First Drive: 2018 Audi Q5 Is Sharper, Unflinching In Its Mission

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There is no ground the 2018 Audi Q5 needed to break, nor sins it needed to make up for.

Audi could have very well continued selling what has proven to be an extremely popular and competent entry for almost the last decade. Now, it’s the updated version to ride the wave of popularity luxury crossovers have over their sedan counterparts. The Q5 is one of Audi’s bestsellers, with its fanbase only growing the older it got.

This time around, Audi is injecting more of its up-to-date technology and styling that’s a little different before, but the basic package remains the same: it’s clearly practical and all the Audi one could need.
 

New face, same story

The exterior styling will undoubtedly be a point of contention for those who favored the simple lines of previous-generation Audi models. From the Q7 to the 2017 A4, changes have been made that add a little more complexity to older, simpler shapes.

The face is fussier than before, with the optional LED headlights giving off the equivalent of skeptical eyebrows. It’s Audi’s thing now, get used to it. That said, it’s not that easy to tell the new Q5 from the old considering the new car isn’t more than an inch larger in any direction. If anything, the re-contoured sides and sharpened tail make it look smaller than the old one at a glance.

While the Q5 is available with various trim and wheel combos around the world, it’s a more somber setup for cars destined for the U.S. in the spring, as they miss out out on niceties like the S Line package. The 20-inch ones that come standard on the Prestige cars, and are available on other models, look like they could have come off of an Acura.

 

Poke around the exterior to find controversies, but the interior isn’t nearly as contentious. Basically lifted off of the latest A4, it’s nails the usable technology aspect so many luxury brands mess up these days.

The Virtual Cockpit makes its first Q5 appearance here, standard on Prestige models and as part of the Technology Package on Premium Plus. And the center display in the dash also works cleanly and quickly. Opting for Audi Connect Prime gets you the 4G LTE and the Google Earth viewing ability that will still amuse your passengers. But as in all recent Audis, it’s not so much a gimmick as a nice presentation of information.

Yet while the tech is polished, the cabin quality is merely keeping pace. The polished wood trim that’s one of three inlay selections is so shiny that it appears fake in some light.

At least comfort hasn’t been skimped on. Even the standard front seats are wide and plush, never yielding support despite hours of travel over Mexican roads. And the rear 40/20/40 split bench is extremely accommodating, with fore-aft adjustment that ranges from good to limo-like – with good cargo space in return.

Really, how much more SUV could you possibly need?



Simple for the States

If the goal was to make the Q5 drive just like an A4, Audi’s engineers succeeded and then some. It might actually be the A4 drives more like a Q5.

Our drives were limited to the U.S. cars with the same 2.0-liter turbo four and 7-speed S tronic dual-clutch setup found in the A4 that will be the only engine offered in the Q5 until the SQ5 and its 3.0-liter engine show up. Don’t hold your breath for a TDI (that's implied now, right?), but a plug-in hybrid is still rumored to replace the old Q5 Hybrid at some point. But with gobs of torque available nearly from a standstill, the low-end power problem is at least solved with the 2.0T.

All Q5s sold here will get the Quattro Ultra setup first shown earlier this year on the A4 Allroad. Unlike Quattros of old, the Ultra system decouples the rear axle in on-road situations where four-wheel grip isn’t necessary, for the sake of fuel economy gains. When traction is needed, or you engage the off-road mode in the driving mode selector, power starts going to all four corners of the car again. Shifts from front to all-wheel mode were imperceptible on our sandy and gravel roads.

The SQ5 and the Q5 with the 3.0 TDI sold in parts of the world that aren’t North America stick with the older Quattro system, as well as the old eight-speed automatic in the diesel.


A photo posted by Zac Estrada (@zacestrada) on

U.S. cars also do without air suspension and adaptive steering offered globally, Audi USA product planning’s reasoning being a 2.0T Q5 buyer won’t spring for what is bound to be an expensive option. The SQ5, however, will get the air setup and more elaborate steering. Without experience of the system, it’s tough to say whether ride or handling characteristics would be substantially improved when equipped with the options, but the standard Q5s seemed generally composed and responsive on pavement and in a little bit of off-roading when we hit the beach near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

But thicker glass up front does keep the cabin quiet. Even on dirt paths that were hardly roads, road noise was well-muted and the large wheels didn’t clomp over bumps too badly. That said, the $1,000 adaptive dampers might not be worth the price if the roads on your typical routes are paved. Like the A4, putting the dampers in the most aggressive in the dynamic mode adds little dynamism to the handling.

Enjoy the fact, though, the Q5 at its core is a quiet, comfortable machine for both driver and passengers.



Slowly shifting sand

Top-grade Prestige cars will be the big sellers in the U.S. when they arrive next year from Audi's new Mexico factory, according to company officials. The ones we drove should stick similarly to the price of the current Q5 lineup, so count on a typical model nearing the $55,000 mark, while Q5 prices should start in the low $40,000s. Again, nothing that deviates too far from what to expect from the Q5 or any other of its rivals that have built up followings over the years.

The styling may not be as timeless as before and some of the detailing seems like Audi is resting a bit rather than being a trendsetter. These are relatively minor quibbles, however, because the Q5 is extremely competent as it’s always been and the cars destined for American driveways absolutely fall into the heart of the market.

In the vein of their line of Avants, the Q5 has enough German firmness to it while embracing the fact most people who buy the car want plush transportation first and a reasonably sharp drive second. Given its sedan-like driving traits, it may be even harder to convince buyers their lives would fit just fine in an Audi sedan, too.

Photos: Zac Estrada and Audi

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