CUV's Autobahn Roots Spread South of the Border
We recently drove the second-generation 2018 Audi Q5 more than 6,000 miles (9656.1 km) away from the nearest German autobahn. The roads were lined with towering cactus plants, and the Pacific Ocean sparkled nearby, teeming with creatures that will later become yummy beer-battered, Baja-style fish tacos. This was the scene for most of our drive on the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, and needless to say we stuck out like a fish out of water. So why did Audi choose to show off its newest crossover so far away from its home base in Ingolstadt, Germany?
Well, for starters this section of Baja is home to some excellent driving roads—mostly empty and well-maintained highways along with twisty ribbons of asphalt that could double as the best routes we frequent through Malibu Canyon near our L.A. headquarters.
But more important, Mexico is one of the new homes for Q5 production. As we’ve reported, Audi spent more than $1 billion USD on a fancy facility in San José Chiapa (a few hours south of Mexico City) employing more than 3,000 workers, a third of whom received specialized training at company headquarters in Germany. Ensuring Mexican-built Q5s are as right and tight as ones rolling out of Ingolstadt was paramount to Audi, and based on our initial impressions, it appears the automaker has succeeded. The doors close with a reassuring thud, and panel gaps inside and out all line up pretty well. We drove five vehicles, and none exhibited any squeaks or rattles throughout the extensive 200-mile route, even during the off-road portion.
We spent most of our seat time in vehicles powered by the 2.0-liter turbo-four headed to North America. Rated at 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, the base engine now makes 32 horses and 15 lb-ft more than its predecessor. Our test cars were fitted with Audi’s new Quattro Ultra all-wheel-drive system (front-drive is available) and a seven-speed dual clutch automatic, which was quick to shift regardless if it was in Comfort or Dynamic mode. In all, the new turbo-four-powered Q5 feels peppier than before and exhibited little lag off the line. The engine pulls strong at the top of its powerband, too, dishing out decent acceleration at highway speeds even with the seats stuffed with two American journalists and two German engineers.
In addition to gaining power, the new Q5 has lost a significant amount of weight. Thanks to its updated and lighter MLB-Evo chassis (which made its debut on the Q5’s bigger brother, the Q7), the Q5 is reportedly up to 200 pounds (90.7 kg) lighter than the first-gen model. Audi attributes some of the weight loss to the aforementioned Quattro Ultra, which is no longer a permanent all-wheel-drive system. Instead, it’s a front-drive-biased system that engages and disengages the driveshaft via a multiplate clutch (located behind the tranny) and a decoupler in the rear differential, all in the name of better fuel economy (EPA numbers still pending). That said, the switch from Quattro front-wheel drive to Quattro all-wheel drive is imperceptible.
Most buyers should be pleased by the Q5’s nicely weighted and responsive electrically assisted steering system, although enthusiasts will yearn for more feedback. Steering feel is adjustable via the Audi Drive Select system, and we recommend Comfort mode for highway driving because on-center stability is a tad too twitchy in Dynamic mode.
Audi was only able to supply us with vehicles riding on the adjustable air-suspension system, which won’t be available for the North American spec Q5 2.0 TFSI. That said, the Q5 was fairly stable and nimble through the canyons, staying relatively flat through the corners. Damping was also good, with the suspension soaking up rough patches of cobblestone and dirt roads through Baja’s smaller towns even with the large 20-inch wheels that came with our testers’ S line package. We’ll drive North American-spec models with standard steel springs before the end of the year, so stay tuned for ride impressions on that suspension setup.
We also had the opportunity to drive a Q5 equipped with the revised 3.0-liter TDI V-6, an engine not headed to the North America due to the company’s ongoing diesel emissions issue. Audi says it’s fighting to bring that engine to the States, and if it succeeds, Americans can opt for a diesel-powered Q5 with 282 hp and a whopping 457 lb-ft of torque. We won’t talk this engine up too much, but the seemingly endless amount of pulling power it has at highway speeds is impressive. In better news, we do get the SQ5, which Audi says will launch shortly after the base Q5. The SQ5 will feature a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 and will be offered with an air suspension, though it should sport a different tune from the one offered in the normal Q5.
Also keep on the lookout for final dimensions. Exterior measurements have stretched a tad, and the wheelbase has, too, from 110.5 to 111.6 inches. Audi says this should translate to a bit more interior passenger and cargo space, but it’s still awaiting official numbers from the EPA. That said, front and rear legroom is decent, and the second row slides back and forth to maximize passenger comfort or rear cargo capacity. Another cargo trick is the rear seat backs, which feature a unique 40/20/40 split setup.
Overall, the interior is a big improvement, rivaling the Mercedes-Benz GLC. We’re tempted to give the Q5 the edge over the Benz, especially when equipped with the optional Audi virtual cockpit, a configurable digital instrument panel that trickled down from the TT and R8. And as we’ve discovered with models such as the Q7 and A4, we’re fans of the improved MMI infotainment system, which is now more intuitive to navigate. A long list of available advanced driver-assistance and safety tech makes its way to the 2018 Q5, including Turn Assist, which helps prevent T-bone collisions while making left-hard turns into oncoming traffic.
Exterior styling for the new Q5 is sharp and handsome and hasn’t veered drastically from the old Q5. That’s probably a smart thing. The old Q5 was a popular seller, even today at the tail end of its long eight-year production run. Its popularity is just another reason why the Mexico plant exists. Audi says Ingolstadt was churning out 140,000 units annually, which was barely enough to satiate demand. The Mexican plant will initially build 150,000 units and could possibly go up to 170,000 units, all of which are slated for North America, Europe, and other markets. Although the Q5 sells well in North America, it does even better in China—that’s why that country gets its own dedicated Q5 production line, expected to go online soon with capacity for 150,000–160,000 units a year. In all, the Mexican and Chinese plants are expected to make 30–40 percent more units than the soon-to-be-shuttered Q5 line in Ingolstadt. And based on our first experience with the new Q5, we wouldn’t be surprised if both plants will be running at full capacity for a long time.