If it seems to you as if crossovers and SUVs are taking over the world, it’s because they are. Their choke hold on sedans grows tighter with each passing year, with more manufacturers entering the fray with new models. As enthusiasts, we’d much rather have sedans that handle and don’t come with much body roll for similar, if not less, money. But here’s the thing, over the years SUVs have adopted car-like attributes and now they don’t really drive like the lumbering beasts of SUVs of the past. So we haven’t given up on SUVs just yet. Not with the relentless expansion in varieties and sub-segments, which usually means performance and dynamic improvements to make them more fun to drive.Take the Audi Q5 as a case in point.
“The Audi Q5 has always hit the sweet spot, providing the convenience and practicality of SUVs, while having enough performance and driver involvement to not invalidate your auto-enthusiast credentials”
The Audi Q5 has always hit the sweet spot, providing the convenience and practicality of SUVs, while having enough performance and driver involvement to not invalidate your auto-enthusiast credentials. Given how change is always inevitable however, the Q5 too has changed over the years and now there is an all-new generation. Begs the question, does it still hit the sweet spot like in the past? To find out, we decided to head out with old Q5 and the latest one and pit them against each other.
The old Q5 was quick, comfortable, and infused with the latest tech gadgetry. It was no surprise therefore that it went on to be a runaway success story for Audi. Interestingly, the Q5 accomplished much of its success without any significant update since that initial launch, all the way back in 2009. In fact, even today, the outgoing Q5 is an undeniably premium-looking SUV, having set the standard in the segment for the longest time. That said, a major upgrade was long overdue.
“Even today, the outgoing Q5 is an undeniably premium-looking SUV, having set the standard in the segment for the longest time”
Enter the 2018 Audi Q5, a redesign of what was an already successful story. As is the norm for Audi, the visible changes to the vehicle are subtle but comprehensive. When parked side-by-side, you can easily tell that Audi has taken the things that were already well-loved about the first generation Q5 and improved on them, while also borrowing a handful of tweaks inspired by its bigger brother, the Q7. The subtly sculpted sides and tall roofline have been carried over mostly unchanged, retaining the identity of this SUV. A revised rear bumper with chrome detailing and slightly reshaped tail lights do a good job of making the rear look sportier than before.
Upfront however is where you find the big difference for the new Q5’s grille sits between a pair of Q7-like headlights and large air intakes. The chrome slats in the grille now run horizontally rather than vertically, giving the new car a squatter stance than its predecessor. Overall though, the look of the vehicle remains consistent and the Q5’s visual updates remain an evolution rather than a revolution.
Where the new exterior is a discreet improvement over the older model, the new Q5’s interior is light years ahead of the previous one. It’s apparent the moment you step into it. The most obvious update of course is the addition of Audi’s virtual cockpit instrument display, which is now becoming de rigueur on all-new cars launched by the manufacturer. It replaces traditional analogue clocks with a 12-inch LCD that can be configured in a variety of ways to suit the driver. The rest of the Q5’s cabin has been upgraded to closely resemble that of the Q7 and A4, with a more refined design and improved ergonomics.
“Where the new exterior is a discreet improvement over the older model, the new Q5’s interior is light years ahead of the previous one”
There’s efficient use of space, combined with a lower dashboard height and slimmer pillars giving the new Q5 a more open feel while improving all-round visibility, something the old car struggles with. There’s also a large infotainment screen mounted above the new centre console. Numerous dark plastics have been replaced by bright contrasting trims that run the full width of the cabin while the revised control knobs are more intuitive to use. An updated MMI infotainment system can be paired with an optional touchpad with handwriting recognition.
The underpinnings are the biggest update to the Q5 and it aligns even more closely to its big brother with the adoption of VW Group’s MLB modular platform. The big change that it brings to the driving personality is a sense of lightness – it feels more agile, needs less effort and responds more quickly to inputs. Proactive, rather than reactive, a trait we talk about later as well.
“The underpinnings are the biggest update to the Q5 and it aligns even more closely to its big brother with the adoption of VW Group’s MLB modular platform”
As has always been the case with the Q5 the suspension soaks up bumps quite well and we know for a fact that passengers remain comfortable on all but the roughest of roads. The new Q5 also addresses a complaint that customers had and that was the limited rear head room. Passengers will also appreciate the new model’s well-damped suspension that imparts a stable feeling no matter the road or driving condition; the ride is smooth and controlled, even when the going gets rough.
Additionally, Audi has upgraded the Quattro drivetrain with Ultra Technology which predicts grip (or otherwise) and responds accordingly. The sensors predict a loss of grip and switch pro-actively from FWD to RWD, rather than reactively as in the past, making the Q5 even more capable in slippery or off-road conditions. The response time of the system is 200 milliseconds. The system also allows the Q5 to maximise fuel efficiency (because when not required it sends drive only to the front wheels) without sacrificing the all-wheel-drive performance that Audi is known for.
“The Q5 is happy moving around in town, but it really comes into its own once out on the open road”
Except for some minor hiccups from the seven-speed DCT transmission (or S-Tronic as Audi calls it), the Q5’s powertrain is well sorted and provides more than enough grunt for acceleration and passing. It does hesitate when you initially give it gas before moving the Q5 forward with all the engine’s authority. Once the Q5 is up and rolling, shifts are quick and unobtrusive, but when coasting up to a stop at low speeds, you do get an occasional clunk as the transmission drops to first gear. The Q5 is happy moving around in town, but it really comes into its own once out on the open road. There is a perceptible uptick in performance too with the 0-100kmph time dropping by 1.1 seconds thanks to a 13bhp bump in power and 20Nm bump in torque.
Customers looking for more power from their mid-size Audi SUV will be disappointed though. The 3.0 V6 turbo-diesel that was offered as an option on the previous Q5 has been dropped, there isn’t even a petrol option (for now), Audi deciding to simplify the new generation line up by offering just the one engine option. With an output of 188bhp, paired with that 7-speed double clutch transmission, the engine can propel the new Q5 briskly enough, but it does run out of steam and begins to feel stressed when revved hard.
“The supple ride with loads of space and a relaxed, rather than exciting driving experience, making this SUV closer to the Q7 than its predecessor ever was”
On the move the steering, while accurate, is lightly weighted and provides very little feedback from the front wheels. In the Dynamic drive mode, it feels a little heavier but continues to remain artificial. Pitch the Q5 down a twisty two-lane and it’ll handle it with aplomb, but it doesn’t have the Porsche Macan’s ability to involve the driver. There’s no question which one will show you a better time.
The new Q5 is almost exactly what you’d expect a new Audi to be, which is a good thing. It isn’t a huge leap forward from the old car, but again, that’s not a bad thing. Audi has followed the if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it philosophy and built a new Q5 that’s a more polished, grown up and an even more mature version of its predecessor. The supple ride with loads of space and a relaxed, rather than exciting driving experience, making this SUV closer to the Q7 than its predecessor ever was. Which is exactly what customers like our friends with the Gen 1 Q5 want.