(Pocket-lint) - The Audi Q5 is arguably Audi's most important SUV. Sitting in the mid-sized segment, it occupies a space where it's a little more useful than the cutsey Audi Q3 and a little easier to live with in suburban tight spots than the Audi Q7.
Built in Mexico in Audi's new facility, the new Q5 is aiming to continue its run at the top spot of SUVs. But to look at, you might wonder what has changed in the second-gen model.
The answer, says Audi, is everything: the Audi Q5 is entirely new, redesigned from the ground up to be better in every way. We spent a couple of days driving one to see whether that rings true.
Audi Q5 review: Design may divide
It's perhaps unfair to start on a downer, but the Q5's exterior design might be its biggest drawback. It's impossible to say the new Q5 is ugly, but it also isn't particularly eye-catching either. Especially when considering the quirky pressed panels of the dinky Audi Q2.
If the Q5 is an exercise in understatement, then Audi has achieved its aims. The Q5 isn't an exercise in seeking attention, it's an exercise in practicality. With cars like the Kia Sportage and Ford Edge working hard to turn heads, the Q5 could be perceived as rather more confident in its way.
While that confidence might attract some buyers who don't want to flaunt those SUV lines, others might see that the Discovery Sport as more interesting, or the Jaguar F-Pace as more original. Such is the competition, from affordable to luxury, that there are lot more SUV choices on the road than when the original Audi Q5 launched back in 2008.
From the outside the Audi Q5 looks a little like a pumped-up Audi A3, but in getting larger it loses some of the sharp lines that look a little more defined on the smaller cars.
The front grille, which was a little soft on the previous model, could be seen as a little too plasticky with the silver surround that leads in to the lights on the second-gen model. With the smaller Mexican plates you're exposed to a little more front plastic than you will be in Europe though.
One of the bigger surprises comes around the back: there's no exhaust in the rear bodywork. Instead the idea of an exhaust outlet is incorporated into the body design. We suspect that the inevitable, higher-performance (but yet-to-be-confirmed) SQ5 will plonk four chrome tailpipes in this rear bodywork and look all the better for it.
Perhaps the biggest trick that the second-gen Q5 pulls off is looking smaller than it is. Softer lines makes for a car that doesn't look overly-large, yet it's still pretty big inside and there's something positive to be said for that.
When pumped up to top settings on the (optional) air suspension, the new Q5 does look a little sportier and fun, but you might have to choose your colour and wheels carefully to make the Q5 into a true head-turner.
Audi Q5 review: Interior mastery
Once you're sat inside, however, any qualms about the exterior will likely vanish. The new interior might be a fresh design, but it's familiar and instantly feels like an Audi. That's a good thing, because there's a dependable quality to everything.
There are a number of choices for interior finishes. It's a fairly spacious cabin, giving the rear passengers more headroom and legroom than the previous model, but there's a more obvious transmission tunnel than in something like the Honda CR-V, which feels more open.
If you've been in an Audi then you'll find it's a familiar layout when sat in the driver's seat. Perhaps the only surprise is that the central infotainment display can't fold away as it has done on some (but not all) other Audi vehicles.
With the option for the Virtual Cockpit - the driver's side all-encompassing screen display that sits beyond the wheel (an optional extra, but well worth the £975 price for the Light and Vision Pack if you're buying S line trim) - you're well positioned to get plenty of information at a glance. Virtual Cockpit is one of our favourite in-car developments of the past few years, we think it's great for mapping in particular.
As you'd expect, there's a quality feel to the switch gear, to the leather of the seats and the fit and finish throughout the cabin, which is where the Q5 will challenge just about any SUV on the road.
It's also quiet in the cabin, escaping the roaring and boxy diesel noises that give some SUVs the sound of a white van. The new Q5 is a smooth and quiet ride, even in the 3-litre diesel, the biggest engine option that the new Q5 offers.
As with all Audis there are options galore, like interior coloured lighting, rear sun blinds, even a panoramic sunroof. Some things are standard (irrelevant of SE, Sport and S Line trim choice), including heated leather seats, paddles for the automatic gearbox, autodimming rear mirror, a powered tailgate, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, parking sensors, emergency braking and cruise control.
Audi Q5 review: Positive drive with Quattro benefits
It's easy to get a slightly skewed perspective of Audi cars. With so many S and RS models in the line-up, slipping behind the wheel of the stalwart 2-litre diesel can feel a little ordinary. But this is the where Audi will sell the vast majority of the new Q5 - and all of its cars.
The 2-litre diesel gives you 190bhp, which is enough to give the Q5 some get up and go. It might take you 7.9-seconds to hit 62mph, but as a "common" engine it doesn't feel underpowered, because it's smooth and refined - no doubt thanks to such wide use across so many vehicles with the VW group.
It's paired with the 7-speed S tronic gearbox, the same as you'll get on the slightly pacier 2-litre petrol engine that will see you to 62mph in 6.3-seconds thanks to its higher 282bhp.
There will be other engine choices (although it varies by region and not all are currently available). The 3-litre diesel we drive will be top-of-range in terms of power with 286bhp, and paired with an 8-speed tiptronic gearbox.
Although the 3-litre engine is the biggest available, it misses out on one of the Audi Q5's biggest offerings: Quattro Ultra, the company's latest and most efficient all-wheel drive setup which monitors driving conditions, switches from front to all-wheel drive as needed and, for the first time, can completely disable the rear wheels if needed.
However, Quattro Ultra is standard on the Audi Q5 in its other engine forms, the 3-litre just has the older four-wheel system that Audi has been offering for many years. Audi did say you'll be able to opt for a front-wheel-drive manual version too at some point too (in some markets).
The aim of Quattro Ultra is to reduce the energy consumption by switching off the back wheels. On the road it is mostly needed when setting off, accelerating hard, or in changing conditions when the road surface is a uneven or you're changing direction. Basically, when you think that the car could potentially slip or lose traction, Quattro will engage the all-wheel drive system in a flash and keep the power delivery at an optimum. Consistent motorway driving, once at speed, will mostly be front-wheel drive, with little need for Quattro.
Offroad there's greater demand, naturally, with increased probability of slippage on any of the wheels. But, again, if you're on a straight dirt track at consistent speed, then the back wheels will stop driving, until there's a demand such as a change of speed or you hit a patch of sand. In reality, it all works without your intervention, with the automatic switch being almost instantaneous - you probably won't even notice as a driver.
What you will notice is that you'll get better fuel consumption, as Quattro Ultra is just one of a number of changes made to make the Q5 more efficient, reporting around 55mpg according to Audi's figures. That'll be a little on the optimistic side, but nevertheless a reasonable figure for an SUV.
The new Audi Q5 offers adaptive air suspension for those who really want to get more clearance for offroad driving. We've seen this previously in models like the A6 Allroad and if you are serious about taking the car off the road, then it offers a great range of ride height variation. This is used in conjunction with Audi's driving modes, to change the behaviour of the throttle, steering and traction control systems to to best suit the conditions you're in.
The Audi Q5 is a smooth and easy drive. The body roll is well handled, but this is a taller vehicle than many so don't expect it to turn quite like a saloon. For many, however, the performance on the road, combined with the quality interior will be all that you need to convince you this is the SUV for you.
Technically, the Audi Q5 is better in every way than the model it replaces. In terms of interior finish and the technology options, it's also one of the most compelling mid-sized SUVs on the road. If you want all your comforts and connectivity then the Audi Q5 won't leave you wanting.
For the starting price of around £37,000 you're getting a lot of car with a reasonable spec without having to resort to lots of extras, but to get something a little more special the price will quickly creep over the £40k mark. There's a lot of competition as we've said, but there's a reassuring quality and confidence in the Audi Q5.
The barrier may simply be the external design. From the exterior the new Q5 isn't a hugely exciting on the eyes. There are better-looking cars coming from all angles that can turn your head, like the BMW X5, Jaguar F-Pace and Discovery Sport.
Audi may have ruled the roost with the old Q5, but the SUV game is now a lot more competitive.