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Audi replaces the best-selling Q5 SUV with a model very much on the same theme, but does more sophistication make it a more compelling option than the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC or the Volvo XC60?

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However conspicuous the mark left by the Audi Q7, it was the smaller Audi Q5 that really uncorked the sales potential of SUVs that its maker had been leaving hitherto untapped when the model first appeared almost a decade ago.

Launched against a backdrop of uncertainty about whether buyers would take to a mid-size pseudo off-roader from Ingolstadt, the Audi Audi Q5 delivered an emphatic answer by smashing its sales targets and becoming the best-selling car in its class for several years of its life.

The Q5 moves onto the MLB Evo platform shared with the bigger Q7 and the A4 and A5

Audi’s top executives wasted no opportunity to crow about the surprise success of the Audi Q7’s sibling.

But then you might too if your new introduction had come from nowhere to immediately out-sell the likes of the BMW X3 and Land Rover Freelander.

It helped, of course, that the Q5 entered one of the fastest-growing market niches in Europe, and it was underlined by the fact that the first-generation incarnation of the model reached more owners on our continent in the final 12 months of its life than it had in its first full year on sale.

This time around, you can bet the importance of the Q5 will not be underestimated. And in reflection of the fact that the outgoing model became a hugely successful global product over the course of its life (it attracted more buyers in China last year than it did in Europe and the US combined), the new one moves out of the original version’s German production base at Ingolstadt and into a consolidated facility in San Jose Chiapa, Mexico.

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Like so many of Audi’s other recent introductions, it also moves onto the firm’s MLB Evo model platform, which not only allows it to grow slightly in all three major dimensions but also to hit a kerb weight that is on average 90kg less than that of its predecessor on a model-for-model basis.

Audi started the UK model range small but will flesh it out later, initially giving British buyers the choice of 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel, a 249bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbo, a 282bhp 3.0-litre V6 TDI and topped by the 349bhp Audi SQ5. Diesels of both lesser and greater outputs should follow, along with a plug-in hybrid version in late 2018.

We have elected to test the 2.0 TDI, which Audi hopes will stake a claim to being one of the best family SUVs around.

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Audi Q5 front grille

In classic German premium-brand style, Audi has aimed the new Q5 SUV directly at its nearest Teutonic rivals with absolute precision.

The new car is within an inch of being a perfect match for a BMW X3 or a Mercedes-Benz GLC on overall length, while a Land Rover Discovery Sport is a touch shorter at the kerb and a Jaguar F-Pace a gnat’s whisker longer.

Sometimes you’d like Audi to inject a bit more sparkle into the Q5 but, when it sells like it has been, it’s hard to argue with the approach

That would suggest, quite rightly, that Audi is targeting the centre of the premium-brand mid-sized SUV market here. The car is growing with the class, not within it.

The new Q5’s styling is a touch more masculine and assertive than that of the old model.

The firm’s new dominant single-frame grille is the crowning glory of a design language intended as the outward expression of the kind of obsession with technical precision that gives you body panels pressed with remarkable surface complexity and fitted with perfectly aligned creases while overlapping their neighbours in unconventional ways.

The car’s outline is one with raked pillars and a less boxy profile than those of most of its rivals, which is partly why so many will perceive the car as more stylish than its peers.

Overall, it’s not difficult to see why customers may like the way this car looks – but it’s hard to imagine being excited by it.

Under the skin, the Q5’s body-in-white is a match for that of the latest Audi A4 and Audi A5, being a mix of aluminium and steel.

Suspension is all-independent, with a new five-link chassis having been developed in order for the car to work across a broad choice of suspension options.

Entry-level Q5s come with steel coil springs, while our S line-specification test car sits on passively damped and lowered sport suspension, which is a no-cost option.

The as-standard suspension is ‘dynamic comfort’. Adaptively damped comfort suspension or a variable-height air system are available at extra cost. Audi’s variable-ratio dynamic steering is another option not fitted to our car.

For now, all versions of the Q5 come with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox and also with Audi’s new clutch-based ‘quattro ultra’ four-wheel drive system, which brings the rear part of the transmission into play only when the car’s electronic brain decides it’s needed.

Only the top-level 3.0 TDI and SQ5 models will get the centre differential-based permanent four-wheel drive systems we’ve associated with Audi for so long – and only those versions can be equipped with a locking ‘sport’ rear differential.

Beneath the bonnet buyers will find a range of familiar units from the Volkswagen Group. The 2.0 TDI unit is likely to make up the bulk of the range providing the Q5 a heady mix of good fuel economy and turn of pace, while the 3.0 TDI provides greater flexibility, refinement and outright performance. The 2.0 TFSI provides punchy performance but without any aural drama some may be hoping for, while the Audi SQ5 can propel the 1700kg plus SUV past 62mph in 5.4 seconds and onto 155mph but lacks the sporty edge its closest rivals - Porsche Macan Turbo and Mercedes-AMG GLC43 - offer.

INTERIOR

Audi Q5 interior

If you’re familiar with other recent Audis, this is the section of the road test you could write having tested the car blindfolded.

It’s now common thinking in the car industry that if you want to see a benchmark interior, you look at an Audi, and the Q5 is as predictable as Manchester City taking all three points, landing right where you’d expect it to be.

I’d quite happily settle for a small speedo/rev counter display in the Q5, whereas in an R8, I want ’em as big as possible. It shows the approach works

Shall we start with the driving position? We might as well, because in some recent Audis an offset positioning has been the one thing you might like to criticise.

No such drama here, though: the wheel sits dead centre of the seat, and although the brake and accelerator pedals are both offset, it’s to the right, where you’d hope. The seven-speed dual-clutch auto ’box means there’s no clutch pedal to bother about.

You sit lower than you might in a Discovery Sport – or that’s how it feels, owing to the Q5’s higher window line, which gives a greater sense of car-likeness. Even so, there’s enough elevation here to keep buyers wanting a tall seating position happy.

Accommodation in the rear is good, too. There’s enough space for adults to sit behind adults, which is about the best you can ask for, while the Q5’s luggage bay dimensions have presumably been rubber-stamped somewhere with the Ingolstadt equivalent of ‘requirements met’.

At its widest, the boot is a golf club-accommodating 1300mm and it’s almost a metre long with the rear seats in place. Folding them is the work of a moment and results in a familiar 1800mm load length, while load height to the luggage cover is 510mm and to the ceiling it’s 800mm.

In all, then, the kinds of numbers that roll out of our tape measure with astonishing consistency with big Volkswagen Group cars.

Also astonishingly consistent is this Audi’s fit and finish. Material choice is strong, as ever: go looking for the areas where they’ve scrimped and saved and you’ll be looking a while.

Buttons, switches and the MMI interface controller all operate with smooth efficiency, and dials and readouts are all perfectly clear.

If you were picky you might ask for a bit more flair and character – something like Mini manages to lob into a cabin, for example – but sales volumes suggest that, more often than not, people want a high-class interior that just works. Here, they’ve got one.

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which displays the main instruments digitally, is a fine piece of work, being adaptable and clear.

But better still is the rest of the Audi Multi Media Interface (MMI), which combines a large central screen with a controller on the centre console. Previously, Audi had resisted the urge, to which BMW has succumbed, to make the screen touch sensitive - although the new A8 was the one that broke the ice.

With a control pad and its adorning buttons, however, it’s easy to navigate through the myriad systems.

There’s a touchpad, too, which we used mostly for inputting addresses on the navigation, while the rotary dial can be turned, pressed or nudged to navigate through menus. It’s not quite as intuitive as BMW’s iDrive system, but it’s second-best in the industry.

Sensibly, Audi retains separate buttons and switches for operations such as the heating and ventilation system, heated seats and so on, and the whole caboodle is supplemented by steering wheel controls for major functions.

It’s a bit of a button-fest compared to, say, a Volvo, but when it comes to functionality, we’ll take it.

As for trims there are three core ones for buyers to choose from - SE, Sport and S line. Entry-level models get 18in alloy wheels, xenon headlights, aluminium roof rails, heat-insulating side windows, cruise control, hill descent control, parking sensors, and Audi's Pre-Sense autonomous braking system fitted as standard on the exterior. Inside, there is tri-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a powered tailgate, auto lights and wipers, keyless entry and Audi's MMI infotainment system complete with a 7.0in display, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, DAB radio and smartphone integration.

Upgrade to Sport and the Q5 is adorned with front sports seats, ambient LED interior lighting, sat nav and Audi's online services, while the range-topping S line models get LED head and rear lights, 19in alloy wheels, brushed aluminium interior touches, a sporty-styled bodykit, and leather and Alcantara upholstery.

Those opting for the Audi SQ5 not only get the 349bhp 3.0-litre V6 at the front but also 20in alloy wheels, adaptive dampers, a self-locking centre differential, high beam assist, electrically adjustable front seats, a Nappa leather upholstery, a beefier bodykit, an 8.3in infotainment screen with 10GB hard drive, and a 40/20/40 split rear bench.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Audi Q5 side profile

On the day we figured the Audi Q5, we happened to have along an equivalent Land Rover Discovery Sport and a Mercedes-Benz GLC.

They were present more for ride and handling comparisons than simple performance figures, but the digits that emerged are significant enough.

Handling bias is front-led, so accelerating hard gets the ESP quickly and subtly intervening to prevent understeer

In the benchmark 0-60mph sprint, the Audi and Mercedes nudged close to each other. The GLC just dipped under eight seconds, the Audi just over. At this point, you can forget the Land Rover, which is more than a second slower than the Audi.

Over a standing quarter mile it’s a similar story: the Mercedes is still narrowly the more accelerative, plus it has the edge on in-gear flexibility, which is what really matters. Onto a level slip road it will accelerate from 30-70mph in 7.8sec, while the Audi wants 8.5sec.

The Audi’s gearing is a little unusual, being considerably lower than the Mercedes in the first five gears, then about equal in sixth and far longer in seventh.

You’d think there were big gaps in the upper gears (well, there are), but such is the S tronic gearbox’s ability to shuffle between ratios that it’s not something you’d notice unless you chose to pay it significant attention.

Perhaps it’s one reason why the Mercedes’ engine seems more muted, more often, than the Audi’s, the gearing of which has possibly been optimised more for legislative drive cycles. Or perhaps it’s just the installation.

Either way, if you hadn’t been told, you’d probably not notice, and either way, it’s a darn sight quieter than the Discovery Sport, whose Ingenium engine is frequently at the forefront of your mind as it grumbles away ahead of you, seemingly putting in more effort than the Audi or Mercedes for considerably less return.

The Q5’s brake pedal feel is good, and its slowing ability is strong.

RIDE & HANDLING

Audi Q5 cornering

You can consider this section to be the shortest ride and handling group test in history, featuring the Q5, a the Mercedes-Benz GLC and the Discovery Sport.

And it might be a surprise to you – as it was to us – to find that the Audi is the most agile of the trio.

New Q5 has lost weight to the benefit of agility and body control, and it rides with more suppleness

It probably shouldn’t have been a shock, because at a claimed 1770kg at the kerb, the Audi weighs less than the 1845kg Mercedes, and regardless how light Land Rover has made the Discovery Sport, it is a car that must go farther off-road than the other two, so you’d expect more axle articulation and more body lean – which you get.

Despite the Audi’s 19in rims, though, the Q5 isn’t the brittle, hard-edged car you might expect it would be.

Granted, its ride is less isolated than that of the GLC, but there’s more inherent suppleness in today’s Audis than there was, say, five years ago, and the Q5 is as absorbent as you’d realistically expect it to be – if not quite as absorbent as you’d want all the time, given that sudden surface imperfections can cause an underbody kerfuffle.

And on the upside, the Q5’s body control is good.

Around Millbrook’s handling courses and on decent back roads outside, the Q5 contains its tall body with as much alacrity as some far lower-riding cars, is happy to change direction easily and doesn’t give too much away to a more conventional executive car.

Not that it does this with any great reward. The Q5’s steering is more numb than that of anything in the class and light in weight most of the time, except on the way out of a corner when it gains unexpected heft and self-centring. More naturally, the extra weight would come mid-corner when loads are higher.

So that’s odd, especially compared with the other decent cars in this class. Anything made by JLR tends to steer well, although the Discovery Sport’s rim kicks back more than that of the Audi, while the Mercedes has a routinely heavier, but slicker, rack than the Q5.

But as it is the Q5 is a decent steering system away from being quite an engaging car to drive.

The Q5 is a decent car on a handling course — either on Millbrook’s Hill Route or on its flatter — and faster — outer handling circuit, both of which are B-road replicants.

The Audi’s body control is strong, and it’s only the Q5’s numb, remote steering that stops it from being a surprisingly entertaining car to drive — at least for an SUV of this size and height.

It’s interesting to note the differences in handling balance between it and Mercedes-Benz GLC, mind. The Mercedes feels more naturally rear-led and sweetly balanced; applying more power in the Audi just gives you a blunter driving experience.

Over big crests and dips the Q5 generally only has one big body movement, however, and then it’s settled. There’s no wallow, either, but likewise there’s little harshness over large undulations.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Audi Q5

Judging by list price only, the Q5 may for now look a touch expensive – at least until Audi fleshes out the more affordable end of the model range.

But the truth is that, as ever, the company has done a very thorough job of delivering the car to the customer as a relatively attractive value proposition.

Strong residual values are expected to out-perform equivalent Discovery Sport after three years/36,000 miles

If you were a buyer considering the jump up from, say, an equivalent A4 Avant, our test car would represent a list price premium of less than £2500 (some of which could be offset against the more generous standard specification).

Our advice for the Q5 is simple, to hold on until the range is extended. However, if you can’t wait that long, then a mid-spec 2.0-litre TDI 190 quattro S tronic Sport would be just the ticket. We would also add Audi’s Technology Pack (£1100), adaptive cruise control (£750) and virtual cockpit (£250) to complete the package.

For a company car tax payer, the difference in benefit in kind liability to the smaller estate is just two percent of list price – which begins to show how Audi makes it so easy to migrate into an SUV.

Against its immediate rivals, our Audi test car was narrowly beaten on CO2 emissions by a like-for-like GLC250d, with a figure of 133g/km to the Mercedes’ 129g/km, but it betters its opposition from BMW and Land Rover.

What makes it cheaper to own than both the Discovery Sport and the GLC are the relatively attractive contract hire and PCP deals, which, our sources suggest, would deliver the business user a £50 per month saving against the Mercedes and an even bigger one against the Land Rover.

 

VERDICT

4 star Audi Q5

It might have surprised some people but probably came as no shock to Audi that the old Q5 became the best-selling SUV in most markets in which it was sold.

This type of car – a modicum of rough-track ability, a classy cabin, an unimpeachable image – is precisely the kind to which the brand and its line-up is suited.

Like the old Q5, but with additional class, dynamism and polish

The new one, then, it’s no surprise to find, picks up where the old Q5 left off, at least in terms of refinement, premium feel and pricing/equipment.

It also offers precisely the same absence of surprise, flair and spark that some enthusiasts might hope for, because clearly what works, works, and Audi knows best.

So this Q5 offers more of the same, but with a lighter platform that gives it an enhanced sense of dynamism.

There’s the same interior quality perception, the same quietness, the same excellent ergonomics and the same package that wraps it all up appealingly, as well as Audi catering for all needs and desires.

And there’s the same disinterest in making the most of the Q5’s dynamic potential, so it remains capable but uninvolving to drive. Plus ça change.

But with all things considered the Audi Q5 tops our mid-sized SUV shortlist, with it gaining a slight edge over the Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar F-Pace and Land Rover Discovery Sport. It might not have the dynamics to rival the BMW X3, but more than makes up for it in general comfort, cabin isolation and overall interior quality.

 

Audi Q5 FAQs

Is the Audi Q5 available as a plug-in or electric?

Audi is leading the charge in the push for electrification, with almost all its models available with plug-in or all-electric drivetrains - and the Q5 is no exception. The 50 TFSIe combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor and 17.9kWh lithium ion battery to deliver 295bhp and an all-electric range of 37 miles. There's currently no fully electric Audi Q5, but there is the similarly-sized Q4 e-tron, which like the Q5 has the option of standard SUV and more rakish Sportback body styles.

What are the main rivals for the Audi Q5?

There’s no shortage of upmarket mid-size SUV rivals for the Audi Q5, including the Range Rover Evoque, which isn’t quite as spacious but looks sharper and is more accomplished off-road. The Mercedes GLC is more comfortable and slightly more spacious, while the BMW X3 is more engaging to drive and is available in all-electric iX3 guise. More expensive but faster and more fun to drive is the Porsche Macan.

How much power does the Audi Q5 have?

The Audi Q5 is not short of performance, as even the entry-level 40 TDI model is powered by a 201bhp 2.0-litre diesel. The 45 TFSI 2.0-litre petrol serves up a healthy 261bhp, while the 50 TFSIe plug-in hybrid ups this figure to 296bhp. At the top of the performance tree is the SQ5, which features a 342bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel that propels the Audi from 0-62mph in only 5.1 seconds.

What choices of gearbox are there for an Audi Q5?

There’s not a lot of choice when it comes to a gearbox for the Audi Q5. In fact, there’s only one option, which is the brand’s familiar seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission. That’s no bad thing, however, as it delivers smooth and fast shifts and is well suited to the Q5’s laid back character and refined driving experience. In all versions, the gearbox drives all four wheels through the firm’s quattro all-wheel drive system.

Where is the Audi Q5 built?

Unlike its predecessor, the current Audi Q5 isn’t produced in the brand’s home country of Germany. Instead, most examples for Europe and the US are assembled by Audi Mexico at its recently opened plant in San José Chiapa. The Audi and Skoda joint venture factory in Aurangabad, India, also produces the Q5, while in China a special long wheelbase version is constructed at the firm’s Changchun facility, alongside similarly stretched examples of the A4 and A6 saloon.

How many generations of Audi Q5 have there been?

So far there have been two generations of the Audi Q5, which made its debut in 2008. The original car was based on the brand’s MLB platform, which it shared with the current Porsche Macan. The second generation machine arrived in 2017 and is underpinned by the newer MLB evo architecture that is also used on the larger Q7 and Q8 models, as well as the Porsche Cayenne, Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Audi Q5 First drives