HOT new rivals from Mercedes-Benz (GLC), Porsche (Macan) and Jaguar (F-Pace) put the all-new, second-generation version of Audi’s best-selling Q5 on notice to perform. Does it tick enough new model boxes to compete, especially when the exterior is so clearly an evolutionary development of the old car?
WHAT IS IT?
Globally, Audi has sold more than 1.6 million Q5s crossover SUVs since the model’s 2008 launch with 23,000 finding homes in Australia. So popular is the class best-seller that Audi has built a new factory in Mexico to supply 150,000 Q5s a year to the world, with a second factory in China for the domestic market.
WHY WE’RE TESTING IT
Based on Audi’s impressive MLB architecture for longitudinal engines and shared with the A4, A5 and Q7, the new Q5 is up to 90kg lighter and brings a 185kW 2.0-litre TFSI petrol engine and 140kW 2.0-litre TDI diesel at launch in the third quarter of 2017, with a range topping 3-litre V6 TDI to follow at the end of the year. With a plush interior, more efficient engines and 30 – count them – driver assistance systems, the Q5 must resist strong opposition if it is to retain its perennial class segment sales success.
Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan
THE WHEELS VERDICT
In every area that matters the new Q5 is significantly better than the old one: better to drive; more comfortable; better equipped; and, yes, better looking. Even in an increasingly crowded field, it’s a safe bet that this one will be just as successful.
PLUS: Overall refinement and comfort; handing and ride; high driver-assist safety equipment levels
MINUS: Too much chassis tuning choice, styling too evolutionary for all-new model, high loading sill
THE WHEELS REVIEW
DONALD Trump will hate the new Q5. Until now all Q5s for the world (except China and India) flowed from Audi’s Ingolstadt, Germany, factory. But from now on all Q5s, including the cars for Australia (and the US, if not China), come from a new green field $A1.75 billion plant in Mexico. Forget possible tariff walls, Audi’s convinced Mexico can build a premium SUV that matches anything from Germany. Despite any conspiracy theories from The Donald.
Understandably then, Audi held the first drive on Mexico’s Baja peninsula in pre-production cars fresh from the Puebla factory. The new Q5 follows the “if it ain’t broke” philosophy, for the exterior styling is a gentle evolution of the previous model. It’s one of the last Audis to be designed under former studio boss Wolfgang Egger, who unexpectedly departed Ingolstadt for VW’s Italdesign in late 2013. His successor Marc Lichte’s first car, the new Audi A8, introduces a different design theme and won’t appear until late next year. Compare old and new, side by side, and the new Q5 looks more elegant and tougher, though I wonder if it can successfully survive a seven/eight year life-cycle.
There’s the big single-frame grille that’s become Audi’s signature nose, while the side profile is more sculptured with an even stronger ‘toronado’ undercut crease line that starts at the top of the headlight and then uses the bonnet’s clamshell as a shutline and before bouncing over both wheel arches to the also clamshell rear hatch. Folding steel so precisely is proof of the unrivaled skill of Audi’s body engineers. Impressively for an SUV, the drag coefficient is down to 0.30.
The new Q5 has expanded a little in most directions – the 2820mm wheelbase (shared with the Audi A4) is up 12mm – yet conspires to look smaller. By using plenty of aluminium and high tensile steel in the body and suspension, Audi has managed to reduce weight by up to 90kg, depending upon the engine. The 2.0-litre TFSI manages a competitive 1720kg, the diesel four another 50kg.
We're driving all three engines, each with the optional air suspension and adaptive dampers. The only steel sprung cars on hand are reserved for the American, who preferred to ignore the many attractions of the air suspension. Both fours use Audi’s S-Tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox, the V6 getting an eight-speed ZF torque convertor automatic. The air suspension is one of a now bewildering array of options for damping, suspension and steering: from standard steel springs, to steel springs with active dampers, right through to active and adaptive air suspension. Top versions even get a sport differential – something that will be standard on the forthcoming S Q5 and RS Q5.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine, that’s up 20kW over its predecessor, needs to be worked a bit harder than the instantly responsive V6, but get into its torque zone and it moves the Q5 at a brisk pace. It’s a pleasant and flexible engine – our preferred choice – with a good spread of power and a better sound than both the diesels. Because it’s noticeably lighter, the car feel a touch more agile, too, if not exactly sporty, despite a 0-100km/h sprint in just 6.3seconds that reflects the engine’s willingness to rev to the 6600rpm full-throttle change-up point. This dual-clutch gearbox is smoother shifting and less prone to the low-speed niggles common to the technology and works invisibly to deliver the power to the road. At highways speeds illegal in Australia the hushed quiet of the cabin reveals the massive strides Audi has achieved in terms of refinement. Both transmissions engage neutral to save fuel as soon as you take a foot off the accelerator.
Predictably, the 2.0-litre diesel is a little more noisy when accelerating and idling, if markedly quieter than its predecessor. With 400Nm from 1600-4500rpm, it feels strong and effortless. Zero to 100km/h takes 7.9secs and yet it officially returns 5.1L/100km in the combined cycle, compared with the TFSI’s 6.8L/100km. If you want serious smoothness and refinement the 210kW V6 diesel delivers. Its vast spread of torque, 620Nm from 1500 to 3000rpm, produces instant sledgehammer performance through the cultivated automatic.
All three models turn in to corners with confidence, have plenty of grip, while body movements are well controlled and understeer is kept in check by the standard torque vectoring system. No, you’d never call the car overtly sporty, mostly because the chassis tuning aims to produce a competent, utterly predictable and refined SUV. That’s the way the customers want them. Yet, the driver can also sense that the chassis could be tuned to deliver a rather more involving car, which is where the upcoming SQ5 and RS Q5 come in. Or the next Porsche Macan which also uses the new MLB platform. What really impresses is the excellent ride quality that’s a perfect match for the smooth, quiet and comfortable characteristics of the petrol and V6 engines.
On the air suspended cars we drove there are obvious differences between the seven diverse driving modes, seven on offer via the Audi Drive Select system. The standard Comfort mode does what you’d expect, but selecting Sport lowers and stiffens the air springs so the car corners a touch flatter and communicates a bit more. Base Q5s come on 17-inch alloys, but Australia is expected to get 18s with 19s, 20s and even 21s as factory options.
Not so long ago electric power steering systems were both vague and artificial. No longer. The Audi’s standard system is accurate and quick around the straight ahead with even a touch of feel. The more sophisticated dynamic steering varies rate and effort in relation to speed and steering angle and at the limits will self-adjust your line to enhance active safety and vehicle dynamics. Only truly keen drivers need apply.
The V6 is permanently all-wheel drive, similar to the old Q5, whereas the new four-cylinder cars send all their power to the front wheels most of the time; it only goes to the rear as well if the front wheels start to slip. The operation is so smooth that we couldn’t tell the difference between the two systems or feel the changeover point.
I wouldn’t want to take a steel-sprung Q5 off road. Here the adaptive air suspension is essential with its 67mm of ride height adjustment, the maximum height being the reserve of the Off-Road mode. I’d say the Q5 has as much off-road ability as you’ll ever need.
Inside, the dashboard is largely familiar with its close A4 relative and just as beautifully finished, legible and sensibly ergonomic. The Q5 is now offered with Audi’s virtual cockpit that replaces the conventional instruments with a 12.3-inch configurable screen where the instrument binnacle once lived. The build quality is impeccable.The choice of materials, the sophistication of the technology and the overall fit and finish are excellent.
The MMI infotainment system, displayed on an 8.3-inch screen in the centre stack, is also as good as ever, ticking every type of usability and connectivity box you’d like, including Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring functions. The interior is also more spacious and the boot marginally larger at 550 litres, or 610L if Australian cars come with the sliding rear seats.
This is a very impressively engineered car and that’s quiet, lovely to sit in and easy to use, though it’s clear that the new Q5 doesn’t set out to be fun to drive. Prices are expected to remain close to the outgoing models. Donald should try one.
Model: Q5 2.0 TFSI quattro
Engine: 1984cc, 4-cyl, dohc, turbo
Max power: 185kW @ 4300-6000rpm
Max torque: 370Nm @ 1600-4500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 6.3sec (claimed)
Economy: 6.8L/100km (EU cycle)
Price: $64,000 (est)
On sale: July/August 2017