(Pocket-lint) - Audi, having got a fully-fledged electric car on the road, has changed direction slightly on its plug-in models. With the electric cars now getting the e-tron moniker, the plug-in hybrids revert to carrying an "e" at the end of their name.
Take the Audi Q5 55 TFSI e as an example. The addition of the "e" at the end of the name differentiates it from a regular Q5, meaning it's a plug-in hybrid model instead. As per Audi's fairly recent naming strategy, the "55" indicates that this model is on a par, performance-wise, with other 55 models - that could be the e-tron (available as a 55) or a diesel - so the experience when you slip behind the wheel should be similar.
That's Audi's approach: its cars are Audi first, with the most important thing being that it meets expectations for what you expect an Audi to be. So how does the Q5 PHEV live up to the billing?
A Q5, just hybrid
It only takes one glance to know that you're looking at the Audi Q5. Sitting in that mid-sized SUV segment, it's more approachable than the vast Q7, and a lot more convenient than the Q3 in terms of practical space.
When the Q5 first launched we weren't totally sold on the design. In some ways it's almost like a scaling model for Audi SUV design and with sister models from brands like VW (the Tiguan) and Seat (the Tarraco), there isn't a huge amount that makes the Q5 stand-out from the exterior.
We've seen a slight shift in the lines with the Q2, the addition of the Q3 Sportback, and the incoming Audi e-tron Sportback - which suggests to us that we're not alone in thinking the Q5 is a little safe in design.
It was with some joy that we took on the "Turbo Blue" model - something a little more distinctive on the road - with that colour really highlighting the creases in this car's bodywork, which are otherwise too easy to miss.
There's little that identifies the Q5 e as a hybrid, save for the additional cover to access the charging socket on the rear left quarter. Otherwise, for all intents and purposes, this is the same Q5 as you'll get if you opted for petrol or diesel.
A quality interior, but a generation behind
It's no surprise that the interior is high quality. That is, after all, what you expect from Audi - and where this brand looks to differentiate from those others we mentioned within the VW family. It's a little more refined, a little quieter and sophisticated.
The S line trim - the most popular for UK buyers - gives a sporty lift to the interior. It's also the lowest starting point for the Q5 hybrid - there's no Sport here - so that means it's a little more expensive by default.
But what you'll also find is that this interior also sticks to an older layout: there's no dual-screen MMI here. Recent models have seen two dash-integrated displays and a reduction in the number of buttons, something that the Q5 misses out on. While this technologically advanced Audi model is future leaning, the interior tech isn't the latest that Audi offers. We suspect that might come via a face-lift to the Q5 at some point in the near future.
That interior position cuts both ways: while Audi has been pushing its newer dual-screen arrangement on a number of cars, you don't actually miss out on anything here. It's still the very competent MMI interface paired with Audi's Virtual Cockpit, with support for Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, and all the same functions offered.
What you don't get is the same level of display customisation that newer models offer, even if the core skills are essentially the same. At the same time, we've always felt that text input was easier on this system than the touch-focused newer models. Here, for example, there's a scribble pad you can scrawl letters on, resting your palm on the drive selector, so you can do this without looking at the screen - scrawling on the touch display on Audi's newer cars when on bumpy roads can be more difficult.
Leather-clad sports seats are standard, too, and the thing that strikes you about the interior is the comfort and tranquillity. You might be sitting behind a 2-litre petrol engine, but you'd barely know it, as quiet and refined as it is. There's plenty of noise deadening and enough room in the back for passengers too.
You do lose out on boot space though. With the battery stuffed into the boot floor, you'll find less space as a result, as well as a sizeable bag for the cables. The real hit is in the fuel tank however, from 70 litres down to 54, which ultimately brings to bear the real trade-off with picking a plug-in hybrid: practical range.
Hybrid performance and range
The Audi Q5 TSFI23e comes in two guises: the 50 and the 55. Both have a 2-litre petrol engine, but have a 299PS and 367PS respectively, so there's a slight power boost for the 55. Both models have a 14.1kWh battery, which is good for about 26 miles of electric driving.
This battery can be charged via the external charging socket, which is a conventional Type 2, so widely supported by public chargers. It doesn't support faster charging speeds - it's limited to 7.4kW, designed for charging at home with a wallbox. That's the thing about plug-in hybrids: the battery power really does very little for you on longer journeys and charging it while you have a coffee like you might a fully-fledged EV will not get you enough charge to be worth your time.
Instead the battery power is really only beneficial for those doing a lot of stop-start urban driving, where the regeneration helps ensure you're not wasting energy through braking, while giving you that range without needing the petrol engine at all. You can realistically run to the supermarket or do the school pick-up with zero emissions from the tailpipe, but the size and weight of the Q5 doesn't really work in its favour if you're environmentally minded - there are plug-in hybrids that will give you a little more range, if not the premium feel.
You can select the EV mode (if you have enough charge) and run the car until the battery is depleted, at which point you'll switch to petrol only, or you can have the car manage the use of battery and engine (which is the default position). Finally, you can opt to preserve the battery, which is designed to let you drive a longer distance, then switch to battery perhaps to quietly and cleanly approach your destination, all stealthy like.
The 26 miles of range rings true, but how it lasts will depend on how you drive. Use it conservatively with plenty of braking and you'll do well. Put your foot down on the motorway in EV mode and it will essentially evaporate. The range you're presented with changes based on your recent driving style.
Audi uses a whole collection of data to pour into the regeneration system and it will give you feedback via the accelerator with a couple of taps under your foot, suggesting you lift off rather than run closer to that junction and slam on the brakes. If you're an efficient driver, you might never feel these cues, but you can rest assured that the Q5 is working hard in the background to make the regen as effective as possible.
For those who drive longer distances, the smaller capacity fuel tank will be felt, as this car's overall range is somewhere around 350 miles. That's not uncommon for hybrids and road warriors will undoubtedly see that diesel is better for lower costs and longer range; while the range of the Q5 e isn't the longest, it's likely to be the tax breaks that come with this car that makes it more attractive.
With all that out of the way, the Audi Q5 55e is actually great fun to drive. We've mentioned the sophistication and tranquillity that it offers and it really is a quality drive. This isn't the sportiest SUV, but it's sporty enough to be engaging, with Audi's smart Quattro system giving you the assurance of all-wheel drive as and when it's needed.
Drive conservatively and you'll get around 40mpg on longer drives, but should you find yourself needing to use the engine for shorter drives that will take a hit. The biggest benefit, of course, comes from having that full charge in the battery on those short trips. With that, you'll find you knock-out the least efficient type of driving for an SUV - short stop-start trips with a cold engine.
Hybrid drivers fall into two categories: those looking for the tax break and those who want to take advantage of emission free driving over short range. If you're fortunate enough to have the cash to have a Q5 as the school-run car, then you'll be pumping less out of the tailpipe than if you bought a diesel.
As this is an Audi, there's no compromise in performance, comfort, or the extras you might want to choose, which, like the Range Rover Sport plug-in hybrid, will appeal to those who want an Audi first, hybrid benefits second.
And that tells you everything you need to know about the Audi Q5 e: if you're shopping with your head then you'll head off and buy the Outlander PHEV, but if you actually want an Audi then, well, look no further...
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The Outlander PHEV was one of the first plug-in hybrid SUVs to hit the roads - and it's been popular. Cheaper than the Audi, you don't quite get the same quality, but you'll be left with plenty in your pocket - and pretty much the same electric driving range.
Range Rover Sport P400e
The Range Rover Sport P400e gets its name from its power output, so this is a sprightly, premium, SUV. It also costs a lot, but there's no lack of refinement or quality. It fun to drive, luxury inside, with plenty of space, but it does come with a high price.