windows and side pillars muted to create the impression of a sleek coupe.
Still, you can't miss the bold design of that prow with a dominating grille in trapezoidal format rimmed by chrome and scored with horizontal fins.
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.
Now 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 split 60/40 with reclining seatbacks and sliding seats.
The wheelbase more than nine feet long creates sufficient legroom for riders in rear quarters.
Appointments are lavish, including leather covering seats and streaks of real wood or brushed aluminum inlays.
The driver's bucket moves multiple ways through power motivated contortions to guarantee a comfortable position.
And a Q5 driver is surrounded with toggles and buttons. They're on the leather wrapped steering wheel, the door panel and center dash section, or bundled with a joystick at the front end of the console's padded armrest.
The joystick, clickable like a computer mouse navigating through cyberspace, links to a video screen on the dashboard to access various controls for the climate, navigation, audio and telecommunications equipment. It simplifies functions and eliminates dashboard clutter.
Audi dubs this stick the MMI Multimedia Interface.
The optional new MMI Navigation Plus system adds a high capacity hard disk with 40 gigabytes of memory for 3D map renderings on the seven inch video screen.
Other options range from a Bang & Olufsen sound system to the Audi Drive Select system with four suspension settings (Comfort, Automatic, Dynamic, Individual), Dynamic ESP configuration (on-road, off-road, roof, cargo), a keyless entry system with starter button, side assist blind spot protection and a power tailgate.
And Audi offers three trim levels for the Q5 3.2.
The Q5 3.2 Premium lists for $37,200, with Q5 3.2 Premium Plus starting at $41,500 and the Q5 3.2 Prestige capping the series beginning at $48,200.