Audi Q5 preview drive. One of the best premium SUVs you could buy!

How does one follow up with immense success? Too many changes that don’t resonate well, and people won’t buy your product. Too few, and people would say you’re being boring.

The Q5 is a competitor that is pretty well known in the premium SUV space. It is probably one of the best SUVs, and in fact, throughout its lifecycle from 2009 to 2016, it has consistently been one of the top sellers. It’s not surprising though, the Q5 looks decently fresh from the outside till this day, being very timeless compared to some of the edgier or more awkwardly styled competitors. It also drove decently, came with a good range of standard equipment and had a decent engine and transmission lineup.

Granted, the Porsche Macan, which is based on the Q5, was still the best of them all, but it is also priced significantly higher than the Q5. The X3 fails at its abysmal quality interior and somewhat mediocre exterior design, while the outgoing XC60 felt dated and didn’t drive as well. The GLC class from Mercedes was close to compete with the Q5, but the Q5 still had a more responsive drive, while the Evoque was pretty to look at but it was plagued with quality issues and a rather mediocre powertrain in terms of refinement.

However, the Q5 wasn’t perfect. The interior was impeccably built but started to show its age. The same went with the exterior design too, it was timeless and quintessential Audi, but it could be fresher. Next to its more modern siblings, especially the new B9 A4, the Q5 started to look bloated and a bit like a baby elephant. Competitors were also hot on the heels of the Q5, hence, Audi needed to do something to fend of the rest of the competition and keep the Q5 relevant.

Boy, have they done it.

To begin with, the 2018 Q5 runs on an all new platform, called Modularer Längsbaukasten evo, more commonly known as the MLB-evo platform. The MLB-evo platform is basically the next generation of the original MLB platform that was used in the last generation Q5, A4, A5, the current A6, A7, A8 and the Porsche Macan. The new generation platform first was seen in the 2015 Audi Q7, the B9 A4 and the Bentley Bentayga. One of the biggest changes is in terms of the weight where the new Q5 is almost 90 kg lighter than the outgoing model despite being marginally larger.

The other pretty large change is the use of the new quattro system with ultra technology. Quattro ultra promises to be more fuel efficient as the system will only engage the all wheel drive system when required instead of always sending some power to the rear wheels. The Q5 gets a refined version of Audi’s 2.0 TFSI petrol engine, which while is somewhat related to the previous Q5’s engine, this one produces more power at 252hp and 370Nm which is close to what BMW’s B48 would push out in the 30i tune. The Q5 returns to a 7 speed wet clutch S-Tronic dual clutch transmission, unlike the outgoing Q5 which had the normal 8 speed tiptronic transmission when it was facelifted.

Visually, it is unmistakably Q5. There’s something about it from the front, side and rear that remind you this is a Q5. Up front, the Q5 finally gets Audi’s new family face, with the single-frame grille and slimmer headlights. For this writer, the new face actually works the best on this Q5, arguably even better than all the other models in the current Audi lineup.

There’s a sense of Q5-ness in it, one look and you know it is a Q5 just by its silhouette and the way it sits on the road, but it is an all new car. When you look closely, you realise how the new Q5 looks more sculpted and muscular, less of a hippo and more of an athlete. The rear of the Q5 has always looked very good, and this generation takes it one step further with even more sophisticated looking light tubes and LEDs which Audi has consistently done very well over the years. As before, S-line is available as an option for more visual fizz, and in fact, we think it is worth ticking that option.

Under the hood – aside from the new transmission, the 2.0 TFSI turbo 4 cylinder engine with Audi valvelift comes with a slightly higher power and torque rating, at 252hp and 370Nm of torque, which allows it to complete the 0-100 km/h sprint in a respectable 6.3 seconds. These numbers are actually very close to the Porsche Macan equipped with the 2.0 turbo petrol engine. As mentioned, the new Q5 also gains the quattro with ultra all wheel drive system which makes it more efficient by only engaging the all wheel drive system when needed.

The interior however is where the Q5 really shines. It is nowhere as posh as the Porsche Macan, but it is always built like a bank vault, just like any Volkswagen-Audi Group product. One thing notable is the lack of expensive materials like on the Macan (for example, you can’t get leather covered surfaces aside from leather upholstery, there’s only a standard aluminium trim or two different wood inlays – no carbon fibre or unpolished wood options, and even the leather grade is above average, nothing like the Macan’s natural leather interior or the Range Rover Evoque’s Oxford leather interior).

Having said that, Audi has played their cards right by making sure that the plastics used at least feel very good and more importantly, the interior is just so well thought out and placed, it makes every other competing SUV in its class feel complicated and cumbersome. Sure, the interior may lack drama, compared to its British rivals, but it just is a nice place to be in. There’s a sense of airiness and calm in the cabin that just makes it that much better. In addition to the well thought out interior, Audi has thrown the kitchen sink at the Q5 in terms of technology.

Among the notable things in the new Q5 is the new Audi Virtual Cockpit. The virtual cockpit replaces the standard gauges for an all digital screen, that in theory may seem distracting, but in reality it just works. Graphics are crisp and smooth and information is clearly available. MMI has gotten a makeover as well (with the scroll wheel working the right way now, like on iDrive – existing Audi owners would remember this oddity with MMI), making it more responsive.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is also now available, though the lack of a touchscreen can be a bit odd – you do however get a trackpad to write on though. As before, there’s a Bang and Olufsen sound system available as an option, in addition to Audi connect services. For the first time, the Q5 can be specified with air suspension, in addition to the standard fixed suspension and adaptive suspension.

As for safety technology, the Q5 is available with Adaptive Cruise Control (which worked very smoothly in our drive with it), head up display, Audi pre sense rear (rear collision detection and preparation) and Audi side assist (blind spot warning). Surround view, city emergency braking and traffic sign recognition is also available, as well as LED headlights with high beam assist.

Now, on to arguably the most important bit. How does it drive?

We had the chance to have a preview drive during the public launch of the new Q5 at the 2017 Canadian International Auto Show. Audi did a pretty good job in highlighting the Q5’s capabilities, with a mixed route including highway and city roads – which is primarily where most Q5s would be. As there was no snow (despite it being February in Toronto), we weren’t able to see how the new quattro with ultra system worked in poor conditions. It was also good that Audi also had a driver from the Canadian Audi Sport team.

The Q5 unsurprisingly drives extremely smoothly, just like the outgoing generation. The new generation 2.0 TFSI felt responsive and barely had turbo lag, which was a great thing to have. Not to mention, the new 7 speed S-tronic shifts extremely smoothly with near zero hesitation in traffic, as well as during more spirited driving. quattro in the dry works really well as well, and you know it is working when you are giving it power through sharp corners – in typical quattro form, it just grips and pulls you out of the corner.

The most impressive bit had to be the suspension. Our tester here was equipped with the optional adaptive sport suspension (adaptive suspension is the step up from the standard fixed suspension, but is one step below the available air suspension), and Audi has consistently been one of the best in terms of tuning their adaptive suspension systems. At no point did it feel floaty, and it helps to keep body roll relatively in check. The biggest advantage is that it is able to do this without even crashing over bumps, which is something the Range Rover Evoque does ever so often.

One of the weaknesses in many Audis has always been the steering, where it lacks feel and feels extremely vague and artificial. The new Q5 does remedy some of that, however it is still not anywhere close to the Macan, or even the BMW X3. Arguably, in terms of the interior, one could say it is also a bit on the boring, typical conservative Volkswagen-Audi Group interior design compared to the more adventurous (by comparison) looking GLC-class from Mercedes Benz or the Range Rover Evoque.

However, one also has to remember, the Q5 has felt more premium and better built compared to the X3, both in its outgoing and this new generation Q5. In terms of engineering, it is also significantly better than the Evoque, which has a ditzy 9 speed automatic that is very confused, and the ageing Ford based 2.0 EcoBoost turbo petrol engine that is not very efficient  – and this is coming from personal experience of having one for longer than a review stint. Against the GLC, the Q5 is up there with it, but it feels more tech focused and sportier to be in. And against the Lexus competition, the Q5 just looks better.

But how about the Macan? Is the Q5 able to dethrone what is possibly the king of SUVs and one of the best do-it-all cars out there on sale? The answer is a no, not quite. It is more spacious in the rear than the Macan – but it doesn’t feel as luxurious nor does it drive as well as the Macan. But considering the price disparity, where the base Macan 2.0 starts at 10000 CAD more than the base Q5, the Macan is equipped with next to nothing compared to the base Q5.

So how does one follow up on immense success? You just refine it just that bit more till it’s nearly perfect. And that’s exactly what Audi has done here. Without a doubt, if you were looking at a premium SUV, you would genuinely do yourself a disservice if you don’t check out the Q5 and test drive it for yourself.

Story & photos by Kapil Haresh