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Future models - Audi - Q5

First drive: Audi Q5 comes alive

Form a Q: Audi’s all-new Q5 is packed with segment-leading kit and clever technology that is set to continue its consistently strong performance Down Under.

Second-generation Q5 takes Audi’s Mexican-made mid-size SUV up a gear

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Audi logo30 Nov 2016

By DANIEL GARDNER

AUDI’S all-important second-generation Q5 mid-size SUV has rolled out at its international launch in Mexico charged with maintaining the momentum of the hugely popular first model with a progressive rollout of tantalising electrified e-tron tech and Audi Sport updates.

Despite a run of nearly eight years on the Australian market, the current Q5 continues to attract significant sales – it was the number-one model for Audi last month and, on an annual basis, has been either first or second since 2010 – and the German car-maker has a strategy to repeat its success.

Arriving Down Under in the third quarter of 2017, the all-new Q5 will bring a significant upgrade to technology, driving dynamics and comfort, wrapped up in a fresh look, while more effervescent versions are in the pipeline.

Local pricing and specification is yet to be finalised but speaking at the international debut in Mexico last week, Audi Australia product communications manager Shaun Cleary said the company was working hard to keep pricing competitive, with Q5 currently starting at $63,600 plus on-road costs.

“It’s still more than six months away but in general we are looking to keep pricing about the same as where it is,” he said. “Clearly it is in a strong position now as it is, and selling well, but we will look to add equipment and there is a lot of new technology in the new Q5 that we will definitely make available.” The Australian Q5 portfolio could include other variants at launch but at this stage the new model’s arrival is likely to be spearheaded by a pair of four-cylinder versions offering petrol or diesel options.

“Like any all-new-generation model, we consider all the engines, but I think the most likely options are the 140kW TDI and the 185kW 2.0-litre TFSI simply because their popularity is proven and they sit in a really good position with Q5 considering also things like towing,” Mr Cleary said.

He confirmed that a 3.0-litre V6 diesel would follow the initial launch fleet, with the possibility of a 3.0-litre TFSI petrol less certain.

In other global markets, an entry-level Q5 has been previously offered with front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox, but Mr Cleary said such a move for the second-generation Australian line-up was highly unlikely.

“Up until this point, Q5 has always been Quattro (four-wheel drive) and I think that’s a really good position for that car. It’s what customers expect from our point of view in that segment.” Beyond the initial bread-and-butter variants, the Q5 range will expand into more performance-focused territory including a replacement for the current flagship SQ5 and, given the popularity of the first-generation version, an Australian introduction is as good as certain.

“Clearly there is such a desire for performance models in Australia. I think any performance model, particularly in a popular range like an SUV, we would be keen to bring that to market for sure,” Mr Cleary said.

Looking even further into the Q5 crystal ball reveals electrified versions of the Q5 wearing the e-tron badge and, while the company has previously spoken about range-wide electrification, Audi AG Q5 total vehicle technical development manager Alexander Riedel narrowed the focus to the mid-size SUV.

“It’s the MLB Evo platform which is possible to be electrified as you can see with the Q7 e-tron, which is the same platform,” he said. “We have the possibility to have an electrified Q5 so it will be an electrified version.” In the first generation, Audi set a high bar with the Q5 and persistent strong sales indicate that the model is ageing gracefully.

Now, the second-generation version has taken a significant step up in all areas.

Before you even board the Q5, its sharp styling is a strong indicator that the technology under the skin has advanced as much as the exterior. The look is still decidedly Q5 but has evolved enough to align with the rest of the Audi family without becoming indistinguishable.

It is the same story on the inside where Audi’s reputation for top-notch interiors is unchanged with a sublime blend of clean, understated design and high-quality materials, headlined by the innovative ‘virtual cockpit’ digital instrument cluster that is available as an option.

Other technological touches that have filtered down from more premium models include the touch-sensitive air-conditioning switches and a large touchpad for accessing the various Audi connect and MMI systems via the high-resolution 7.0-inch dash display or an even bigger 8.3-inch version in higher-spec cars.

One of our European-spec test vehicles had been optioned with delicious quilted black leather upholstery which was of the quality Bentley would have been bragging about only a few years ago.

Up to five adults are comfortably accommodated in the generous cabin with lots of headroom in both rows of seating while a 550-litre boot is 10 litres bigger than the outgoing version, expanding to 1550L with the 40/20/40-split seats folded. Access is via a power-operated tailgate.

The plush interior and generous equipment was included with the 3.0 TDI V6 diesel version which is easily the sportiest version until an SQ5 comes along later, and will probably appeal mostly to customers looking to tow.

With a beefy 620Nm on tap, the six-cylinder diesel is effortlessly quick no matter what the gradient and has a silky smoothness and satisfying note. The bountiful torque has limited the transmission choice to Audi’s eight-speed Tiptronic torque-converter auto, which is the only unit capable of handling upwards of 500Nm but is a great combination.

Tight ratios keep the engine speed right on the sweet spot and gear changes are imperceptibly quick with no immediately noticeable disadvantage over the dual-clutch S-tronic which is standard fare on both the four-cylinder variants we drove.

First up was the 2.0 TDI which brings 140kW/400Nm and offers frugal fuel consumption of 5.2 litres per 100km. Thanks to a well-honed engine management program, it also has a versatile power delivery across the rev range.

A strict diet and clever construction techniques have carved up to 90kg out of the new Q5 and the weight loss is immediately obvious from the first corner with surprisingly nimble dynamics that take the previous version’s commendable road manner into a different category.

Our test vehicle was fitted with the new adaptive dampers which are a first for the Q5 and allow a number of settings to be selected with the Drive Select switch. These include the sportier Dynamic mode, which lowers the suspension and stiffens the ride for impressive on-road responsiveness, while All Road and Off Road settings raise the suspension 25mm and 45mm respectively for adventures off the beaten track.

We like the versatility that the adaptive suspension offers but it has also brought significant improvements to ride comfort and cabin noise levels. Even on very changeable roads the Q5 is serenely quiet and some nasty, poorly maintained roads could not upset its compliant ride.

While the V6 diesel continues with the ‘classic’ Quattro permanent four-wheel-drive system, both four-cylinder versions have the first mass-application of the new Quattro Ultra system as installed in our 2.0 TFSI test car.

Like the 2.0 TDI which also has the evolved technology, the clever system of sensors and actuators is capable of activating and disengaging four-wheel drive almost instantly and imperceptibly, not just in the name of maximising traction and safety but for an improved driving experience.

We understand that many Q5 customers will rarely take their SUV off road which is a shame because the Quattro Ultra drivetrain really shines when the surfaced road comes to an end.

Even on challenging surfaces such as soft sand the clever system redirects torque effectively and intuitively to maintain progress on surfaces that have been known to catch other all-paw systems out.

Paired with the free-revving 185KW/370Nm TFSI engine the Q5 flies along unsealed trails with vigour and instils confidence when the way ahead becomes more gnarly and unforgiving. With the Off Road setting selected we felt the Audi would crawl and scramble over more obstacles than most owners would appreciate.

Even without the optional adaptive suspension, the standard steel spring set-up shares the new range-wide multi-link arrangement for a dramatically improved ride over the outgoing Q5.

With the advances of diesel combustion and petrol direct injection, both engines have great torque characteristics as well as free-revving power bands and we would be hard-pressed to choose one over the other.

In all cases, fuel consumption and acceleration has been improved thanks in part to a very slippery 0.30Cd drag coefficient. The 2.0 TDI completes the 0-100km/h dash in 7.9s while the TFSI gets there in 6.3s and uses 7.1L/100km on the combined cycle.

On Mexico’s roads we didn’t have the chance (or traffic) to test all of the new driver assistance systems including the adaptive cruise control that will work down to stop/start traffic jams, or the pedestrian-sensing autonomous braking.

Chuck in a tonne of segment-leading kit such as a Bang & Olufsen stereo, head-up display, 10Gb hard drive, enhanced voice activation and applications supported by Google Earth, Google Street View and other online services, and the Q5 is shaping up to be a key player yet again.

The current Audi Q5 is such a strong contender in the prestige mid-size SUV segment that, even against far newer offerings – think Mercedes GLC, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Lexus NX, Jaguar F-Pace and the related Porsche Macan – the ageing version is still a compelling package that only needed minor improvements to stay competitive.

However, Audi’s aggressive, holistic and comprehensive approach has extensively enhanced the model in all areas, including those that would have been just fine unchanged.

If Audi manages to maintain a similar price structure when it arrives next year, the second-generation Q5 has all the attributes to land another hammer blow in the ultra-competitive segment.

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GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.