After what seemed like a bit of a lull, the midsize luxury SUV segment has seen a couple of really interesting launches lately - namely the Volvo XC60 and the Lexus NX300h. Now, Audi is seeing if they can up the ante with a newer version of the very popular Q5.
The Audi Q5 used to follow the Goldilocks principle to the T: it was neither too small nor too big - just the perfect size for the city while not sacrificing much in terms of space. It wasn’t what you would describe as a beautiful SUV, but its design was likeable at the same time. The engine choices, at least by the end of its life cycle, were more about sensible motoring than outright performance or efficiency. The Q5 could also handle both tarmac and rough roads with equal ease, adding to that ‘just right’ formula. Now though, Audi claims the new Q5 is better in every way.
It was a cool afternoon in Kishangarh, the ‘marble city of India’, where a presentation told us that the Q5 had been improved the most in terms of design, driving experience, infotainment, everyday usability and ease of use. We had just a few hours to figure out how much of those claims are true, so here are our first impressions.
Can’t put a finger on it
“I’ve seen that before!” seemed to pop up in the conversations a lot as we looked around the car. The headlamps and the grille are reminiscent of the larger Audi Q7, the profile is similar to the outgoing model, and the all-LED taillamps seem to have borrowed elements from the older Q7 while retaining the shape of the units of the older Q5. Audi’s signature design cues may be there, from the large hexagonal grille to the unique LED DRLs and the sculpted body, but it overall is a unique Q SUV.
Other design highlights include the deep flowing shoulder line which gives the Q5 a unique curvy look compared to the edgy Q7 and Audi Q3. The deep crease on the lower side of the doors and the silver accent on the bottom make the Q5 look petite. At the back, the ‘dynamic’ LED indicators and the faux twin exhausts (the real exhausts are hidden under the bumper) complete the new look. What could have better? The 5-spoke 18-inch wheels seem rather simple for an SUV that is otherwise so focused on eye-catching design.
Crank it to 5,000
The blue Q5 35 TDI quattro S tronic you see here has better performance and efficiency numbers than before. But it’s not all about that engine - sure the new 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged diesel is the same found under the hood of the new Audi A4, but the Q5 had shed some weight compared its predecessor too, thanks to it being built on the newer and lighter MLB Evo platform. And contributing to the improved performance and handling is Audi’s signature quattro all-wheel-drive system.
Power is up by 18PS while the torque goes up by 20Nm. Combine this with a 65kg weight reduction as well as a quick-shifting 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and Audi claims that this SUV can achieve the 0-100kmph time in 7.9 seconds (quicker by 1.1 seconds) and go on to hit a top speed of 218kmph. We believe that the new Q5 could achieve these figures in the real world too - the engine wakes up if you prod the accelerator a bit hard and goes to its 5,000rpm rev-limiter almost like a powerful, old-school petrol engine. It sounds good too when driven hard - a grunty soundtrack with a slight hint of turbo whistle bringing a large smile to your face.
It is hard not to praise the dual-clutch transmissions found in modern Audis - they seem to be attaining new levels of magical abilities. The shifts are seamless, whether at crawling speeds, at full pedal-touching-soft-floor mode and everything in between. And there seems to be hardly any moment when you could change gears better with the steering-mounted paddle shifters than the times when your ego needs some massaging. The gear changes reflect your current driving style too: be aggressive with the throttle and you will be rewarded with lighting fast shifts - if you decide to cruise, on the other hand, the shifts seem to take a fraction of a second more, presumably to provide a smoother experience.
Take it easy
And you will find that the Q5 is as much at home at low speeds as it is at higher ones. The engine, road and wind noise is almost completely blocked from entering the cabin. The gearbox is working hard to shift up as fast as possible to reduce the noise and, more importantly, improve the mileage. The driveline disconnect feature from the A4 is carried over in the Q5: under the right cruising conditions, the engine is disconnected from the transmission to save even more fuel. You wouldn’t be able to tell that this is happening unless you look at the rev counter from time to time as you are driving along - the transition is that smooth. Audi claims the Q5 35 TDI has an ARAI-certified mileage of 17.01kmpl, which is 2.85kmpl more than before!
The land of few corners
This is a test we would reserve for when we get to take the new Q5 on more familiar roads; Rajasthan is not known for having roads with tight corners. Initial impressions about the Q5’s handling capabilities are good nonetheless. The new Q5 is being offered with independent suspension all around like before, but adaptive damping is now on offer as standard too. Select between the three suspension modes on the drive selector and you feel a distinct difference in the ride quality.
The Q5’s suspension and chassis are biased towards on-road use and that becomes clear quite quickly. The Q5 handles most bumps noiselessly but it cannot smooth out all of them, with some of the imperfection filtering through as small vibrations. Setting the suspension into ‘comfort’ does iron out the bumps a bit, but there is only so much a non-air suspension system can manage.
The Q5 was never meant to be an outright “sporty” SUV, and the new Q5 follows that philosophy too. It’s surefooted, with the quattro system and other nannies making sure you don’t end up making a fool of yourself. That said, the electromechanical steering, though precise, is short on “feel”.
Mix and match
Audi seems to have decided not to go with the new family design for the Q5 on the inside. Like the exterior, the Q5 gets many of the features now synonymous with modern Audis but keeps its own unique identity at the same time.
The familiar bits here include the freestanding 7-inch infotainment system on the centre console, the high-resolution all-digital ‘Virtual Cockpit’ instrument cluster, a very minimalistic centre console with a trackpad for the MMI system, a wireless smartphone charging box and a yacht-like lever for the transmission. The Q5 neither gets the A/C vents which seem to stretch from side to side on the dashboard nor a retractable infotainment screen, and there aren’t as many metallic inserts around the cabin. The combination of a light grey plastic with faux-wood and beige feel okay for the most part but doesn’t blow you away in any way.
Audi has worked on improving its MMI infotainment system for the Q5. The two screens (centre and instrument pod) do a good job of showing the relevant information and the driver gets dedicated steering-mounted controls for the virtual cockpit display. The built-in maps proved surprisingly accurate, showing us some time-saving dirt tracks that Google Maps did not seem to have. While it is great that Audi’s MMI system is now compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, it could have given the trackpad more functions than to just enter numbers/letters. A pinch-to-zoom or swipe-to-change screen ability would have made the experience far better than it is currently. As the small circular knob sometimes feels a bit unintuitive for navigating menus, it is clearly meant to be used with a touchscreen.
The beige upholstery along with the now standard panoramic sunroof allow the cabin to feel much brighter and airier than before. Sitting in the back will also give you the feeling that this Q5 is actually more spacious; it is 34mm longer than before, especially because of the longer wheelbase. There’s plenty of knee and headroom to be had, and even the under-thigh support is quite good, though not exceptional. The one major complaint about the previous-gen Q5 has been finally addressed: the new Q5 is a good SUV to be chauffeur-driven in. However, with a massively tall transmission tunnel, you can only seat two people at the back comfortably.
The best Q?
First impressions of the new Audi Q5 are encouraging. The design is now in line with modern Audis but is different enough from its siblings for it to stand out. The new 2.0-litre TDI motor is smooth, relatively quite, powerful but also efficient. The new Q5 may not feature air suspension but the adjustable damping does change its ride and handling characteristics considerably. To top things off, it is now more spacious without feeling large or cumbersome to drive through tight spaces with.
In short, even though this new Q5 isn’t doing anything groundbreaking in any department, it has seen improvements in all areas when compared to its likeable predecessor. And that makes this one a more attractive package than ever before. It remains to be seen how Audi will price the new Q5, but considering that they’ve got most aspects about this car right, we expect them to do the same with its pricing as well. Audi will announce the price of the new Q5 on 18 January, 2018
Engine: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbocharged diesel
Power: 190PS @ 3,800-4,200
Torque: 400Nm @ 1,750-3,000
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch transmission
0-100kmph: 7.9 seconds (claimed)
Mileage: 17.01kmpl (ARAI-certified)
Price: Rs 55 lakh (estimated)
Photographs: Eshan Shetty
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