Popular luxury SUV gains incremental but important changes as part of a mid-life update.
The Audi Q5 is a huge player for the German car maker, and the arrival of an updated model is timed well to help fend off the advances of newer competition.
Since its launch in 2008 (2009 locally) to become the first sibling to the company’s first SUV, the Q7, the mid-sized version has claimed the No.1 spot in its segment both globally and in Australia.
Sales of the Audi Q5 have steadied in 2012, though, allowing a second-generation BMW X3, all-new Range Rover Evoque and newer Volvo XC60 to close in fast.
Audi says it prefers to call the revised Q5 an update rather than a facelift, and it is a more apt description because the exterior styling changes are subtle in the extreme.
Up front, there’s a reshaped bonnet that is less rounded than before, a reprofiled grille that now features chrome vertical slats, revised foglight housings and new-look LEDs in the headlamp unit that are now opposing solid lines rather than the single row of dotted LEDs.
At the rear, the LED tail-lights follow the lead of the fronts, there’s a redesigned rear bumper, and the exhaust tips gain a distinctive flat bottom.
The excellent, A4-based interior design of the Audi Q5 is also – visually at least – worthy of a tough spot-the-difference contest. The MMI (multimedia interface) infotainment control panel now has fewer buttons (with new metal chrome look), revised software and a larger hard drive.
There are also some trim tweaks here and there, but there are more substantial changes to equipment lists.
The two four-cylinder models – $62,900 2.0 TFSI petrol and $62,200 2.0 TDI diesel - of the initial four-strong range gain new features Audi says are worth about $6500. They include Audi’s Drive Select driving-behaviour-changing system, tyre pressure monitoring, hill hold assist, extra storage, power front seats with lumbar adjust, keyless entry and a change from 17-inch alloy wheels to 18s.
In place already were eight airbags (including exclusive-to-segment rear side airbags), leather seats, 10-speaker audio, rain-sensing wipers and inlays made of genuine aluminium or wood.
For the V6 petrol and diesel offerings – the $74,100 3.0 TFSI and $75,500 3.0 TDI – Milano leather upholstery, three-zone climate control and xenon headlights are carried over but totalling about $7000 in extra value are power seats for front passenger as well as driver, Drive Select, hill hold assist, MMI with navigation, rear view camera, and side mirrors with memory setting and auto dipping function.
Mechanical changes are also of the incremental but significant variety.
The new Audi Q5 is up to 15 more fuel efficient through the introduction of engine stop/start as standard, electro-mechanical steering that replaces the previous hydraulic set-up, and new or improved engines comprising two diesels and two petrols, each split into four-cylinder and V6.
Petrol-powered Q5s start with the 2.0 TFSI that features a third-generation version of the Volkswagen Group four-cylinder turbo that is perhaps best known from the VW Golf GTI.
The latest 2.0-litre is 7kg lighter, moves to a combination of direct and indirect (port) fuel injection not dissimilar to the engine in the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86, and now produces an extra 10kW of power at 155kW. Torque is unchanged at 350Nm, but fuel consumption improves by 0.7 litres per 100km to 7.9L/100km.
A switch in transmission in late 2011 from a dual-clutch auto to a ZF eight-speed torque converter auto is retained, and continues to give the Q5 2.0 TFSI better step off than the previous gearbox.
And the engine itself remains an endearing unit, with its eagerness to rev smoothly and quickly, along with an entertainingly rorty soundtrack and an ability to reach 100km/h in 7.1 seconds.
Newer to the Audi Q5 is the other petrol engine we tested extensively on a 550km trek from Adelaide to Parachilna, just north of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges, during the media launch.
The supercharged 3.0-litre V6 debuted in the S4 sedan and has previously also been seen in the S5 coupe and facelifted A4 and A5.
In the Q5 it replaces what was one of the weaker links in the range’s line-up, the 3.2-litre normally aspirated, and serves up 200kW and 400Nm (an extra kilowatt and another 70Nm).
Its status as the fleetest-footed of the Q5 fleet (before the 2013’s SQ5) with a 0-100km/h time of 5.9 seconds will come as no surprise if you encounter the muscularity of this engine that makes it even more effortless than the 2.0 TFSI.
It also uses that supercharger to provide an even more linear response to throttle inputs, as excellent as the 2.0 TFSI is for a turbo, with fuel use a bit higher at 8.5L/100km (but down 0.8L/100km on the old 3.2).
There are seamless shifts again from the eight-speed auto, which with its extra ratios ensures both petrol models use well below 2000rpm while cruising at 110km/h. The V6 comes standard with paddleshift levers and are a $600 option for the four-cylinder for drivers who want the option to get more involved.
You’ll hear little from the engine on the open road, and the supercharged V6 is particularly quiet under acceleration with a restrained growl, so tyre and wind make the most noise in the cabin. The latter is particularly noticeable around the huge side mirrors that continue to impede vision at times.
Both diesel engines also make advances in power and efficiency over their predecessors, and will be better at preserving fuel than the petrols that can be thirsty.
We only experienced the smaller unit, and mostly in an off-road environment – which wasn’t too taxing but proved the Q5 can tackle a decent outback trail – and first impressions are that it’s a pleasantly torquey engine without matching the mid-range strength of either petrols.
Audi’s engineers have also toyed with the chassis of the Q5, softening the springs but firming up the dampers more.
The result is a Q5 that is still adept at cornering, although with a touch of extra body roll than we remember, still good at controlling body movements through well judged damping – though now with ride quality that’s now better resolved.
Where the Q5’s suspension would previously become jiggly over rougher patches of bitumen, the ride is now more settled.
The steering was another area of criticism with the original Q5 but a switch to the same electro-hydraulic rack as the smaller Q3 has improved the consistency of its weighting.
It’s still not perfect, though; there’s still minimal feedback from the road surface and you need Comfort mode from the various Drive Select settings to have the most consistent weighting.
Even Comfort still has too much assistance around the straight ahead at low speed, though, but it’s preferable to Dynamic mode that offers up steering that feels stiff just off centre and artificially heavy.
Audi says the Q5 is popular with families, mostly those with parents in their 40s and 50s, and buyers of the updated model will find extra convenience in addition to previous practicality touches such as multiple cup and bottle holders and sliding rear bench that offers either more boot space (up to 540L) or more rear legroom (which is only good with bench in rearmost position).
Storage trays are now incorporated under the front seats, there are extra storage nets and hooks, keyless access, and the Q5’s clamshell-style automatic tailgate has been standard throughout the range since a 2011 running change.
With weaker areas addressed and its stronger areas either retained or improved, the Audi Q5 makes a stronger overall package in a segment against rivals that are limited in number but not quality.
2013 Audi Q5
Audi Q5 2.0 TDI - from $62,200
Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI - from $62,900
Audi Q5 3.0 TFSI - from $74,100
Audi Q5 3.0 TDI - from $75,500