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2018 Audi Q5 Test Drive Review
It might look like the same small SUV Audi has been selling since the late 2000s, but the all-new 2018 Q5 is a completely redesigned vehicle wrapped in familiar bodywork.
Audi’s best-selling model is the Q5, and this year the compact SUV gets redesigned for the first time in almost a decade. Highlights include the latest technology from the Audi grab bag, improved performance and driving dynamics, more interior room, greater overall sophistication, and remarkably subtle shifts in styling philosophy. The result is an impressive all-rounder that lacks for nothing but personality.
Look and Feel
If you’re having trouble telling the difference between this redesigned 2018 Audi Q5 and last year’s model, you’re probably not alone. The primary visual cues that give this away as the new 2018 version are the trapezoidal grille, the pronounced wave along the SUV’s shoulder line, and questionably restyled aluminum wheels.
Given that the Q5 is Audi’s best-selling model, it’s understandable that the company didn’t want to fiddle too much with a successful recipe. Nevertheless, under that familiar skin is an improved SUV that should keep Audi competitive in a segment full of impressive choices.
Audi hasn’t strayed from last year’s model structure, either, offering the new Q5 in Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige trim levels. There’s also a performance variant called the SQ5, but this review is focused solely on the standard Q5.
My test vehicle had Premium Plus trim, which starts at $46,475, including the $975 destination charge. Mythos Black paint, 20-inch wheels, and every option except for upgraded interior trim, rear side-impact airbags, and a Warm Weather Package inflated the price of my test model to $52,700.
The new Q5’s styling is clearly patterned after Audi’s larger Q7 model, but the cues work to a greater degree of success on this smaller SUV, avoiding the Q7’s slab-sided and featureless appearance thanks to its bolder shoulder line, more elegant fender swells, more rakish roofline, and smaller exterior dimensions.
Still, this new Q5 looks a lot like the old Q5, and that design dates back to the 2009 model year. Personally, I don’t mind the lack of imagination here, but I can understand why Audi’s restrained approach and the Q5’s resulting lack of personality could bother some people.
If anything, I’m not all that crazy about the new Q5’s aluminum wheel designs, each of which displays a subtle pinwheel appearance and a bright silver painted finish. Wouldn’t this SUV look all kinds of better with those classic gray 5-arm Rotor designs Audi used to offer?
Inside, the Q5 looks and feels like a modern Audi, but with a single and important exception. For whatever reason, in the new Q5, designers did not include the full-width integrated air vent styling element that helps to make the latest A4, A5, and Q7 models look distinctive and feel special.
That’s a shame, because by comparison to its brethren, the Q5’s interior lacks that same sense of exclusivity that can entice luxury-vehicle customers to jump from one brand to another.
As you might guess from the 2.0T badge on my test vehicle’s tailgate, the Q5 is equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that's more powerful than last year’s identically sized engine. Providing 252 horsepower between 5,000 rpm and 6,000 rpm, and 273 pound-feet of torque from 1,600 rpm to 4,500 rpm, it feels like it just won’t ever quit… once you get past the momentary turbo lag when accelerating from a standstill.
A 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission feeds the power through a Quattro Ultra all-wheel-drive (AWD) system and a Drive Mode Select system with five different settings, including an off-road mode. The “Ultra” part of that description refers to the system’s ability to decouple the rear axle from the driveline in order to maximize fuel economy under certain driving conditions.
Audi claims the Q5 2.0T accelerates to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and by the seat of my pants, that sure feels like an accurate number. What proved inaccurate was the EPA’s official fuel economy estimate of 25 mpg in combined city and highway conditions. I got 21.3 mpg, and I don’t think it was entirely due to my occasionally energetic driving.
As far as dynamics are concerned, the Q5 drives like an Audi A4 or A5 Sportback but with a choppier ride and more side-to-side head toss. Its wheelbase slots between the A4 and A5 Sportback, but the Q5 is shorter in terms of length than either of the cars, and it's nearly a foot taller while supplying 8.2 inches of ground clearance. It also weighs up to 400 pounds more and has a higher center of gravity, and my test vehicle had the optional 20-inch wheels with 255/45 tires.
Collectively, these characteristics produce negative dynamic contrast against the A4 and A5 Sportback. But compared to most other compact luxury SUVs, the new Q5 is a delight to drive.
Effortlessly weighted and accurate steering, paddle shifters hooked up to a mind-reading 7-speed transmission, Quattro Ultra AWD with fully variable torque-distribution capability, oversize wheels and tires, and a set of fantastic brakes transform the Q5 into a literal expression of a sport/utility vehicle.
Add the downright miraculous turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, and you’ve got a genuinely fun SUV.
Form and Function
Equipped with black paint, black leather, and a panoramic sunroof, my Q5 test vehicle’s interior served as a heat sink, which drew immediate attention to the fact that it lacked front-seat ventilation.
You can get ventilated front seats as an option, as part of the Warm Weather Package. However, they’re offered only in conjunction with the sport bolstered front-seat designs, which are available in fewer colors and only with a black headliner.
Nevertheless, the Q5’s standard 8-way power adjustable front seats are otherwise comfortable, and the driving position is excellent, helped by a manual tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and a center armrest that adjusts for height. Because they lack bolstering, however, you might feel like you’re sliding out of them should you choose to explore the SUV’s significant handling limits.
One of the more significant improvements to the 2018 Q5 is a larger back seat. Still, while Audi says this is a 5-passenger SUV, I think four occupants will be happier, unless the three people riding in back are kids.
In any case, it sure seems easier to get into and out of the rear seat, which sits up high and provides impressive thigh support. Room for legs and feet is generous, too. Plus, triple-zone automatic climate control is standard for all Q5 models, and my test vehicle had heated backseat cushions. I do, however, take issue with the hard plastic front seatbacks. They’re not kind to knees or shins.
Notably, the new Q5’s larger 26.8-cubic-foot cargo area is seemingly sized to support 4-person travel, able to hold four full-size suitcases and a few smaller items. Fold down the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat, and it expands to accommodate 60.4 cubic feet of cargo.
As is true of most redesigned vehicles, the new Q5 benefits from a bevy of technological upgrades.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard in all models, and owners can choose to subscribe to one of three Audi Connect subscription service packages. Improvements, depending on the package, include a mobile app with curfew, speed, and boundary alerts, along with a remote car finder and the ability to remotely lock or unlock the doors. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi connection is also available.
The latest Multi-Media Interface All-in-Touch infotainment system is standard for Prestige models and optional for other versions of the new Q5. Using a touchpad on the center control knob, users can input information using the handwriting-recognition capability, use numbered pads to choose a favorite radio station, and more. The MMI Touch system also includes simplified controls that, with time and practice, can be operated by memory and touch without looking down at the center console.
My test vehicle also has Audi’s excellent Bang & Olufsen premium Surround Sound system, included as standard equipment for Prestige models and available as an option for Premium Plus models in exchange for just $950. That’s a genuine bargain, considering the sound quality.
Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation is also standard for the Prestige and optional for the Premium Plus, swapping the traditional gauges and driver-information system for a 12.3-inch digital display that gives the Q5’s cabin a high-tech look and feel. You can expand the gauges and shrink the center display, or you can stick with smaller gauges and a larger center screen. Most impressive is the embedded navigation display, complete with Google Earth imagery.
Another new feature is a full-color head-up display, which is standard on and exclusive to Prestige models.
Audi’s Driver Assistance Package is also exclusive to Prestige models. When ordered, it installs adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist, and automatic high-beam headlights. As part of the adaptive cruise system, a Traffic Jam Assist semi-autonomous function operates at low speeds in heavy traffic, following the vehicle ahead and maintaining a safe distance.
My test vehicle did include Audi Pre-Sense, which is standard on all Q5 models. It includes forward-collision detection and automatic emergency braking systems that work at speeds below 52 mph, as well as technology that prepares the cabin for an unavoidable impact.
As it turned out, I almost needed this stuff. While driving on my test loop in a 55-mph zone, a person in an older Nissan Altima nearly pulled out in front of me from a side road that intersected with the highway.
Because I had slowed for a vehicle turning right onto this side road, I am sure I was traveling at less than 55 mph, but can’t confirm it. Therefore, I don’t know if my panic braking was solely the result of my right foot hard on the pedal or if the Audi Pre Sense system also engaged. Regardless, the brakes hauled the Q5 down in a big damn hurry.
Had this driver not come to her senses and halted her advance into my lane on the highway, I would have T-boned her at something like 20 mph instead of 55 mph. The icing on the cake? I laid on the horn as I passed in front of her, and she looked at me like the situation was my fault.
Moving on, Premium Plus models also get a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert and something called Vehicle Exit Assist, which warns you not to open a door if a vehicle or cyclist is approaching from behind along the side of the SUV.
As this review is written, partial crash-test results are in from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), giving the Q5 top marks for moderate overlap frontal impact and for side impact protection, but a Marginal rating for the headlight performance of certain versions of the vehicle.
The federal government had not performed testing on the redesigned Q5 as this review was published.
Value is difficult to quantify when it comes to luxury vehicles. You can get a new Q5 for as little as $42,475, and it comes standard with AWD, 18-inch aluminum wheels, leather seats, real wood trim, a 3-zone climate control system, important safety features, and plenty more.
But at the same time, over at the Chevy dealership, you could get a fully loaded Equinox with a similarly powerful engine and every single bell and whistle, for less. What are you getting with the Audi? Mainly perceived brand prestige, along with nicer materials, more sophisticated driving dynamics, and greater attention to detail.
Whether such things are worth the extra cost is entirely up to you. Within the segment, the Audi commands a price premium over all but its fellow German-branded compatriots, but customers apparently feel the Q5 is worth it, especially given its standard equipment list.
As the Q5 goes, so goes Audi. This SUV is arguably the automaker’s most important vehicle, leading the company’s sales and positioned within a growing segment. It is not, however, the most popular compact luxury SUV. Through July of 2017, more examples of the Acura RDX and Lexus NX had found their way into American driveways than had the Q5.
But Audi isn’t far behind this pack, and now that this excellent redesigned 2018 model is on sale, my bet is that it will overtake both of those competitors by year’s end, making it the best-selling model in its class.
And if it doesn’t, it won’t be for any lack of driving dynamism, technological sophistication, materials quality, cabin comfort, or tastefully restrained styling on Audi’s part.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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