I have to confess that when I first drove Audi’s mid-size SUV a couple of years ago, I wasn’t all that excited about it. Indeed, it seemed a difficult vehicle to get excited about at all. The styling was typical Audi; clean, neat, handsome but lacking in distinction. The cabin was much the same and the driving experience was just a touch bland. Nothing to write home about, I decided.
Now though, Audi has had the spanners, and the designer’s pencils, out and given the Q5 a thorough going over, and the results are quite striking. You will, it must be said, struggle to notice the changes from the outside, but they are nonetheless effective.
On the styling front, all that gives the game away are a new grille, new headlights with their optional LED daytime running lights that form a single ghostly outline, framing the main bulbs, and some new bumpers and alloy wheels. Such things are virtually unnoticeable when close up, but take a step back and see the car in the round and suddenly the Q5 just looks a little more chiseled, a touch more square-jawed. See it parked next to a previous model and the effect is magnified.
Inside, the story is similar. There’s nothing dramatically different, it’s just the the shapes and surfaces have become that bit more honed and finished, and the effect is rather pleasing. Our test car came with a colour scheme that should have consigned it to the also-ran list; beige plastic and blonde wood, but somehow Audi’s usual cabin design brilliance shone through and there’s simply no denying the sheer hefty quality of it all. Besides, the Q5 is a car whose comfort levels are simply brilliant. There’s enough space in the back for even tall kids to get comfy while up front the driver’s seat rewards long journeys with a distinct lack of back spasms or muscle ache. It’s a terrific car to go long-haul in.
Much of that is down to the mechanical changes that Audi has made, and they are much more significant than the stylistic ones. The 2.0-litre TDI engine, with 177bhp (a 143bhp is also available) has become much more efficient than it used to be. Even with the seven-speed twin-clutch gearbox and the added weight and complication of quattro four-wheel-drive, the Q5 will still average 6.1-litres per 100km (46mpg) and emits a wallet-friendly 155g/km of Co2. I can confirm that the Q5 is one of those unusual cars that can match its claimed economy even when laden with the detritus of family life, and without recourse to driving as if a nest of fluffy ducklings has taken up residence under the throttle pedal. Despite the Q5 feeling distinctly beefy in its performance (0-100kmh comes up in 9.0secs, not bad for a mid-size diesel 4×4) I managed to drive from Dublin to Galway, on to West Cork and back to Dublin again on a single tank of diesel. Impressive, that.
Impressive too is the dynamic performance. Normally when we hear that a car maker has fitted electrically-assisted power steering to a car, we expect that the feeling and sensations of driving have also been electronically filtered out. But if anything, Audi’s electronic set up in the Q5 beats the old hydraulic one – it now feels more agile and responsive than before, although ultimately, if you want an Audi with truly communicative steering you still need to upgrade to the R8 supercar…
The Q5’s ride quality is probably its most impressive feature though. We have become used to SUVs, and sporty German ones in particular, clambering over badly made roads as if the suspension towers are filled with bricks and steel girders. Not this one; the Q5 now glides and squashes its away along, never giving into mid-corner wallowing, but still cosseting and comforting its occupants.
Is there anything not to like? Well, the standard power tailgate is a waste of time. Why bother with it if it’s slower and less convenient than simply throwing it open or shut yourself? And then there’s Audi’s perennially pricey options list to deal with. Our €54,803 SE-spec test car came with €4k worth of options and still you could point out blank switches in the cabin. Still, you do get a lot of nice toys as standard, including cruise, leather, climate, auto wipers and heated seats.
While I would add the caveat that the same mechanical package can be found at a lower price and a lower rate of fuel consumption in the equally handsome and practical Audi A4 Avant estate, there’s no denying the appeal and desirability of the Q5, and now its technical and dynamic performance matches that appeal. Even to me.
Facts & Figures
Audi Q5 2.0 TSI 177 SE S-Tronic quattro
Price as tested: €54,803
Range price: €40,960 to €63,985
Top speed: 200kmh
Economy: 6.1l-100km (46mpg)
CO2 emissions: 159g/km
VRT Band: D. €570 road tax
Euro NCAP rating: 5-star; 91% adult, 83% child, 63% pedestrian, 86% safety assist