2017 Audi Q5 3.0 TDI review, test drive
6th Oct 2016 1:25 pm
An early drive in the new Audi Q5 reveals a classy and competent car, but not an exciting one.
What is it?
The Audi Q5 – a decent, nicely built, but somewhat unspectacular SUV – is Audi’s best-selling car globally these days. Some 1.6 million Q5s have found homes since the car’s 2008 launch, a period coinciding with Audi’s vast growth. And now there is a new one. So popular has the Q5 been that Audi has erected a new factory in Mexico just to build it, some 1,50,000 a year at first (you can, of course, expect local assembly in India eventually). Those new workers will be building a car that ticks all the usual new car boxes of a new exterior look, plusher interior, lighter body, and more efficient engines. In the Q5’s case, that weight saving comes from the adoption of the new mixed-material MLB Evo platform, seen in other guises on the A4, A5 and Q7. It’s said to be up to 90kg lighter than the current model despite a slight increase in footprint, and that weight saving teams up with a more aerodynamic body for even greater efficiency.
The initial engine line-up includes a 2.0-litre diesel with 190hp, a 2.0-litre petrol with 252hp, and a range-topping 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 286hp that will follow very soon after launch. Quattro four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox are likely to be standard for the UK (and India). We’ll have to wait until later in 2017 for the fruitier SQ5 model, which is set to get a more potent version of the V6 diesel. A plug-in hybrid version is also in development.
What's it like inside?
We’ll skip over any description of that exterior design, as you’ve doubtless read a description of it for any other Audi launched in recent years, but they tell us the look is a new one - and sportier. It’s inside where the real progress has been made in the new car over the ageing current car. The perceived quality of Audi interiors is beyond reproach, and the interior of the Q5 is its undoubted high point. The choice of materials, sophistication of the technology, and overall fit and finish are all excellent, and cannot currently be matched by any rival.
Your eyes will be drawn first to the excellent 12.3-inch virtual cockpit colour screen where the instrument binnacle once lived, displaying everything from the navigation screen to the speed. It’s very good in other Audis, and the same applies here. The MMI infotainment system, displayed on an 8.3-inch screen in the centre stack, is also as good as ever, ticking every type of usability and connectivity box you’d like including Wifi, and Apple Carplay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring functions.
Not only is the interior of a higher quality, it’s also more spacious, with room for five adults and an increase in boot capacity to 610 litres. The Q5 will also allow you to access that boot easier by waving under a sensor to opening it, and also lowering the car on air suspension-equipped models to aid loading of larger, heavier items. The boot lip is a bit high though.
What's it like to drive?
We drove the higher-powered V6 diesel and the four-cylinder petrol model. Each has the optional air suspension and adaptive dampers fitted to them. The former gets an eight-speed torque converter auto and permanent Quattro all-wheel drive, and the latter a seven-speed dual clutch auto and the Quattro Ultra technology, which can hold back on power being sent to the rear wheels when conditions mean it’s not needed, to save fuel.
It’s the V6 diesel that intrigues most, and my word it is smooth and refined, which is perhaps a good description of the car as a whole. There’s a wide spread of torque available with even the occasional sledgehammer delivery of it such is the potency. You certainly won’t be wanting for any extra performance, and the eight-speed auto which it is mated to is complimentary and not obtrusive. But you wouldn’t ever call the car overtly sporty, which has as much to do with its chassis tuning as anything else. The Q5 is a very competent and predictable car, which is fine by its customers, but you can tell there’s probably a quite involving car in there waiting to get out given the chance.
It turns in okay, grips well, body control is well controlled, understeer is kept in checking by the standard torque vectoring system, but you never come out of a corner with a smile on your face. Nor do you end up in a ditch even taking corners at some speed, which highlights the fact that the chassis has plenty of slack in there. It was a compliment to the old Q5 that Porsche sourced the base for its class-leading Macan SUV from the same underpinnings as the Audi, and it’ll be interesting to see what Porsche does when it gets its hands on this one. Or indeed Audi does for the S version, development of which is well underway.
What does impress is the ride quality, matching the smooth, quiet and comfortable characteristics of the engine. Even the most broken of road surfaces failed to really trouble or unsettle the car. There’s also a discernible difference between the driving modes, seven of which are on offer through the Audi Drive Select system. The standard Comfort mode does what you’d expect, but selecting Sport mode lowers and stiffens the air springs and communicates what the car is doing a bit more, and corners a touch flatter. It’s still not involving, mind; not helped by the lack of feel from the steering.
The air suspension has 60mm of height adjustment in it, the maximum height being the reserve of the off-road mode. Audi claims as much off-road ability as you’d ever need, and it even matched a Range Rover on Audi’s ‘real world’ off-road course so they say. The 2.0-litre petrol we also tried needs to be worked a bit harder at first than the V6 to get it going, but once the revs are up it moves the Q5 along at a brisk pace, too. It’s a nice flexible engine, with a good spread of torque and a better sound that the larger diesel. It makes the car feel a touch more sprightly and agile, too.
Should I buy one?
The new Q5 has so much going for it: it’s quiet, comfortable, lovely to sit in and well equipped. Anyone who buys one will do so for one or all of those reasons and not be disappointed with what is a very impressively engineered car. It will likely be competitively priced too, when it comes to India in the second half of 2017, with local assembly expected at Audi’s Aurangabad facility. But it’s just not that much fun to drive, which is a bigger shame in the Q5’s case as you can tell it has a mighty fine chassis just waiting to be tuned in a more involving way. If Audi doesn’t do it itself with the SQ5, you bet Porsche will with the next Macan.