First Drive: 2018 Audi Q5

Many think of Audi as a premium performance brand, and they’re not wrong. The German automaker’s stable of sedans, coupes, and convertibles are highly touted and the marque is known as a premium SUV brand, as well. In fact, the compact Q5, along with its siblings, the subcompact Q3 and three-row Q7, were the significant drivers of Audi’s brand growth in the U.S in 2016. In the face of a slowdown in premium-level market sales in general, Audi Q sport utes are resonating with premium buyers and driving sales increases for Audi overall. Audi SUV model sales were up close to 20 percent for 2016, and Q models represented close to 50 percent of all Audi vehicle sales with the Q5 ranking on top. 

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Audi says its new Q5 luxury crossover will raise the bar for the segment. It presents a fresh look to the distinctive Audi SUV design language, starting with its more sleek and powerful profile. The five-seater is built on the platform of its larger seven-passenger sibling, the Q7, and it’s being produced at an assembly plant in Mexico. It is available in three trims (Premium, Premium Plus, and top-of-the-line Prestige), and it goes on sale in the spring.

Think of the Q5 like an A4 on stilts. The exterior is an updated blend of classic and contemporary looks, minus the over-the-top styling of many vehicles in its class. The restyled SUV is penned with sculpted styling. A flat, coupe-like roofline coupled with a strong, wave-design shoulder, appealing lighting design, and pronounced wheel arches are meant to emphasize its standard all-wheel drive mission.

Although essentially the same size as the previous generation (an inch longer and slightly narrower), the sportier exterior proportions give it a wider and more muscular look than its predecessor. Adding emphasis are sculpted three-dimensional headlights that flow into the distinctive single-frame grille, clamshell hood, short front and rear overhangs, and the standard aluminum roof rails and rear spoiler.

Other exterior features include power-folding, power-adjustable, heated exterior side mirrors with memory (standard on Premium Plus models); standard Xenon plus headlights with LED daytime running lights or available full LED headlights; standard LED taillights with dynamic rear turn signals, available parking system with front and rear acoustic sensors and a standard hands-free power tailgate.

Inside is a cabin bedecked with lux-level craftsmanship and appointed with a host of standard and available features. It also has more rear legroom and headroom. The half-inch longer wheelbase increases cargo capacity to more than 60 cubic feet, with second-row seats folded down. For comfort and convenience, the 60/40 folding rear seat reclines and can be adjusted front-to-rear, as needed.

The virtual cockpit features a 12.3-inch display that enhances infotainment viewing and adds to the navigation experience with large Google Earth images on the color display. Also available is a full-color head-up display that projects relevant driving information on the driver windshield. Available for the first time in the Q5 model line is the MMI all-in touch system with handwriting-recognition technology; “Menu” and “Back” functions; two touch keys for horizontal menu control; eight storage buttons for radio station presets; and the ability to move the map or zoom in/out using swipe or pinch motions respectively.

Under the hood is a more powerful engine: a redeveloped 2.0L TFSI four-cylinder producing 252 hp (up from 220) and 273 lb-ft of torque (up from 258). Coupled to a seven-speed “S tronic” dual-clutch automatic transmission, the new Q5 can sprint from 0-60 mph in a claimed 5.9 seconds—1.1 seconds faster than its predecessor.

We drove the new Q5 along a route with small highways, narrow-track dirt roads, and sand washes to evaluate its overall performance and its lightning-quick and highly-efficient updated Quattro Ultra system. The new engine has more horses and torque to move its mass quickly, and the Q5’s well-mannered brakes give it controlled, stable deceleration. Notable is excellent steering and little-to-no body roll on a tight, well-damped suspension. Our test models were set up with 20-inch wheels, but 18-inchers are standard.

We also tried out Audi Drive Select, now standard on all Q5 models, with its five different modes that allow drivers to dial in what’s best for their driving needs and handling preferences. The redesigned front five-link suspension offers an available comfort adaptive damping suspension setup that uses continuous electronic damper control to enable various suspension and damping combinations in support of each drive select mode; the system adjusts ride height, counteracts body roll, and provides auto-leveling that can aid with towing. In the Lift/Off-Road mode, it gives the Q5 a laudable 9 inches of ground clearance that drops to 6 1/2 in Dynamic mode. Standard steel springs have a ride height set at 8.2 inches, which is slightly higher than the previous model.

Overall, the Audi Q5’s quick, stable, and comfortable driving dynamics are measured improvements over what was already a very competent crossover. Predictable equipment additions and an evolved version of the company’s styling help the new Q5 stand out among its competitive set. Audi’s bestselling model is in no danger of losing its crown.

Get Canadian specs and pricing on MSN Autos

2018 Audi Q5Vehicle type: Five passenger, compact luxury crossover

Base price: N/A

Price as tested: N/A

Engine: 2.0L Turbocharged 4-cylinder

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

Horsepower: 258 @ 5,000 rpm

Torque: 273 @ 1,600 rpm

Curb weight: 4,045 lbs

Towing capacity: N/A

EPA mileage rating: N/A

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