My lease is ending and I’m shopping for a new car. So I have my eyes on the road more than usual, searching for something that piques my interest. Of course, ogling cars on the freeway might satisfy my visual senses, it isn’t really giving me a window into the more important interior (and invisible) features that are meaningful to me.
So one afternoon I jumped on the internet to start reading websites. I spent time navigate around the marketing babble trying to determine which car seems like a good fit. Many page scrolls and an hour later, I have determined that the car companies are not writing these car model pages for me. The way they speak about their cars is just not how I want to be spoken to. So much of the jargon falls flat, and the opportunity to really sell me on how they could truly meet my needs as a mom/woman/LA road warrior are lost.
I should stop and say here that I truly understand that, for some people, a car is simply a means to get from A to B, and pouring over features is simply not a priority. I totally get that. For me, I live in Los Angeles, where driving is a way of life— the sheer size of the city means that I traverse considerable distance just running errands and getting my kids to after school activities. Last year, my daughter played basketball twice a week in Calabasas (20 miles each way), and Lacrosse in Santa Monica twice a week (20 miles each way). And this year she’ll be going to middle school by bus, but I expect I’ll need to drop her off or pick her up often… another 15 miles each way.
While I’m spending all that time in the car, I’m trying to listen to podcasts, field business calls, or navigate to unfamiliar places… all while keeping my eyes and focus on the road. I want/need/deserve to have a car that is an optimized, effective tool that can help me manage that driving load safely and effectively. What that means in terms of features I wasn’t exactly sure at the outset, but that’s the topline goal.
When Audi agreed to let me test drive their 2018 SQ5 for a week (a car that’s on my short list), I decided to use the opportunity as a way to crystalize my vague wants and needs in a car, and better articulate what’s important to me. This way I’ll be able to run a few more options through a well-thought-out list and ultimately find the best fit for me. Perhaps my list will speak to you better than current car marketing, and you can use it as a cheat sheet when you set out to find a car when it’s time to get you some new wheels.
Oh, and where better than to zoom around than my favorite stretch of Santa Monica, right by the water?
Comfortable driver’s seat
Car companies aren’t known for discussing wellness in their marketing, but they should— your customers are spending hours in this seat, so it should be just as ergonomic and supportive as a desk chair. All the talk of “bucket seats” is a good start, but car companies need to acknowledge the wear and tear that driving (sitting) creates on my body. Heated or air conditioned seats? Meh. Lumbar support? Now we’re talking.
Navigation is intuitive and accurate
In-car navigation systems have a hard time keeping up with Waze and Google Maps, who uncannily accurate traffic and accident reports, and skillfully reroute us accordingly. But this then requires you to have your phone out and in-use in the car, and a new car should be helping me avoid that as much as possible.
The native navigation for Audi had a visually impressive integration with Google Earth and Google Street View, to give maps a realistic look that you could experience on the 7-inch display, or right in front of the wheel in the all-digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster. I kinda wish the integration was with Google Maps, not with Google Earth— the terrain view is lovely, but what I really need real-time traffic information without having to use my phone. That would involve an in-car Wifi connection (an option, but standard on all cars).
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to rescue: These optional upgrades leverage the power of your smartphone (and its cellular connection) to give you access to Google/Apple Maps by using voice control with Google Assistant/Siri. Using CarPlay in the Audi Q5 was easy to set up and pleasant to use for navigation purposes— a familiar interface on a larger screen, without all the smartphone-related distractions.
Audi’s MMI Connect App allows you to enter a destination while at home, and send it to the car so when you’re ready to go, the car knows how to get you there. A couple extra steps, but it works.
Ideal scenario: I enter the car and can pull up my calendar. If my calendar entry includes a destination, the car can route me there with one tap… no typing, talking or scrolling a jogwheel necessary. I’ll let you know when I find it.
Easy Fielding outgoing and incoming calls
Like I said, I’m on the phone a lot in my car (AKA my “other office”). The native MMI interface allows me to store my address book contacts and make calls with ease. Of course, this is where the Apple CarPlay shines again: Siri makes it easy to ask to call anyone by voice. TIP: Even easier to use if you add “nicknames” to your Apple contacts (so I can say “call hubs” instead of “call Mike Knobloch.” Handy steering wheel controls make it easy to receive or end calls without taking my eyes off the road.
Cutting edge safety features
When most people think “car tech” they think of self-driving cars and rear seat entertainment systems. I have no interest a self-driving car. And I have never invested in those backseat screens and I never will. We don’t watch movies in the car like zombies. We talk to each other or stare out the window, but I digress.
The car tech I’m MOST interested in is the stuff you don’t experience until you need it— the really sophisticated safety offerings that cars are being shipped with these days. I would plunk down money to any car company that offered all their high tech safety features on ALL the cars in their line: They’d have me as a lifelong customer. Unfortunately, most of these features are options that don’t come in all cars, so you’ll have to decide if the upgrade costs are worth it to you. My favorite driver assistance technologies include:
Audi Pre Sense City, which can warn you of an imminent low-speed collision (less than 52mph) with a vehicle or pedestrian, and even initiate emergency breaking. Happy to have help in that department.
Vehicle exist assist, which uses LED lights in the doors and on the windows to warn you not to open them— alerting you to approaching vehicles or cyclists that might collide with the door.
Audi side assist uses radar sensors and optical warnings to alert you when a vehicle is in your blind spot. SO helpful for freeway lane changes… especially for new teenage driver.
Nimble back seats
I am constantly folding down my back seats— trips to IKEA, long weekend trips, and countless other scenarios require it. I’d like the seats to be easy to fold and reassemble, please. Audi’s 40/20/40 split rear seats had a comfortable tab that made it a cinch.I’m always surprised at how difficult this can be in other cars. I wish the seats had folded down completely flat, but the slight angle wouldn’t have been too tough to slide something over. Less-used but equally appreciated is the hands-free tailgate release.
Also, check out those quilted leather seats!
It’s a bummer that the Q5 does not have a hybrid option. My husband drives an electric car, and I’m not sure we’re ready to be a two-electric-car family, but I’d at least love a way to cut back on the gas guzzling by using electricity for a fraction of my driving. With the talk of refuting the effects of climate change becoming more and more outrageous in the news (seriously?!), I am looking for more ways to vote with my dollars and buy earth-friendly options… and to spend less time at the gas station. Car companies, get all-in already and start moving each model in your line in that direction. Consumers like me are going to start walking away if it’s not an option.
All in all, I absolutely loved the way the 2018 Audi SQ5 drove and handled on the road— it’s got a peppy engine and was nimble yet smooth when turning corners or zipping past slow-pokes on the freeway. I’m glad I had a new car to play with for a week because it gave me the chance to really think hard about what I want (and don’t care for) in a new car. This car remains high on my list: I’ll keep you posted on what I choose!
Thank you SO much to Audi for loaning me this fabulous car for the week! As always, all opinions are my own.