Squint hard before you step in if they are parked together but as you step on it the confusion melts away. Alvin Thomas figures out the all-new Audi Q5 from the SQ5 after taking the beauties for a back-to-back spin.
Hold your horses, folks. Before you accuse me of reviewing the same car this week, I must point out that what you are looking at here is not an SQ5, but a crossover that could very well be the German manufacturer’s trump card in the segment for the next five years or so. It’s the toned down and mellow variant of the SQ5 – the Audi Q5 – or in short, the form factor that the car was originally imagined to be fashioned in.
Although, from where I was standing, I couldn’t figure out why anyone would opt for the SQ5, because there is not much differentiating the duo. But before I call out the nattier SQ5, let me talk about the preceding variants of the Q5.
The Q5 may be beating sales records all over the world – in fact, it is VW’s top-selling model worldwide – but let’s be honest here; it has not been the most popular crossover in Oman, or even in the GCC; even though a fair share of cars have trickled down to ardent fans of the brand.
With its oddball nine-year-old design, people were inclined towards the more relevant Volkswagen Tiguan, or even the posher and newer BMW X3 and the Mercedes GLC (previously known as the GLK).
Albeit, for 2018, things have taken a turn for the better… and gosh, this is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Gone is the bloodless design: the new Q5 keeps in line with the brand’s new design language, and resembles the larger Audi Q7 SUV and (from some angles) the pretty A5.
I am not going too deep into the looks of the Q5; you can refer to Issue 490 (October 12, 2017) for a deeper outlook on the vehicle. On a general note, however, it looks splendid with its colossal hexagonal chrome grille and the sharp “Matrix” LED headlamps.
The overall profile is subdued in comparison with its brawnier sibling. The alloys are smaller, but the tyre profile is larger, meaning, there’s more rubber to absorb all the imperfections on the road. This should also allow you to do some light off-roading without fretting about curbing or scuffing your precious alloys against sharp stones.
The Q5 deletes the ear studs – the brushed aluminium shell on the side mirrors – although I feel that it is not something you will dearly miss. On the upside, you still get a “Quattro” badge upfront and “S-Line” badges on the sides, depending on the grade of vehicle you opt for.
Still, the curves and the sharp edges on the Q5 is far from conservative – it’s quite sporty, even without the meaty alloys and the angular rear spoiler. The SUV gets the same striking tail lamps that that cuts the lines on the C-pillar. It’s typical of Audi, but still looks fresh nonetheless.
The vehicle is also longer for the 2018 model year. The wheelbase is longer by 3.3cm and there’s a 10-litre increase in the boot space when compared to its predecessor. It’s a small change but one that will fare well with the buyer audience, too.
Contrastingly, the unladen weight of the vehicle has been dropped by 90kg, thanks to the use of high-strength steel and aluminium.
All of this means that there’s more space in the interior for passengers. Knee and head room in the rear is splendid and up to standard with the best in class. This is also the case in the front.
The seats are comfortable and cushy, but surprisingly supportive (in an Audi way). There’s plenty of lumbar support and side and hip bolstering, although not overly uncomfortable as it is in the SQ5.
There’s plenty of tech in the interior that you can play with: you can – and should – opt for the large 32cm wide instrument cluster that sports the gorgeous ‘Audi Virtual Cockpit’.
This gives you a completely digital and customisable cluster, although it’s not as gimmicky as it was when it first came out. The graphics are crisp and the interface is slick, with no hint of lag.
If that wasn’t all, my tester also came with a 22cm wide infotainment screen running Audi’s MMI touch system. It’s quite useful and easy to use when driving, courtesy the large knob and trackpad in the middle of the dashboard.
Other optional extras include a Bang & Olufsen sound system and a Qi wireless charging holder for your compatible smartphone. There’s also Apple CarPlay for all you iPhone lovers.
Now let’s move over to the powertrain of the vehicle. This is where things start to vary: the Q5 packs a smaller but powerful 2.0-litre “TFSI” turbocharged four-cylinder pot-banger, which is carried over from the previous generation.
It offers more power and torque than last year – 22hp and 20Nm more – to be precise. This translates to an output of 252hp and 379Nm of torque. As expected, there’s a performance rise; zero to 100kph is now achieved in about 6.3 seconds – a whole 0.6 seconds faster than the model it replaces.
While the numbers may not seem like much, I found the acceleration to be apt; it’s not a slouch by any means. Heck, it’s faster than its own sister – the four-cylinder Porsche Macan (!)
On the tarmac, I found the acceleration to be brisk, and the turbo-lag minimum. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic has been tuned for economy, but it doesn’t hesitate to kick down (unless set in “Economy” mode) a couple of gears, when you need more power for a quick overtake.
The gear shifts are instantaneous and smooth, thereby keeping the engine in the power band at any given time, during hard throttling.
The torque is available on tap from a mere 1,500rpm. This makes it very easy and brisk to drive in the city. I also found the low-end torque to be quite useful while out in the rough roads and beach sand in Salalah.
My full-optioned “Quattro” tester also features the new “Ultra Technology” package, which allows the all-wheel-drive system to completely disengage the rear axle – and become front-wheel-drive – based on the driving style and the conditions of the road surface.
The system, as per Audi, is intuitive and should take less than half a second to assess the situation, and another 0.2 seconds to engage or disengage the rear axle.
Apparently, it’s working all the time, and I could tell that only from the light shudder when the clutches coupled, when I had lost traction in one of the sandy pits. It’s inaudible and virtually instantaneous, and wouldn’t be of notice to the average driver.
In the corners, the Q5 is mighty composed, hitting the desired lines with ease. Of course, there was a bit of tyre squeal when I pushed the vehicle past its tipping point. This was also when I uncovered a fair bit of understeer, as is characteristic of vehicles with such complicated all-wheel-drive layouts. But the drive didn’t feel unnatural or dictated at any point. Dare I say the drive train was quite communicative and responsive than the four-cylinder Macan and even the Tiguan.
Where the Q5 loses out, though, is in steering feel. The dynamic electric steering helps make driving easier in the city but the constant alteration of the steering ratios (depending on your speed) needs some getting used to. Still, I cannot pass any further judgment on the same without taking control of the car for a longer period of time.
The adaptive air suspension with damper control was available on my car, and it made the ride smooth; even over the harshest of terrain. There is a fair bit of lateral movement when the going gets tough. Still, the ride is smoother than any of its American competitors.
There’s also an “Off-road” mode that lifts the car by 45mm.
At the end of the day, it’s not hard to predict that the Audi Q5 will (successfully) continue to carry on its nameplate and legacy created by its predecessor into the distant future. But there’s something more to the new Q5 than what the previous iteration brought to the table: a newfound character and personality. And that alone is a unique selling point.
It’s time for Mercedes-Benz and BMW to catch up – and that, folks, is not a joke.