RED soft sand, rocks interspersed by saltbush overseen by towering hillsides and an unforgiving sun.
The Flinders Ranges in South Australia is not a traditionally a plush destination.
Yet Audi's Q5 had an ability to tame the terrain and iron out the beaten track.
Updated with a minor facelift, a range of extra features and four new engines, the latest iteration of Audi's most popular sports utility ensures the four rings will hit the ground running in 2013.
It's the biggest seller among the medium-sized premium SUVs and armed with a range of new features could well become Audi's number one seller next year.
Entry-level prices have remained the same, but Audi estimates its four-cylinder models get about $6500 worth of extra gear, while the six-cylinder variants have an additional $7000 in standard equipment (for a rise of $500 in the diesel and $1100 for the petrol).
Nothing much has changed inside, apart from some material improvements with the door inlays and different finishes on the dash.
It's a familiar feel with the Q5's layout functional and crisp.
Electrical adjustment of the front seats is now standard across the range which makes getting a good spot behind the wheel simple.
The seats are nicely supportive, although we could be easily lured to option the S line sports package which provides figure-hugging bucket seats and a wonderful flat-bottom steering wheel and a range of other athletic trinkets.
Front and back offers good head and legroom - as long as the front passengers don't slide the pews rearward too far.
There are four cup holders, two in the dash and two in the back arm rest, while each door can cater for bottles (1.5-litre or wine).
On the road
Somehow, the engineers keep finding sizable efficiencies and greater performance. This latest batch of powerplants are up to 15% more economical than their predecessors.
On offer are two diesels, a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder and a 3.0-litre V6 matched to a seven-speed automatic. The pair of petrols include a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-potter and a supercharged V6 both partnered to an eight-speed self-shifter.
To be fair, there's not a bad engine among them. All achieve impressive performance and we could easily live with any of the four.
Probably the most sensible pick is the 2.0-litre petrol, which boasts diesel-like torque figures while being
swifter than the equivalent oil-burner over the 0-100km sprint.
The 3.0-litre pairing offer some savage acceleration and would be the choice for those seeking immediate response from beneath the right foot.
With an ability to corner flat and fast, the Q5 is an impressive thing. You can cruise on the highway with revs under 2000rpm at 100kmh (in all engine choices), while also step off the bitumen with 200mm of ground clearance and short front and rear overhangs.
What do you get?
Like just about all premium offerings, there is a massive options list. You can customise the Q5 in just about every way, but you have to pay for the privilege.
Standard kit is much improved across the range, and includes 18-inch alloys, eight airbags, leather trim, 10 speaker stereo, electric tailgate, automatic lights and wipers, floor mats, parking sensors, cruise, tyre pressure monitoring and dual zone air con.
The six-cylinder offerings get better leather, three-zone air con, electric memory for the driver's seat which is matched to the key, sat nav and rear view camera.
Also in the running are the BMW X3 (from $59,000), Range Rover Evoque AWD 5D (from $59,895) and Volvo XC60 AWD (from $59,990).
A range of measures have been implemented to reduce fuel consumption, including electromechanical steering, stop-start, braking energy regeneration and Drive Select (which includes an efficiency mode, along with dynamic, comfort and automatic options). The diesel engines average under seven litres for every 100km, while the petrols are about eight.
Insurance and servicing costs would be worth investigating to avoid any shocks post-purchase, while resale has been strong on the Q5s.
Families find the Q5 to be a perfect fit, with easy access to the child seat anchorage points, along with the 40-20-40 rear seat fold functionality.
The rear seats also fold flat for improved cargo carrying space.
A feature is the cross bar for the roof rack, and there are several options for carrying equipment.
The Q5 is an attractive piece of gear. You can spot the new model over its predecessor courtesy of the chrome grille, flat exhaust tips, black Quattro badge and the new LED running lights - which are in a rectangular shape and are more homogenous (the dots are banished).
Sleek external lines provide an imposing silhouette from all angles.
What matters most
The good stuff: Outstanding performance with all engine variants, improved standard equipment list, no price rise on entry-level models.
What we'd like to see: Cheaper options, more interior personality.
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres. Servicing is every 15,000km.
The writer was Audi's guest in South Australia.
Model: Audi Q5.
Details: Five-door all-wheel drive mid-size luxury sports utility vehicle.
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel generating maximum power of 130kW @ 4200rpmand peak torque of 380Nm @ 1750-2500rpm; 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel 180kW @ 4000-4500rpm and 580Nm @ 1400-3250rpm.
Transmission: Seven speed dual clutch automatic.
Consumption: 6.1 litres/100km; 6.4L/100km.
CO2: 159g/km; 169g/km.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 9.0 seconds; 6.5. Top speed 200kmh; 225kmh.
Bottom line: $62,200; $75,500 (plus on roads).
Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol generating maximum power of 165kW @ 4500-6200rpm and peak torque of 350Nm @ 1500-4500rpm; 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol 200kW @ 4780-6500rpm and 400Nm @ 2500-4780rpm.
Transmission: Eight-speed tiptronic automatic.
Consumption: 7.9 litres/100km; 8.5L/100km.
CO2: 184g/km; 199g/km.
Performance: 0-100kmh in 7.1 seconds; 5.9. Top speed 222kmh; 234kmh.
Bottom line: $62,900; $74,100.
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