PLUSH IN THE SLUSH
Audi's Q5 has been a runaway success for the German marque. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the latest revisions
Ten Second ReviewAudi's understated Q5 continues its subtle conquest of the premium compact SUV sector. This improved first generation model gets a range of more efficient engines and even more car-like driving dynamics that are great on tarmac and are even pretty effective for light off road use. There's loads of advanced technology and a beautifully practical interior crafted in Audi's own inimitable style. In short, if you can afford it, you'd like one.
BackgroundAudi's Q5 premium compact SUV might not appear to be much different but take it from me: almost everything that could have been improved on this car has been. Look a little closer and the styling has been tweaked a bit but what really matters is the redesigned engine range offering extra power and lower running costs, the extra high-tech equipment and, if you can afford it, the frantically fast SQ5 flagship model. Audi, you see, doesn't do things by halves.
Some things haven't changed though. As before, this is the kind of compact SUV you buy if, rather unreasonably, you want something with mastery of the mud as well as the motorway. Something that'll look great in the driveway, keep you mobile in a snowy snap and shrink around you when a twisting road opens up ahead. It's a demanding brief that over 400,000 global owners satisfied with the original version of this car. But is this improved version good enough to take on tougher rivals that promise much the same thing? That's what we're going to find out.
Driving ExperienceAt launch, this Q5 set a new benchmark for sporty handling in compact SUVs, feeling much like the conventional Audi A4 saloon and estate models upon which it's based. Now it's even better. Suspension tweaks have softened the ride and a new electro-mechanical steering system offers more feel around the bends. Better still, you'll find an almost completely new engine range beneath the bonnet, all employing turbocharging, direct injection and a stop-start system for frugal emissions. The result of all this is that every unit manages the clever trick of offering more power with lower running costs.
Petrol-wise, there's a redesigned 225PS 2.0 TFSI unit or a supercharged 272PS 3.0 TFSI variant. The majority of Q5 buyers though, will continue to give these petrol choices no more than a cursory glance on their way to sign up for one of the diesels. In most cases, that'll mean a preference for the 2.0-litre TDI unit, now slightly pokier with 177PS on tap, good enough to get you to 62mph in 9.0s on the way to 127mph, performance that's hardly affected if you choose to order your car with the high-tech twin-clutch S tronic 7-speed auto gearbox. The same transmission is the only option should you choose the considerably quicker 245PS 3.0 TDI version that manages 6.5s and 140mph. A variant that represents the final stepping stone to the desirable flagship model, the potent SQ5 3.0 TDI bi-turbo that offers 313PS accessible via an 8-speed tiptronic auto 'box, needs just 5.9s to make 62mph and has to be electronically restrained at 155mph.
Whichever Q5 you choose, it'll come as standard with quattro permanent all-wheel drive. As you'd expect from a performance-minded car of this kind, this set-up is very much tarmac-orientated, with a centre differential pushing 60% of the grunt on offer to the rear wheels but able to rapidly re-distribute power when necessary.
Design and BuildAudi doesn't like to radically alter the appearance of its cars when it chooses to update them - and it hasn't here. The whole thing's been enhanced though by a subtle package of updates. So revised headlamps that feature xenon lighting in most models are now framed by LED daytime running lights and flank a high-gloss black single-frame front grille with bevelled upper edges. Inside, the tweaks are equally low key, though owners of the original version of this model will notice the extra splashes of chrome and high gloss black trim.
In the back, thanks to the long 2.81-metre wheelbase, the reclinable rear seat offers comfortable space for two adults - or three at a push, people who'll thank you for specifying the 'Rear Bench Seat Plus' option which enables this rear bench to slide back and forth to prioritise either passenger legroom of luggage space. And talking of luggage space, well the 540-litre cargo bay is no longer the largest in the class but it's not far off it and has a useful selection of hooks, power sockets and fastenings, flexibility you can add to by specifying Audi's neat rail-mounted load security system. Go for the sliding rear seat and you also get a useful through-load system for longer items, but if you need more room than that, pushing forward the 60/40 split-folding rear seat increases the capacity to 1,560-litres - or more if you specify the fold-flat front passenger seat, giving you enough load length to carry a surfboard should you so wish.
Market and ModelMost Q5s will be sold in the £33,000-£43,000 bracket that's typical for prestige-badged compact SUV of this kind. You're looking at a premium of around £4,000 to graduate into this class on top of the kind of money you'd pay for more mainstream compact SUVs like Toyota's RAV4 or Honda's CR-V. As for Q5 pricing, well, it's been carefully pitched to be more or less identical to comparable versions of the car this Audi out-sells by 50%, its closest rival, BMW's X3.
Most customers for this Q5 will choose the volume 2.0 TDI 177PS model for which you'll need the same kind of £32,000-£33,000 budget as would be required for comparable cars like BMW's X3 Xdrive 20d, the Range Rover Evoque SD4 or Volvo's XC60 D4 AWD. Where this Q5 is more unique though, is in the way it serves petrol buyers with Audi's excellent 2.0 and 3.0 TFSI engines. Rivals have more of a diesel focus. At the top of the range, the SQ5 model is pitched against BMW's X3 Xdrive 35d, a car with exactly the same 313PS output but with slightly less performance allied to a slightly lower pricetag.
And equipment? Well, whichever Q5 you choose - 2.0-litre or 3.0-litre TFSI petrol, 2.0-litre or 3.0-litre TDI or 3.0-litre Bi-TDI diesel - you should find it pretty well equipped. Now that 'SE' is the basic trim level, all models come with 18-inch alloy wheels, auto lights and wipers, parking sensors, leather seats, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, cruise control and three-zone climate control as standard. As usual, there's the option of slightly sportier-looking S line variants, recognisable by their xenon headlights.
Cost of OwnershipAudi is back on terms with its BMW X3 rival in this segment and thanks to lots of clever efficiency technology including Start/Stop across the range, can boast of fuel economy improvements throughout the Q5 range averaging 15% and CO2 reductions averaging 11%. Better if I put that into some kind of perspective for you. When the Q5 was first launched, the 2.0-litre TDI engine that most customers chose put out 170PS and returned 42.1mpg on the combined cycle. These days it develops 177PS and will net you 47.1mpg. I think that's called having your cake and eating it.
Even the gutsy 3.0-litre TDI V6 manages a combined cycle reading of 44.1mpg, which is quite remarkable for a car with 245PS on tap. Think about it for a moment. That's 25PS more than an old-school performance icon like an Escort Cosworth from a car that will get better fuel economy than a 1.1-litre Fiesta from that era. Not far off that is the fearsome SQ5 3.0 Bi-Turbo TDI, a car that storms to sixty in under six seconds yet still manages a combined cycle return of 41.5mpg.
Petrol engine technology has progressed a good way too. The 2.0-litre TFSI unit fitted to this latest Q5 develops 25% more power than it did previously, yet its combined cycle fuel return has improved from 33.1 to 37.7mpg. The supercharged 272PS 3.0 TFSI model meanwhile manages 33.2mpg. As for CO2, well predictably best of the bunch is the 2.0 TDI managing 154g/km, followed by the 3.0 TDI on 169g/km and the SQ5 on 179g/km. Petrol people can expect 174g/km from the 2.0 TFSI and 199g/km from the 3.0 TFSI.
SummaryWhether your destination is Sainsbury's or the annual family skiing trip to Crans Montana, you'll feel better about doing it in an Audi Q5. In between, in contrast to larger, plusher and thirstier 4x4s, you won't get that nagging feeling of using a sledgehammer to crash a nut when it comes to meeting your real motoring needs. Nor, when you're alone on a twisty B road, should you need to wish you'd bought something sportier.
Of course, this car faces much tougher competition these days, but the well considered package of changes made to this smarter, better equipped and higher-tech improved version should keep it ahead of the chasing pack. Certainly it's not cheap - but then neither is anything else in this segment and at least you'll get a decent part of your money back at resale time. True, it doesn't have the showiness of a Range Rover Evoque or the ultimate handling feedback of a BMW X3, but many will still find this Audi a perfect balance between these two extremes. Resolutely hi-tech and resolutely real world, the Q5 remains resolutely right.