Look, it’s another white crossover with a black interior and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and that ubiquitous SUV silhouette. What’s so special and luxurious about this?
From the flick of a switch on the center stack to the way the suspension cushions a bump, the 2019 Audi Q5 positively oozes quality. The Q5 shows luxury needn’t be a dizzying array of standard features, acres of chrome and a cushy ride. Instead, it’s about how well-crafted something feels. It’s that special feeling you get when you feel an expensive leather wallet or get cosy in some sheets with a high thread count.
Buyers are clearly quite receptive to the Q5’s definition of luxury. It was the 4th best-selling luxury vehicle in the US in 2018 and Audi’s best-selling vehicle, selling almost 10k more units than the A4/A5 range. It was also the best-selling vehicle in its class, narrowly beating the Mercedes-Benz GLC by a couple hundred units. It’s a hotly competitive segment, though, and the Acura RDX, BMW X3 and Lexus NX are nipping at the heels of the Q5 and GLC.
The Q5 was completely redesigned for 2017, replacing the first-generation model which bowed in 2009. The second generation moved to the new MLB Evo architecture and weighs the same as its predecessor (just over 4000 pounds), despite measuring 0.5 inches wider and around an inch longer. In some overseas variants, the Q5 has actually lost weight to the tune of 200 pounds.
The pace of Audi’s design evolution can be slow but, though the second-generation Q5 may appear similar to its predecessor at first, there are some notable differences. The trademark single-frame Audi grille is wider and more aggressive. There’s also a sharp shoulder line running down the side of the car, reminiscent of the Audi A5.
In the transition from first to second generation, the Q5’s infotainment screen has ascended from the center stack to the top of the dash and has grown to 8.3 inches. Controls are still helpfully angled towards the driver and the Q5 continues to have one of the more elegant interiors of its class.
From the moment you close the door – which closes with the classiest “thunk” I’ve ever heard – you’ll be impressed with the depth of quality in the Q5’s interior. The seats, for example, feel firm and yet they remain comfortable and supportive over long distances. The switchgear is tactile, particularly those buttons at the bottom of the center stack. The elegant aluminum accents in this Q5 keep the black interior from appearing somber. Though the plastics of the lower dash and center console aren’t as soft as those above, there’s an overwhelming feeling of quality in this interior. The Q5 is now made in Mexico but the build quality of its cabin remains stellar.
It’s a spacious cabin, too, with a comfortable second row and 26.8 cubic-feet of cargo space behind it. The second row can also slide back and forth by a few inches.
Generally speaking, the Germans seem to be well ahead of other luxury brands in the infotainment stakes. While some brands rely heavily on touchscreen inputs or persist with inferior controllers (I’m looking at you, Lexus), Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi all use lovely and tactile rotary controllers. Audi’s Multi Media Interface (MMI) in particular has a very modern and attractive user interface. In addition to the rotary controller, there’s also a touchpad and a collection of shortcut buttons. Regular switchgear remains for climate control and drive functions.
MMI isn’t perfect, mind you. Though it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the phone-to-MMI connection was unreliable, but there was reasonable doubt as to whether it was my phone or MMI dropping the ball. Also, the proprietary navigation has vibrant and clear graphics but its search function is a bit clumsy. For example, when I searched for “gas”, it correctly put a gas station first in the results but it was one miles away in Richmond (I was in downtown Vancouver). The same search in Google would have had “gas stations near me” as the first result after typing “gas”.
While it’s tempting to just plug in your device and use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay to navigate, this will prevent you from experiencing the crown jewel of Audi’s infotainment system: the 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit screen in the gauge cluster. In addition to information like time, temperature and remaining range, the navigation screen is duplicated here, putting this information closer to the driver’s line of sight. While some cars merely display an arrow and the next navigation instruction, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit has the same kind of graphical representation as the main screen.
It would impress Meryl Streep’s character in It’s Complicated even more than Steve Martin’s Audi S6.
Even the standard gauge cluster is impressive.
All Q5s come well-equipped. In the US, the base Premium model – priced at $42,950 – has a power liftgate, autonomous emergency braking, leather upholstery, eight-way power front seats, a 40/20/40 split-folding and reclining rear seat, and paddle shifters. The Premium Plus adds LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The range-topping Prestige is resplendent with luxury features, from a Bang & Olufsen surround-sound audio system to a head-up display, in-car Wi-Fi and ambient cabin lighting. Of course, being a German car, there’s a glut of available options including adaptive air suspension, dynamic steering, and ventilated seats. Features from higher grades can be added to the lesser models.
Regardless of trim level, all North American Q5s bar the recently-introduced SQ5 use the same powertrain: a 2.0 turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. The 2.0 produces a class-competitive 252 hp and 273 ft-lbs. Those seeking more power can pony up the extra $10k for the new turbocharged V6 SQ5 and its extra 101 horses and 96 ft-lbs of torque.
Though the SQ5’s extra power sounds tantalizing, the standard Q5 has more than enough performance to satisfy with a 0-60 time of just 6.2 seconds. The dual-clutch automatic has an unfortunate lag from a standing start but once the Q5 is moving, shifts are seamless, leaving the slick paddle shifters feeling thoroughly unnecessary. There’s a stop-start system but it’s one of the more refined applications of this technology with no uncouth jerking.
Driving the Q5 is confidence-inspiring. The suspension tuning is exquisite, being firm but absorbent. You’ll notice when you’ve driven over a bump or a pothole but the Q5 will make short work of it. The overall sensation is one of poise, control and comfort. Much like the SQ5’s turbo V6, the prospect of the optional adaptive air suspension tantalizes but, if the base set-up is this good, how much better could that be?
Audi’s Drive Select system modifies the shift patterns, throttle response, and the weight of the electric power steering. Though Normal mode is good for city driving, Dynamic dials in some more heft into the steering and is the choice for more spirited driving. After a little while, I just left it in Dynamic.
Driven aggressively, there is some body roll in the corners and you do feel the higher center of gravity vis-à-vis a sedan. Grip, however, is excellent and the Quattro system keeps the Q5 feeling poised and planted at all times. You can toss the Q5 into a corner and it’ll remain unflustered.
With the second generation of Q5, Audi switched to what they call quattro ultra, which disconnects the rear differential in most conditions and operates in front-wheel-drive to aid in fuel economy. Gas mileage is improved over its less powerful predecessor, the EPA rating the Q5 2.0 at 23/27 mpg (25 combined). That’s an improvement of 3 mpg on the combined cycle. If you want to keep the Q5 in all-wheel-drive mode, you can do so via Drive Select.
The Q5’s turbo four clearly went to finishing school, making none of the thrashy sounds some four-cylinder engines make and sounding appropriately hushed. The only issue I experienced while driving the Q5 – apart from the slight delay off the line – were some puzzling metallic creaks I heard a few times while cornering.
That was the only blemish on an otherwise thoroughly impressive package. If I’d been asked before this review to pick any new luxury car to drive, an Audi crossover wouldn’t have been high on my list. The Q5, however, proved to be a wonderful companion on my drive from Vancouver up to Whistler and Joffre Lakes. There are plenty of buyers out there who’ll purchase this predominantly because of the four rings on the grille. However, there are also buyers who’ll buy this because they appreciate the tactility of its controls, the poise of its handling, and the suppleness of its suspension. For many, this is the definition of an excellent luxury vehicle.
I absolutely understand why.