At last, the American-spec Audi Q5 has arrived. And to celebrate, I took one to my favorite canyon road. Naturally, such gnarly stretches of tarmac are not the kind of thing a crossover SUV is built for, but the Q5's (new A4) underpinnings suggest a depth of handling talent not found in rival machines. In the best sense possible, it rocks. Which means it doesn't rock. Or roll. Body control and overall composure is remarkable, even without getting into the adjustable parameters of throttle response, gearshift speed and active suspension tweaks.

The one engine currently available for U.S. buyers is Audi's well-known and well-loved 3.2-liter V6 (although there's talk of a 2.0T version coming down the pipe). Here it develops 270 hp and 243 lb-ft of torque, reined in by the aforementioned electronic trickery plus stability control and Quattro all-wheel drive, yet it never feels smothered by them, or by the Q5's 4,178-pound curb weight. This is a lusty, trusty drive.

Although the VW/Audi Group has the wonderful dual clutch DSG/S tronic transmission in its portfolio, Q5s heading stateside get a conventional six-speed self-shifter. But it works well enough. Through those canyon curves, the shift action is fast and smooth, and even quite satisfying when using manual mode. By the time that stretch was covered, the trip computer still gave a reading of 21.3 mpg average fuel consumption.

If anything, the steering feels somewhat artificial. Yes, it's meaty (almost to the point of being too heavy) and precise, but there's still not a lot of real wheel information coming up through it.

While we're on the subject of wheels, Audi does provide the option of 20-inchers, which might not be the best idea. The greater pliancy from 18- or 19-inchers will bring out the best of the Q5's ride quality.

No doubt the Q5 owner will look beyond the steering and enjoy things like the sliding rear seat giving sufficient space for a couple of adults to sit in the back, optional panoramic moon roof, and a new generation of Audi's MMI (multimedia interface). This latter item sports beautiful graphics. Sorry about that adjective, but it really fits. The navigation function contains three-dimensional maps; Q5 drivers in Downtown Los Angeles will easily pick out City Hall, for instance. Voice inputs such as "I'm hungry" and "I need gas/coffee/money" will highlight all the relevant spots. Perhaps the next generation will even provide an idea for a lucrative iPhone app when someone says "I need money" rather than just a plain old ATM location.

Which brings us to Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. Of course the Q5 has both, as well as heated/cooled cup holders, a rear-view camera and a powered tailgate. And it isn't cheap, but try and spring for the Bang & Olufsen 14-speaker sound system, because it sounds fabulous. In tandem with such a high-resolution screen, it's easy to imagine Q5 owners sitting in their driveways at night enjoying DVDs.

Incidentally, outdoorsy types might be interested to know that the Q5 has a class-leading maximum towing capacity of 4,400 pounds. That's a 900-pound advantage over the next best. And just in case, there's a hill-descent control if anyone goes slightly off-road with it.

Crossover SUVs, even premium models, don't usually spark daydreams of owning one, but when the package is this good-all wrapped up in Audi's exemplary build quality-the whole idea gets a lot more attractive. -Colin Ryan

FROM THE HIP
+ Classy, practical and fun
- Numb, artificial steering

2009 Audi Q5 3.2 Quattro Premium

* Layout
Longitudinal front engine, all-wheel drive

* Engine
3.2-liter V6, dohc, 24-valve

* Transmission
Six-speed Tiptronic automatic

* Performance
Peak Power: 270 hp @ 6500 rpm
Peak Torque: 243 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
0-60 mph: 6.7 sec.
Top Speed: 155 mph
Economy: 18 city/23 hwy

Price as Tested:
$52,950

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