I’ve been doing a bit of reflecting off late, about how sterile the car driving experience has become. Modern cars filter out everything that cars of the yore promised in abundance — noise, vibrations, bad roads filtering up to your backside. All this is a good thing. Until the cars start filtering out excitement and fun. Then you know they’ve gone too far. But each successive generation of car gets quieter, smoother and (sometimes) sportier. Like this new generation Audi Q5 I was driving down a dusty highway in Rajasthan. It’s a lot of things — lighter, faster, longer, wider, quieter — compared to the last generation SUV. And that previous gen one was Audi’s best-selling SUV yet — racking up some 1.6 million units globally. How far ahead has this new one moved the game?
No this isn’t a facelift, this is a generation upgrade. This new Q5 is based on the same MLB evo platform that the Q7 is based on, which is great because the Q7 is probably the most sorted car in its segment. As expected, the Q5 gets a proper makeover too. The nose is fresh — the hexagonal grille is now in line with Audi’s latest SUV design language. It is more angular and flanked in brushed aluminium. The headlights are sleeker, sharper and get fresh DRLs (that somewhat resemble a Q). Audi has always been an innovator on the lighting front and the lights on this car are no less than a masterpiece. The shape of the rear combination lamps hasn’t changed too much from the previous gen Q5, though the cluster is new and quite a neat one at that. The lines on the body are typical Audi — an understated bulge on the bonnet, a strong, pinched shoulderline and a sloping roof. The result is a design that looks sharper and sleeker than the older SUV. Now whether you like these changes or not are entirely up to your disposition, though I think the changes were necessary in keeping the Q5 looking contemporary. That fact that it looks like a shrunken Q7 doesn’t hurt.
The interiors have been updated as well, with the biggest change being the addition of Audi’s Virtual Cockpit system. This allows you the freedom to customise the information cluster — you could choose to keep the speedo and tacho at the centre or shrink them in to two corners, bringing up navigation, the entertainment options or vehicle data instead. You get a dual tone dash, with a wood inlay running across the length of it. There’s an 8.3-inch high res display at the head of the centre console running Audi’s MMI. The SUV has plenty of connectivity options: you get Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. You also get two USB slots, an aux port, SD card slots, a CD slot and 10GB of on board storage for music. Other neat touches include the ‘yacht-style’ chunky gear-shifter knob, and the satisfying clicks that the buttons make when you use them.
So back to what I was getting on about at the start. Once you get in to the Q5, finish fiddling around with the Virtual cockpit and actually set off, you realise how isolated the car feels from the outside. It is this silence that strikes you as soon as you set off, and the novelty of it doesn’t really wear off. The 2-litre diesel motor is extremely refined, and the work that has gone in to keeping the cabin cocooned from the outside means that this engine refinement is amplified. But the cabin of the Q5 is also extremely adept at keeping out any sort of wind noise, and even over bad roads — the suspension soaks up everything without any uncomfortable thudding. You really feel isolated from the outside.
The engine is a familiar one — the 2-litre four-pot TDI with a variable geometry turbo that puts out 188bhp and 400Nm. Refinement aside, the engine also has plenty of shove. Peak torque is available as low as 1750rpm all the way to 3000rpm, and has a 4500rpm redline. Audi claims it will hit a ton in 7.9 seconds and will continue pulling till it hits 218kmph. The 7-speed dual clutch box is intuitive and doesn’t need constant coaxing to be in the right gear. So whether you’re out on the highway and want to make a quick overtake or on a windy road and want to pull out of a corner quickly, the Q5 has you covered. Shifts are quick and smooth, and barely perceptible when the car is being driven leisurely. The car is also deceptively fast: it is generally carrying a lot more speed that you think it is when you are driving and this is a combination of the punchy motor and the isolated cabin.
Another real highlight of the car is ride quality. While the Q5 doesn’t get air springs like the Q7 does, it does come equipped with dynamic dampers to give you some sort of adjustability. The SUV tackles bad roads with immense poise, without getting unsettled even by rather big bumps. The high profile 235/60 tyres on 18-inch wheels certainly add to its ability to deal with these conditions well. But at the same time, it has great control on good roads. The damping is controlled and it never gets floaty with unwanted vertical motion. Even around corners, the SUV remains composed. Comfort mode is ideal for most usage, as it lends a softer set up on bad roads. Dynamic mode makes it feel a bit firmer over undulating surfaces, but it feels locked down at high speeds on the highways. The suspension isn’t the only thing that is adjustable. Switching between Comfort-Auto-Dyanmic also affects the throttle response and the steering. The engine feels more urgent in dynamic, and the steering is a little more weighty compared to its relaxed nature in Comfort. The Q5 also offers an Individual mode, which allows you to adjust these three parameters — steering, engine and suspension — separately to set up the car as you’d like.
The car is sorted on the comfort front as well. The rear seats are neatly scooped out and have a very supporting backrest, with a comfortable headrest as well. Legroom is good though a little more thigh support would have enhanced comfort even further. The front seats are comfortable as well, and gets electrical adjustability and a memory function for the driver’s seat. You get three-zone climate control and the car also senses where the sun is falling inside the car and adjusts the blowers accordingly.
We did do some mild off-roading on dirt tracks and in the sand, and the quattro AWD system works well. The SUV gets an off-road driving mode that tweaks the way the all-wheel drive system works along with the throttle sensitivity and the SUV went over everything we threw at it. The benchmark in the segment for off-road ability is the Land Rover Discovery Sport and we could need get them together and drive them head-to-head to come to a conclusion about which one is better.
But it can’t be perfect, eh? The Audi Q5 does have a few shortcomings, and for starters, it lacks equipment when compared to its rivals. A Volvo XC60, for example, gets all sorts of radar activated active and passive safety features, as well as driver assistance systems that accelerate, brake and steer the car for you. Then there’s the massaging seats, and air suspension that it also comes equipped with. Also, once you look past the snazzy Virtual Cockpit on the Q5, the rest of the cabin does feel a tad bit bland. The dual-tone black and beige dash with the wood inlay seems a bit basic, and just falls a bit short in terms of making you feel special. As with most new cars from the VW Group, the steering lacks any sort of depth in feel. While it weighs up nicely at speed and it’s easy to place well in Dynamic mode, there is no feedback and this leaves you wanting more considering how solid a package it is otherwise.
So what is the Q5 then? Well it sticks to the tried and tested formula of its segment, and one which has worked for it in the past. It is at ease on the highway and will munch miles at a scary pace while keeping you cosseted all the while. It filters out all the noise, vibrations, bad roads with immense poise and to certain extent it does filter out a bit of fun as well. However, this isn’t a segment where customers want fun. They want comfort, in a good package and they get that in plenty in the new Q5.