Audi’s compact class Q5 crossover has hit the sweet spot in this very competitive luxury segment, outselling all but two of its rivals, while propelling Audi up the American premium-class sales charts. The second-generation Q5, a crossover based on the sportier Porsche Macan, is Audi’s best-selling model in the American market — by far.
Keys to the Audi’s success has been distinct styling, a premium cabin unmatched by rivals, plus drivetrains that genuinely surpass power ratings and fuel efficiency scores. Add in a balanced, composed ride that is also driver selectable, and you have a premium five-passenger tall wagon that makes buyers give up their svelte sedans day after day in showrooms across the country.
New for 2018 are audio upgrades that include Apple/Android compatibility, standard forward collision warning and emergency braking, plus a revised Quattro-Ultra four-wheel-drive system that uses a dual-pack to favor a front-wheel-drive design until slippage and/or added traction is detected in the wheel sensors. This change, plus a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic replacing the former eight-speed automatic transmission, boost highway EPA mileage estimates by 3 mpg — 23/27/25 mpg overall. We blew those numbers away by averaging 28 mpg for all driving during the Audi’s visit.
For buyers unfamiliar with dual-clutch automatics, they can sometimes feel “sluggish” on take-off — especially if the automatic stop-start fuel-saving button is engaged. But this design provides ultra-smooth upshifts and downshifts under heavy throttle, while delivering seamless acceleration and being able to withstand heaps of abuse. Mated to a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making a responsive 252 hp, the Q5 is impressively quick. The Audi makes power silently and with very little pressure on the right pedal, leading to efficient cruising and the elevated fuel economy realized.
The hushed cabin reflects the emphasis in this class, as well as many other classes, of the need to satisfy a greater percentage of female buyers. With the navigator and her sister dispatched for a 30-minute drive (each drives a similarly sized crossover) the report card came back with high marks for the Audi’s fit, finish and textures. One liked the console layout with the touch-pad and dial-up controller, one liked the 7-inch screen rising from the dash and one did not, both had mixed feelings about the electric-shifter lever, while each liked the heated and cooled leather seating and the leather-clad heated steering wheel. We were split 2-1 on the heads-up display on the windshield, but unanimous about deactivating the automatic stop-start function. All three of us wondered how we got to the point of the stereo volume knob finding space on the edge of the console, but hey, everyone liked that there was an actual knob in addition to the steering wheel dial instead of some dastardly touch-screen adjustment.
Outfitted in the Prestige option package ($1,990 base, $56,950 as shown), the Q5 has sliding second row seats that offer real adult space. The seatbacks fold almost flat, while the rear deck has a low load height aided by a quick power liftgate that is available with optional foot activation. Privacy screens and a panoramic roof help with shading and added ambience, plus access is enhanced by wrap-around door panels that cover the door sills and prevent dirty pant legs upon exit.
Hits and misses — the steering wheel feels good in your hands, but lacks the direct German-like connection to the road that some drivers seek; the 2.0T engine is a gem, making more power and delivering better fuel economy; low-speed turning radius is very small; and the LED lighting is excellent for rural two-lane travel.
At 184 inches long, the Q5 is at the small end of the luxury compact segment, but spot-on for any drivers looking to move up from high-end versions of the volume-selling compact crossovers. And, the Q5 slides neatly into the middle of Audi’s three crossover offerings; the Q3 is 11 inches shorter and 500 pounds lighter, while the Q7 is 16 inches longer and 800 pounds heavier. A turbocharged V-6 (354 hp) SQ5 also remains in the lineup.
Shod with 20-inch dynamic-spoke wheels and Continental tires, the Audi lacked only the Virtual Cockpit function that gives buyers actual Google Earth depictions of mapping plus a fully configurable 12-inch dash. The newest Q5 is assembled in Mexico.
Every rival in this class wears an alphanumeric title rather than a conventional car name, so buyers can be forgiven for mixing up their alphabet soup: XT5, X3, MKX, GLC300, QX50 and XC60. For quality fans seeking competent driving, a premium cabin and the efficient performance of a swift 2.0-liter crossover, the Audi Q5 stands above the pack.