TEST DRIVE: 2017 Audi Q5 2.0T Quattro — This is how you do a sequel

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8.8

Creating a sequel to anything successful can be incredibly difficult and is often met with disaster. Just ask the people who made Die Hard 2, Weekend at Bernie’s 2 and don’t even get me started on Caddyshack II. It just isn’t easy to recreate the magic of a first success. Which is why the folks in Ingolstadt were in a bit of a pickle with the second-generation Audi Q5.

The first-gen Audi Q5 was one of Audi’s best selling cars of all time. Drive down the street, in any direction for thirty minutes and you’re bound to see at least four or five of them. Customers absolutely adored the first-gen Q5, even if its charms began to wane on enthusiasts and journalists alike towards the end of its life-cycle. As it reached its model end, the Q5 began to feel seriously dated. Its tech was losing a lot of ground to its competitors and its driving dynamics left a lot to be desired. Still, customers loved its charm; its handsome cabin, useful practicality and cushy ride.

So here lies Audi’s dilemma — how do you replace something that customers love without upsetting the applecart? Well, the second-gen Audi Q5 should be used as a lesson on how.

Thankfully, Audi was recently kind enough to lend us a new Q5 2.0T Quattro for a week, so we could see just how much Audi has improved the new Q5 without taking too much away from what was so good about the previous one.

From the outside, this new car is immediately recognizable as an Audi Q5. Its proportions are similar, its styling is vaguely reminiscent of the first car and it’s roughly the same size. So right away, you know it’s a Q5 and that’s a good thing for current customers who already love the Q5’s styling. While journalists such as myself might bemoan such a slow, evolutionary approach to Audi’s styling, customers love the fact that their new car isn’t radically different from their previous, beloved one.

Despite being similar, though, this new Audi Q5 looks better in almost every possible way. It wears Audi’s corporate grille, a massive Singleframe unit, that seemingly spans the entire front end. It looks good, though, as it seems more modern and more dynamic than the old car’s mug. That massive grille is flanked by two sharp and angry headlights which make the face of this new car look far sportier, more aggressive and, ultimately better than the model it replaces. Whereas the previous-gen Q5 had a sort of bland face, this new one is anything but. It’s both modern and sporty, making it one of the better looking cars in its class, with maybe only the Alfa Romoe Stelvio being prettier.

Everyone who I showed the Q5 to commented on how good looking it was. Which honestly shocked me. Us journalists have become quite jaded, so when we see a car like the Q5 on the internet, we immediately throw heaps of criticism its way for not being exciting or bold enough. Real-world customers don’t feel that way, though. They want something elegant and sophisticated but aren’t necessarily always looking for flashy or bold. The Q5 charmed so many people during my week with it. One family member claimed it was their favorite press car I’d ever had and I’ve brought home some seriously interesting cars.

There is one small gripe about the exterior, its faux exhaust tips. There aren’t a lot of universal rules to car design, as the more creative you get, typically the better. However, one universal rule is this — fake exhaust tips are bad. This really sharp and sport looking premium SUV really starts to look a bit odd once you see those two black plastic rectangles where exhausts are supposed to come out of. What’s more annoying is that there are exhaust pipes pointing down directly behind where those fake tips are. So why didn’t Audi just extend the actual exhaust pipes five inches more, through the bumper? These fake tips look absurd on an otherwise very good looking car. Please change them, Audi.

Where the new Audi Q5 stood out most, though, was inside the cabin. All of Audi’s new interiors are pretty similar but that’s no bad thing. In fact, we’re glad, as they’re all fantastic. Ingolstadt’s new interior design language may be the best in the business and the Q5’s interior is no different. Its clean design, incredible build-quality and ergonomics are all top-notch and put this second-gen Audi Q5 up there with the best in its segment. Having personally driven the new BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, I can say that all three are excellent but that a solid case could be made for the Q5 having the best interior of the bunch.

Everything you touch inside the Q5 feels premium and the design is both high-tech and classy. It’s simple and elegant, yet still high-tech enough to look modern and feel special. The HVAC controls are one of the best we’ve ever used in a car, as they are on all modern Audis, as the temperature is shown in the actual knobs and all of the buttons in between them are touch-capacitive, so just resting your finger on them gives you a preview of what the button does. It’s so intuitive and it works so well that it’s a wonder why other manufacturers don’t look to this as a benchmark.

The attention to detail is also remarkable. Almost everything that looks like metal is metal and every single knob in the car is knurled, even the faux cigarette lighter plug. Little touches like that make the Q5’s cabin feel special and more expensive than it is. Though, there are some curiosities about material choices. For instance, while every knob possible is knurled and beautiful, the steering wheel paddle shifters are plastic and can feel a bit cheap. Having said that, the steering wheel itself is really nice to hold, is wrapped in high-quality leather and is the right size and shape. Also, all of the steering wheel buttons are ergonomic, laid out perfectly and really intuitive to use.

Which leads me to the Virtual Cockpit, Audi’s now-famous digital gauge cluster. It’s superb to use and is easily the best digital instrument panel in the business. You can switch from two different views, one with more traditional looking dials and a small screen in between or two really small dials and a massive screen in between. It can also display full-screen Google Earth imagery of where you are and your navigation information. It’s incredibly intuitive and easy to use, as you never have to avert your eyes from the road anymore than you would to normally check your speed. With the optional head-up display, it’s even easier.

What the screen displays is customizable, too. So you can have your nav-info there, your current media or vehicle information. And the steering wheel controls handle all of its operation in a seamless and easy-to-use fashion. To tie it all together, the Nvidia-sourced graphics are slick and beautifully high-def. Never have I used such a brilliant digital gauge cluster.

As for the actual MMI infotainment system, I wish I could be as complimentary. Admittedly, it’s very good and works well. It’s relatively easy to use and has nice graphics. However, its menus can get confusing and the left/right tab system can be a bit weird. The track pad ahead of the typical swivel wheel works well and responds to handwriting inputs more accurately than I thought but it’s not perfect and the system, as a whole, isn’t as good as BMW’s new iDrive. Having said that, Audi’s MMI is better than Mercedes’ COMAND system and leaps and bounds better than what you’ll find in a Lexus or Jaguar. So it’s good but needs some work. We’ll have to sample the new Audi A8’s dual-touchscreen MMI setup to judge the direction Audi is going.

But we’re car enthusiasts first and foremost, so all of that aforementioned stuff is secondary to the driving experience. A great design and luxurious cabin mean nothing if the driving experience is dull or lacking.

Thankfully, the new Audi Q5 drives well. Very well. Admittedly, it won’t light your hair on fire, nor will it thrill you like an Audi S5. However, it’s so good at so many things, it’s so well-rounded, that’s it’s just enjoyable to drive around, as simple as that might sound. There’s just an inherent loveliness to driving the new Q5.

Its suspension is smooth and supple, though never floaty. It was firmer than I had anticipated and you can feel almost every bump in the road. Though, every one of those bumps is dealt with swiftly, with one motion, and then it’s done with. So the Q5 never feels out of sorts, even when going over the largest of bumps. It’s also rock solid stable, even at triple-digit speed.

Our tester did not have the adaptive suspension option, which did make it wallow a bit through tighter corners. Turn the wheel hard and the front end bites well but the body rolls a bit too much, so it feels a bit uneasy. The steering itself is also quite good, as it’s weighted nicely and accurate, even if it’s a bit numb.

There’s no denying the Q5’s nature. It’s a calm, luxurious and solid driving SUV and when you drive it that way, it’s really quite lovely. Though, enthusiasts who are looking for something sharper and more aggressive might want to look at the new BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace or Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

That’s not to say the new Q5 can’t be fun, though. Under the hood lies a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine you’ll find in most other modern Audis, but that’s no bad thing. The 2.0 TFSI engine is a smooth and punchy companion that’s a delight to use. Punch it and it responds quickly, makes a satisfying growl and provides ample thrust, even in such a heavy SUV. It’s not as quick as an Audi A4 or A5, with the same engine, obviously, but it’s more than quick enough.

Mated to that engine is a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, dubbed S-Tronic. This is a bit of an oddity, honestly. It’s not a bad gearbox by any means, as it’s actually one of the best dual-clutch ‘boxes on the market. It just doesn’t seem to fit the nature of the Q5 all that well. Shifts are sharp and rapid fire when using the paddles but also smart and intuitive in automatic mode. However, that snappiness, which can be a bit abrupt, seems at odds with the sort of calm and relaxed nature of the Q5.

Audi has a perfectly good ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox that it’s been using for years, including in the first-gen Q5. It would be far better suited to the new Q5, as well. For instance, its S-Tronic ‘box can sometimes lurch when moving away from a dead stop, as the clutch engages. This would be no problem in a sports car, as you sort of accept those quirks for the performance gain of the dual-clutch. However, in a luxury SUV that isn’t really sporty, the ZF eight-speed would be better. So it’s not a bad gearbox, and we love it in the Audi A4, but it might not be the right choice for the Q5.

When you use the paddles, though, it’s engaging and can enhance the fun. Especially when hustling down some long sweepers. You don’t want to hustle any tight corners, thanks to the aforementioned body roll, but on long, fast sweepers the Audi Q5 can be very enjoyable to drive.

And that’s really the Audi Q5 in a nutshell. It isn’t the fastest car in its segment, it’s not the most fun and it’s not the most luxurious but it’s such a great combination of all things. While maybe not necessarily class-leading in any one specific way, the new Audi is really good in every way. It looks great, has a superb cabin, drives really well and is quick enough to be fun. There’s simply never an egg on its face and I think that’s exactly what Audi was shooting for.

All of that capability doesn’t come cheap, though. Our tester rang in at around $52,000, which isn’t exactly inexpensive. However, it’s well worth the money, as the Q5 can do everything you need it to and it can be everything you need it to be.

So how to you create a sequel to an excellent first attempt? Advance the original in every single way without compromising any of the attributes that fans loved. With this new second-generation Q5, Audi has put on a clinic on how to do a sequel.

The Breakdown


Exterior
9
Interior
10
Engine/Performance
8
Handling
7
Price
10