An SUV was once the territory of families in need of a bigger car to haul kids and their accessories. These days, there are just as many people buying SUVs with the aim of making a statement. It’s a lifestyle choice and not one necessarily tied to hordes of kids.
As a bloke without any kids yet (that I’m aware of), I wanted to get an idea of why you would buy an SUV like the all-new 2017 Audi Q5 over any other conventional type of car.
Unlike the previous Audi Q5, which was built in Germany, Audi has saved a stack of money on production costs by building this next-generation car in Mexico. It’s barely a premium destination and customers haven’t seen any price savings, with the range starting from $65,900 (plus on-road costs), compared with $62,600 (plus on-road costs) where the previous model kicked off. Granted, the new model does come with a lot more standard features.
The range is split into standard and sport models, with the standard range currently consisting of a single 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine, while sport models can be chosen with either the same diesel engine or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol unit as seen in this model, which kicks off from $73,211 (plus on-road costs).
If you spot the new Q5 in traffic, it's not hard to confuse it for the previous-generation Q5.
From the outside, it now picks up xenon headlights and LED tail-lights as standard, with Audi’s cool progressive indicator that illuminates gradually over a short period of time. It certainly looks bigger from the outside (now measuring 4663mm long, compared to 4629mm), but it’s a healthy bigger and helps the car look more resolved.
Crack open the driver’s door and take a moment to soak it all in. The dashboard layout makes the space look bigger than it is, while the materials used throughout the cabin, along with the fit and finish, make it feel far more premium than it really is.
Any concerns about your hombres in Mexico doing a substandard job are quelled the first time you close the door and have a poke around the cabin. The doors close with a soft thunk, and all the key switchgear feels premium and metallic to the touch.
The awesome Virtual Cockpit system uses a 12.3-inch colour screen to display key driving information, infotainment, trip computer and satellite navigation and it comes standard on sport models. It’s simple to use and really enhances the driving experience.
It teams with Audi’s new 8.0-inch infotainment system that’s controlled using a knob ahead of the gear selector with shortcut buttons and a finger pad flanking it for easy navigation. It’s backed by an excellent voice recognition system that’s lightyears ahead of Audi’s previous efforts.
It’s only let down by some clumsiness around navigation commands. One that we particularly struggled with was the command to stop route guidance. No matter how many times we tried, it just wouldn’t accept the command.
The infotainment system also features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which increases appeal even further.
There’s a stack of storage in the first row with a generously sized glovebox and centre console, plus door bin storage. There’s also USB connectivity, wireless phone charging, auxiliary connection for audio and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, plus a wireless hotspot feature.
Head- and legroom in the first row is excellent, with plenty of room in the second row for both knees and toes. At around 185cm tall, I found headroom excellent in the second row. There are ISOFIX anchor points, plus air vents and a centre armrest.
Cargo space measures in at 550 litres with the second row in place, which expands to 1550 litres when the second row is folded flat.
Under the bonnet of the Q5 2.0 TFSI sport model is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that produces 185kW of power and 370Nm of torque, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. That torque is sent through an on-demand four-wheel drive system. The Q5 consumes a claimed 7.3L/100km on the combined cycle.
Hit the start button and the super quiet four-cylinder petrol engine kicks over. If you haven’t driven a recent Audi, you’ll notice a new gear selector. It has a manual selector for ‘Park’, while drive, reverse and neutral are accessed using either a pull down or push up of the selector.
Taking off from stationary or low speeds results in moments of hesitation from the gearbox, which is typical for a dual-clutch gearbox and still hasn’t really been resolved, disappointing given the amount of time these gearboxes have been on the market.
When you also take the Q5’s stop/start system into account, there can be moments where there’s a huge amount of lag between applying the throttle and the car moving with any sense of urgency.
One time that caught me out was when the engine switched off at around 5km/h and I had to apply the throttle again suddenly. I counted at least a full second between the engine switching back on and the car progressing anywhere.
Once its moving though, it’s hard to fault the Q5’s driveline. When it’s in gear, the engine offers a healthy amount of punch for getting away in a hurry or overtaking, while the quattro all-wheel drive system ensures traction is always available on all kinds of road surfaces.
Our car had the optional air suspension, which transforms the ride. While there weren’t many issues with the ride sans-air suspension, ticking the box offers your passengers a magic carpet style ride that is simply unflappable.
The other big advantage is the ride height can be increased by 30mm in allroad mode, which gives you further freedom if you ever drive off the beaten track. Plus it adds a button in the boot that allows the rear to drop to help unload items from the boot floor.
Paddle-shifters mounted to the steering wheel allow gearshifts to be actioned at any time, while the gearbox has a Sport mode that intensifies gearshifts, holds gears longer and makes the engine feel a little raspier under foot.
Audi’s drive select system allows the driver to switch between auto, comfort, off-road, dynamic and eco, with each mode offering a unique level of ride quality and driving characteristics.
Steering feel can be quite light and a little vague about centre. But there’s plenty of feel when charging through corners or across a mountain pass. The brake pedal also feels great and offers progressive feel throughout its activation. The only negative with the brakes is the sudden stopping that occurs when the engine switches off when rolling to a stop due to the stop/start system.
The car goes from supplying residual torque to the drivetrain, which the driver overcomes by pushing the pedal harder, to supplying no torque. That then causes that level of brake pedal pressure to apply harder than it did before, which causes the car to come to a sudden stop.
Pre-empting this by lifting off the brake pedal slightly works on some occasions, while on others it causes the engine to kick back on again, making that stop/start operation pointless. It's one of those things you would become accustomed to as an owner, but we found it a bit frustrating and hard to get used to during our time with the car.
I didn’t expect to come away liking this car so much. The interior is outstanding, the exterior is big enough and the boot is versatile for several different applications.
I recently spent some time in the hotted up SQ5, which now uses a turbocharged V6 petrol engine (as opposed to the diesel unit in the outgoing car), and I’ve got to say, I fell in love. It uses a regular torque converter gearbox, eliminating the hesitation often felt with dual-clutch units.
It’s incredibly potent and looks classy with its Audi Sport highlights. If you can’t fork out the extra cash for the SQ5, this entry-level Q5 TFSI model really is a fine machine. It presents nicely and performs in a way that’s sure to impress.
While I’m a station wagon guy at heart, I can see how an SUV like the Q5 could make sense both for families with kids and those without.
Click on the Photos tab to see more images by Joel Strickland.