When the presentation for a new car opens with stats like “every third Quattro sold was an Audi Q5”, you know you’re dealing with something important.
The Q5 is Audi’s staple and an SUV staple for that matter. But it never really pushed the envelope in terms of design or driving performance. The new Q5 doesn’t want to upset the winning formula too much but it does improve upon the key areas like design, performance and the thing that all Audi’s are known for now - technology. Losing a hefty 65 kilos from the weighing scale, while growing in every dimension has done wonders for its agility and useability.
The new muscle on the front and rear arches adds to the much needed brute on this mid-sized SUV and the usual smattering of Audi-ness prevails. 3D single-frame grille, LED lights with the new signature look like on the Q7 and 18in wheels are all the cues you need to fill in the blanks, but get inside and there are bigger changes. The Q5 now gets the awesome Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster from the bigger Audi’s and even the 8.3in centrally mounted MMI screen is upgraded with an improved interface. But more on that in a bit.
Diesel with a different character
The 2.0l oil burner has similar underpinnings to the outgoing engine but it now gets a ton of tweaks, all aimed at the singular goal of making this a quite and comfortable ride. And what a job they’ve done! Right off the mark, this 190bhp engine with a healthy 400Nm of torque feels more refined that some of the competition’s petrol engines and the ride quality is perfectly judged, not compromising on handling prowess. The highways around Ajmer in Rajasthan where the media drive was organised, are uncannily smooth for Indian roads and the Q5 feels supremely planted at any speed.
Even the 7-speed S-tronic gearbox has been recalibrated for faster shift times while maintaining the smoothness of a luxury sedan. Turbo lag is kept to a bare minimum and the car gathers pace admirably when you apply a heavy foot to the throttle. The different Audi Drive Select modes range from Dynamic, Comfort, Off-road, Eco and Individual and they do make minor adjustments to the powertrain and the steering weight while firming up the ride, depending on what you select.
One gripe that remains like on most Audis is the feather-light steering that while great for city driving, just doesn’t lend confidence for an enthusiastic sprint up and down a mountain road. It’s accurate and direct but with a tad too much power assistance in Comfort mode. Most drivers will not see this as an issue and perhaps its not. Note to self: Q5 buyers are not looking to set times at the BIC! Audi’s Parking assist and an improved Voice command system should also get a nod, although we need more time to put these systems to the test so look out for an update on this review soon.
The Quattro 4WD system makes mince out of everyday dirt tracks and the few times I had to take a detour or a shortcut to reach our destination, the Q5 didn’t even flinch on the thick layer of soft desert sand or sharp ruts on the service roads. The entire car feels like a singular, solid piece of mass and its this feeling of quality that makes you feel like you’ve got your money’s worth. This thing is build to last!
Cabin insulation and isolation from the external elements is of the highest order. Audi engineers have done a lot of work on the aero acoustics and engine mounts to ensure none of the traces of the diesel power plant are felt on the insides. It makes for an extremely comfortable long distance cruiser. Adding to this, the 3-zone climate control comes with a sun position sensor that monitors and cools areas of the cabin that are being baked while maintaining a regular temperature for the other occupants.
What is surprising however is the short squab of the seats without any extendable under-thigh support. For a car of this class, a few omissions do feel odd. The lack of powered steering adjust, the poor resolution rear-view camera and bits like the hand grip on the door panel covered in hard plastic makes you wonder why Audi would skimp on these obvious niceties.
Talk of tech
But then again, the MMI system comes fully loaded with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, 2 USB ports and an aux-in in the armrest storage bin. The 8 memory keys that can be programmed to any function you like work like a dream and we were guided to our hotel from the airport at the mere push of a single button, which had the route map linked to it. The 8.3in screen is crisp and colourful but it doesn’t retract into the dash anymore. You can switch it off altogether if you wish to, however.
Music is piped through 10-speakers fed by a 180-watt amplifier and while its not the upgraded, branded stuff, it does sound tonally rich and well balanced. It won’t give you the soundstage and the imaging like the higher end B&O option available in other Audi’s, but it makes for a great audio accompaniment to your drive nonetheless. There’s also 10GB storage on-board, in case you don’t want to plug in any smartphones and yet want high-quality audio files always available in the car. If you DO want to use your smartphone though, the Q5 features a Qi charging pad for wireless charging of iPhone 8/8S/X or any of the Android devices that support the feature. The iPhone X we had along for the drive fit perfectly in the charging tray and the convenience soon makes you get used to it. More cars should have this as standard soon and I’m pretty sure it’s a matter of time.
Overall, the interior design gets a nice update with ambient lighting and a two-tone finish, split by a nicely varnished wood inlay that creates the plushness a car of this class should ooze. The yacht style gear level and the three spoke steering wheel add to the allure and bring it to 2017 spec but the Q5 errs on the side of caution and maybe the Q7 style lateral AC vents would’ve help liven up the cabin more. If you think Audi is being too conservative with its designs, 2018 is the year they promise to get bolder, both in design and tech so there is a lot to look forward to.
If you’re trying to find a compelling reason to buy the new Audi Q5, there isn’t one. It’s the kind of car where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and driving it for a few hours makes you realise how complete it is as an everyday luxury car. It’s the right size to travel with a family in great comfort, it’s got the essential tech that makes you feel like the most accomplished nerd in a pub conversation and it’s one of the finest diesel engines Audi has ever put in a Q car.
The suspension is sublime, soaking up bumps and potholes without affecting the nimbleness of the car and that is a tough act to follow. It can put a smile on your face if you’re faced with an empty stretch of open tarmac and not many mid-size luxury SUVs claim to be that accomplished.