To call the Audi Q5 a critically important vehicle for the brand in Australia is something of a gigantic understatement. After all, SUVs are now the single most popular body style in Australia. As such, the new 2017 Audi Q5 needs to be a solid step forward from its already strong-selling predecessor to keep the vehicle front-of-mind for buyers in the medium SUV segment.
We’ve detailed the main changes in our news story, but at launch in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, we get to sample both 2.0-litre engines that will arrive first in Australia - TFSI and TDI - as well as the 3.0-litre TDI, which will arrive later. At this stage, there has been no confirmation of a 3.0-litre TFSI engine like we currently have in the range, and no official confirmation of an SQ5 variant, either.
The former only made up a small percentage of sales in Australia, while the SQ5 has been incredibly successful in Australia, with even executives from Audi admitting ‘it would be crazy not to have another SQ5’.
Take it as read, then, that an SQ5 will be on its way here sooner rather than later.
Volume sales are almost identical between the two 2.0-litre engines in Australia, with both offering compelling reasons for buying. The petrol engine offers the refined punch you expect with real world efficiency thanks to clever turbo charging, while the diesel delivers a strong mid range surge, also with real world efficiency thanks to modern diesel technology.
The Q5 is, in fact, one of the best examples of the ever-closing gap between petrol and diesel engines in terms of both power and efficiency. There’s precious little to separate the two, beyond your personal preference for the driving experience offered by both.
Rather than completely revolutionise the Q5 we are familiar with, Audi has sharpened and honed the styling, the tech inclusions and the powertrains to deliver an even more refined, capable and rounded SUV. Some might think the Q5 is too conservative, but Audi’s sales success around the world with the Q5 indicates otherwise.
The 2017 Audi Q5 is subtly larger than the outgoing model, and that growth means even more shoulder room especially, while luggage space is also up.
More than one Audi executive told me at launch that Q5 buyers expect a roomy cabin and proper seating for up to five adults - perhaps a pointer as to why there is no ‘coupe’ version of the Q5 as it stands.
The new exterior design is sharper and reminiscent of the new Audi Q7 (as you’d expect), but still a little more conservative than the main competition, which is exactly how Audi buyers like it.
You’d be hard pressed to pick the slight growth in overall size from the outside, but the cabin retains the airy, expansive feeling we’ve always appreciated of the Q5.
The Q5 is now 34mm longer, the same width as the outgoing model, 6mm taller, and has a 12mm longer wheelbase. Take a look at the sharper front end design especially, and you can see where Audi is heading, style-wise. You’ll notice any Q5s with the S line package are even sharper again. Packaging has yet to be finalised for Australia, but, in Europe, Xenon plus headlights are standard with LED and Matrix LED/dynamic indicators optional.
The side profile hasn’t changed dramatically, but Audi reckons the subtle guard flares indicate the quattro AWD heritage, while various grey and alloy accents add touches of class to the design. The rear lights have been designed to deliver a clean, one-piece look and consist entirely of LEDs as standard.
Front and rear bumpers will differ depending on the style line of the model grade. Despite new equipment and the larger size, the new Q5 weighs up to 90kg less depending on the engine version. The body cell alone, weighs 20kg less than the outgoing model.
While the availability of Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit shapes as the most evident improvement for the new Q5, the enhanced interior insulation and ambience, along with the presence of Audi’s new ‘quattro ultra’ system, plus adaptive suspension will potentially make the most obvious statement. The quattro ultra system isn’t available with Audis that generate more than 500Nm, so only the 2.0-litre engines benefit, while the 3.0-litre TDI engine (and the SQ5 when it eventually arrives) will get a traditional quattro system. The 2.0-litre engines get a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, while the 3.0-litre TDI gets a conventional eight-speed auto.
While we never once tested a current-generation Q5 and thought the cabin was too loud, this new version is definitely quieter and more refined. There’s almost no wind noise even at highway speed, and tyre noise is also kept to a bare minimum regardless of how coarse the road surface beneath the tyres.
Set the adaptive suspension in Comfort mode and you fairly waft along in silence, it’s certainly a premium experience for both driver and passenger. The road surfaces in Mexico were mainly smooth, but sections were fairly indicative of what we’d experience heading out into rural areas of Australia.
While we don’t think it’s absolutely necessary in the medium SUV segment, the addition of Virtual Cockpit to the Q5’s list of features is noteworthy and it’s yet another premium feature for the already impressive cabin. It gives the whole drive experience a more high-tech feel and makes satellite navigation use especially, really easy.
The vehicles we tested at launch were fairly heavily optioned, but Audi Australia won’t be detailing how our local vehicles will be specified until closer to launch.
The leather trim, dash layout, fit and finish are all top shelf, with the seats both comfortable and able to hold you in place through twisty sections. The optional quilted leather interior we sampled on one high-spec grade was beautifully executed and will be a popular option in Australia. The second row remains comfortable for adults, there’s plenty of useful storage throughout and Audi’s MMI system is easy to navigate.
The console-mounted centre screen is crystal clear, although it seems strange to offer that as well as Virtual Cockpit and miss the opportunity to really clean up the centre stack like we’ve seen in TT and R8. For what it’s worth, Audi suggests the two-screen setup allows passengers to access the centre screen, while the driver uses Virtual Cockpit if optioned.
Drive the 2.0-litre engines back-to-back as we did at launch and you can understand why the sales figures in Australia are so close. The 2.0 TDI generates 140kW and 400Nm and uses 5.2L/100km, while the 2.0 TFSI generates 185kW and 370Nm and uses 7.1L/100km.
While the diesel continues to deliver all that we love about modern oilers in terms of efficiency, effortlessness and a solid slab of mid-range torque, the petrol engine is so refined, quiet and efficient, that you’d be hard pressed to talk one down against the other.
If you tow a recreational toy like a jetski, for example, and cover long distances on the highway regularly, the extra touring range of the diesel is noteworthy. The petrol engine though is similarly efficient on the open road, while the characteristics of the turbos mean it also has genuine mid-range ability as well. If, on the other hand, you tow heavier weight more regularly, as some current Q5 owners do, the 3.0-litre TDI engine is the one to go for. That engine makes 210kW and 620Nm.
Once you’re rolling, ‘auto’ mode lets the suspension and driveline do whatever it likes, whenever it likes, while ‘off-road’ locks the system in AWD and lifts the suspension slightly. There’s another, even higher suspension lift mode, and then of course ‘comfort’ and dynamic’ as well. Switching between comfort and dynamic regularly revealed a discernible difference between the two that you’ll pick up almost immediately.
Firstly, there’s less body roll into corners when you’re hustling along when you move from comfort to dynamic, and the chassis feels significantly tauter over bumps too. In short, dynamic, in my mind, does exactly what you'd like it to.
Where the previous Q5’s quattro system was a front-biased AWD system, the all-new quattro ultra system can switch between FWD and AWD infinitely as it takes readings from road conditions as well as throttle and steering inputs. There’s merit in the thinking behind the technology, too. Audi conducted a forum with nearly 3000 owners and most had no clue what AWD or quattro actually meant, but nearly all of them had the perception that AWD vehicles consume more fuel than FWD or RWD vehicles.
The quattro ultra system, according to Audi, ensures drivers get the best of both worlds.
Press the starter button and the system is always in AWD as the default setting before you move off. Once you get moving, though, it shifts to FWD until it detects the need to use the rear wheels. We had an iPad set up in the cabin with an Audi engineer showing us how the system worked, and on a well-surfaced, dry road, drive was sent to the rear wheels on eight occasions over 35.1 kilometres.
We spent 30.6km in FWD and only 13 per cent of the time in AWD, mostly during enthusiastic cornering or hard acceleration, but the system works and you can’t even feel it doing its thing beneath you. The real labcoats out there have always said that the Q5’s Haldex four-wheel drive system isn’t a ‘true quattro’ like the Torsen system in more performance-oriented models.
Audi reckons that on slippery surfaces like snow and ice, on wet roads, and obviously off-road on dirt and sand, the system is most beneficial because it ensures the safest passage with AWD operating only when needed. In testing, quattro vehicles used 0.5L/100km more than the same vehicle in FWD, but with quattro ultra, that difference drops to just 0.2L/100km - impressive, to say the least, in an environment where minute gains make all the difference.
What we did notice in dynamic mode is that the Q5 still feels as sharp and precise as it always has, meaning you can really hustle it along at speed if you feel like it. The steering is sharp, the chassis responsive and taut, the suspension sporty enough, but also able to soak up mid-corner ruts without losing composure, and the brakes are excellent.
There’s a beautiful sense of balance to the Q5, and the adaptive suspension is a real benefit here. The SQ5, especially, will benefit from the new suspension system when it comes along.
While both diesels are impressively refined at any speed, it's the petrol that is the winner in those stakes as you’d expect. The 3.0-litre diesel delivers the biggest shove in the back, and gets the Q5 up to speed rapidly.
All three deliver more than enough roll-on overtaking punch and get off the line rapidly enough for the SUV segment too. The Q5 continues to err more on the side of being car-like than SUV-like for sure.
In true Audi style, the brand has managed to refresh the exterior without making sweeping changes, and enhance the tune of the engines, while adding clever new technology.
There’s no reason the new Q5 shouldn’t be as popular as the previous iteration - especially if Audi Australia can keep the pricing as close to the current numbers as it has claimed it would like to.