Lincolnshire

Test Drive: Five minutes with an Audi Q5

What is it?

The next-to-biggest model of Audi’s four-strong SUV line-up, all badged as Q-models (for quattro, natch), which is the Q5. In order of their first release, Audi came down the size scale with its off-roaders, starting with the massive Q7, then launching the smaller Q5, followed by the even smaller Q3 and then finally the tiny Q2, which we drove only a few weeks back. And, of these, the first two are now evolving into their second-generation versions, replete with newer, edgier styling and fancier in-car tech.

The Q5, though, is probably Audi’s absolute heartland of this sort of vehicle: it’s big enough to look imposing out on the roads and on your driveway, without coming across as needlessly gauche. Prices start at less than £40,000, which makes it a reasonable purchase, if not the cheapest thing in the world. It competes in a class with the likes of the BMW X3, the superb Mercedes-Benz GLC, Jaguar’s F-Pace and the closely-related Land Rover Discovery Sport, the Lexus NX and the Porsche Macan – which actually shares some of its hardware with the first-generation Q5.

Why are you driving it?

This is the all-new model, launched just this year. It takes its styling inspiration from the larger Q7, although it seems to wear the sleek headlights/big Singleframe grille/swoopy sidelines-look better than the larger SUV. It also isn’t a million miles away visually from its predecessor, in an effort not to alienate loyal customers who bought the Q5 MkI and who might be looking to upgrade. But whatever you think of its looks, it cannot be denied that the Q5 is one of the key players in its market segment and the MkII needs to be very, very good to challenge in this highly lucrative sector.

Very quickly, before we start the driving impressions, we’ll just outline the Q5’s UK range and it’s extremely simple to understand. All Q5s (excluding the 354hp SQ5 performance flagship) are 2.0-litre, four-cylinder quattros with a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automated gearbox. All you can decide is whether you want the 190hp TDI diesel or the 252hp TFSI petrol, and then which of the three specifications you like, which are SE, Sport and finally S line. Our test car is therefore almost top-spec, being a 2.0 TDI S line in Ibis White.

What do you like about it?

Like so many Audis, the Q5 is incredibly proficient in all departments – indeed, you could go so far as to say there’s precious little to complain about. The ride quality, even on this S line with sportier suspension and 19-inch alloys, is marvellous, never introducing huge bumps and thumps into the passenger compartment. There’s no noticeable tyre or wind noise to report. The 2.0-litre diesel engine is strong and lusty, and incredibly refined and hushed throughout operation. It’s also good on fuel, giving back 45.5mpg across nearly 460 miles that were almost exclusively conducted on stop-start A-road journeys, rather than smooth-cruising motorways. On the one occasion we did manage to run it on the A1, it returned 52.2mpg, which is deeply impressive for a heavy, tall, automatic, four-wheel drive vehicle like this.

And it’s an Audi, so the interior is exquisite. There’s a nice, broad strip of trim incorporating the air vents across a dash that’s beautifully laid out and finished to the highest possible standards. The chunky, mushroom-like gear lever is a particular highlight, as is the flat-bottomed S line steering wheel, while virtual cockpit – one of our favourite automotive inventions of this millennium, it’s the wonderful 12.3-inch TFT instrument cluster – is brilliantly only a £250 option on the Q5. Of course, it would be better if it were standard-fit, admittedly, but £250 is not a lot of cash for this exceptional piece of technology. Spacious, comfortable, packed with toys – this is a cabin out of the top drawer.

And it helps contribute to the Audi’s particular forte, which is its spectacular ease-of-use. You’ve barely gone five miles in the Q5 TDI before it feels like you’ve owned the car for several years; you know intuitively how it responds to certain throttle inputs, you know precisely how weighty and sharp the steering is, you know exactly how much grip and body roll you’re dealing with, you know for certain how the brakes and gearbox behave, you know to the millimetre where all the essential switches and controls are, and you know beyond any reasonable doubt that this is a suitably brilliant conveyance for a modern family of four. It’s equally at home picking its way through a town, making steady progress on extra-urban routes or pounding along a 70 mph dual carriageway; the only thing we didn’t do was try it out off-road, but we doubt it would be totally hopeless in the rough stuff. Overall, it’s a very strong driving report card for the Audi Q5.

Any issues?

The very thing that makes the Q5 so likeable, and such a salesroom success, is perhaps also its undoing in the eyes of some potential customers. Because there’s not a great deal to learn and explore about this SUV. It’s not like you feel as if a blast down a quiet B-road one sunny evening is going to reveal new layers and facets of its dynamic character, which in turn means it’s never the most exciting thing to drive. Granted, most mid-sized SUVs are fairly staid in the handling department, although the Jaguar F-Pace has shown that high-riding does not also mean a highly aloof chassis. Even the ageing BMW X3, due to be replaced any day soon, is more rewarding to steer than the brand spanking Q5.

It’s also not massively cheap. At £44,565 as tested with options, this 2.0 TDI is getting perilously close to the basic figure you’d need for the performance SQ5 model with the 3.0-litre V6 TFSI mill. The Audi isn’t priced particularly badly compared to its main competitors in similar levels of spec/trim, but we’d be a lot happier if this sort of middle-of-the-road diesel SUV with only five seats and this level of equipment were available for a price tag starting with a three, not a four.

What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?

The 2.0 TDI is the model to pick if you want an Audi Q5 as a business vehicle. It has the lowest emissions of the range and if you can stick to 18- or 19-inch wheels, it attracts Benefit-in-Kind tax of 25%. As we’ve already mentioned, it’s really good on fuel for a powerful, premium vehicle of this kind, and as it’s an Audi SUV then its residual values will be as solid as any other car you could possibly think of, meaning competitive PCP deals should be on the table for prospective owners.

Where does it rank in class right now?

As ever, it’s an Audi product that competes at the very top of the class within which it sits. There are nicer-looking SUVs than the Q5 (the Mercedes GLC and Jaguar F-Pace being two), there are ones which drive better as we’ve outlined above and there are certainly cheaper alternatives. But then there are few rivals that offer the precise, easy-going blend of impressive driving dynamics, thoroughly cultured behaviour and unbeatable cabin ambience as the Q5. Which means that, while we wouldn’t quite call it unarguably class-leading, it’s patently obvious that for many, many people, nothing else will do the family-ferrying job better than the Audi Q5 2.0 TDI S line.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro S line 190 S tronic
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Price: Q5 range starts from £38,035; 2.0 TDI S line from £41,085, car as tested £44,565
  • Drivetrain: 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel, seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
  • Economy: 55.4mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 133g/km – VED £200 first 12 months, then £450 per annum next five years, then £140 annually thereafter; 25% benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 135mph
  • 0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
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Power: 190hp at 3,800- to 4,200rpm
  • Torque: 400Nm at 1,750- to 3,000rpm