Picture the scene: it’s 2008 and you’re strolling cheerfully through London, Leona Lewis blasting on your Blackberry. You pick up a copy of City A.M., read the front-page about new Mayor Boris Johnson, then flick to the Motoring page. There you find Audi’s new Q5 and it looks… exactly like the car pictured here.
Fast-forward to 2017: Leona is still warbling, Boris is still waffling and the Audi Q5 is back for its second act. Over the past nine years it’s become the world’s most popular mid-size SUV, with 1.6m sold. Little surprise, then, that Audi has played it safe. It can’t afford for this car to fail.
The styling may be same-again, but the new Q5’s interior – shared with the A4 saloon – feels bang-up-to-date. It’s logically laid-out, beautifully-built and slightly more spacious. There’s a plethora of new tech, too, including the brilliant Virtual Cockpit (which swaps the dials for a 12.3-inch screen), head-up display, adaptive cruise control and a bombastic 17-speaker Bang and Olufsen stereo. Shame it’s all confined to Audi’s long and expensive options list. Some things never change.
Standard kit on entry-level SE cars includes xenon headlights, leather trim, heated seats, air-con, automatic emergency braking, cruise control and Audi Drive Select, with driving modes from Comfort to Dynamic. Stepping up to Sport spec brings the impressive MMI sat nav, while the range-topping S Line has sportier styling and LED headlights.
All Q5s come with semi-automatic gearboxes and Quattro four-wheel drive. Most buyers will plump for the 190hp 2.0 TDI diesel, but there’s also a 252hp 2.0 TFSI petrol, plus the forthcoming 354hp 3.0 V6 SQ5. Is a super-hot RS Q5 coming? Our recent interview with Audi Sport boss Stephan Winkelmann suggests it can’t be ruled out.
In the interests of solid consumer advice, though, I grab the keys to a 2.0 TDI. My route begins on Hastings pier, which Audi has reserved exclusively for the Q5 launch – much to the confusion of candy-floss-clutching daytrippers. From here, I head along the seafront and up into the hills, passing through some of Kent’s prettiest villages and best driving roads.
The spring sunshine has coaxed the Garden of England into bloom, and the Q5’s’s light steering, smooth auto ‘box and near-silent diesel engine impart a soothing serenity that’s a cut above anything its predecessor could muster. Only the rather jittery ride occasionally breaks the spell – although the sport suspension fitted here probably didn’t help.
Push harder and the Audi corners with calm confidence. Its brakes are strong and reassuring, body-roll is kept in check and there’s ample 4WD traction. Just don’t expect dynamic excitement; that’s never been the Q5’s raison d’être.
One break with the past is that “Quattro” is no longer permanent; the latest Q5 usually drives through its front wheels to save fuel. Combined with a weight loss of up to 90kg, the result is one of the most efficient cars in this hotly-contested class – on par with the Mercedes-Benz GLC 220d.
The number of rivals the Q5 faces is one major change since 2008. There are established players like the BMW X3, plus new challengers such as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and Jaguar F-Pace. Not forgetting Audi’s cheaper blood-brother, the Volkswagen Tiguan, of course.
In the face of such competition, the Q5 has built on what it does best. Its talent is in making ordinary driving as painless as possible, with superb refinement, a fabulous interior and impeccable road manners. This is a car for the M25 slog, the school-run or the family ski-trip, not the quiet country lanes of Kent. As before, it’s easy to admire, but harder to love. But admire it I do.