Audi Q5 overview
Audi's Q5 has become a mainstay of the Ingolstadt brand's success over the past two decades, and the car has become something of a ubiquity on the roads of more upscale parts of town, and very definitely a common sight on the posher school runs of Ireland.
For 2021, Audi gave the Q5 a bit of a refresh and update, although it's very definitely of the microscope-and-anorak variety if you want to be able to tell the previous model from this new one. In brief, the changes are a slightly larger grille and a new front bumper, new lights front and rear (optionally available as Matrix LED units at the front, and new OLED lights at the rear, which have a more versatile lighting signature), a lightly updated cabin with a new touchscreen (the old rotary MMI controller between the seats has now gone) and updated infotainment software that includes more online connectivity options, improved voice control and car-to-x tech, which allows the Q5 to wirelessly communicate with such things as traffic lights and other vehicles, to be better warned of any upcoming hazards.
On the mechanical front, the 2.0-litre TDI diesel four-cylinder engine (as tested here) has been updated with a 12-volt mild-hybrid system to help save fuel around town, and a new twin-dosing AdBlue injection system that tries to keep emissions of harmful NOx gases under control. Aside from a few small suspension tweaks and updates to the electronic safety package, that's about it, although we'd say the highlight of the update is this new optional 'District Green' paint job that looks really sharp on the Q5's familiar shape.
Here's a question though: in a rapidly changing motoring environment, has Audi done enough to keep the Q5 both competitive and desirable?
The Audi Q5 model range
The Q5 range starts with the 2.0-litre 35 TDI diesel engine, developing 163hp, driving the front wheels, and that's the model we're assessing here. There's a basic SE version for €58,115, or as we're driving here the sporty-looking S line model for €61,300.
If you want more poke, you can upgrade to a 40 TDI 204hp version of the same engine, which comes with quattro four-wheel drive. Prices for that version are €61,810 for the SE, or €65,185 for the S line.
The Q5 now has a Sportback model too, with a restyled rear end that tries to give it the appeal of a 'four-door coupe'. With the basic 163hp engine, you can have one of those for €61,225 in SE spec, or €64,270 for an S line. The 204hp quattro Q5 Sportback costs €65,105 as an SE, or €68,340 as an S line. Emissions for the 163hp TDI engine run from 147- to 161g/km, while it's 165-180g/km for the 204hp models.
Want to be a little more environmentally friendly? Well, you can go for the TFSI e plug-in hybrid Q5, which comes in two versions - a 50 TFSI e with 299hp, 35-42g/km of CO2 and an electric range of up to 62km, or a 55 TFSI e with 367hp, 38-42g/km of CO2 and a 59km electric range. Prices start from €56,170 for the 50 TFSI e SE, or €61,070 for the 50 TFSI e S line. Want a Sportback? Then it'll be €62,485 for the 50 TFSI e SE, or €64,655 for the 50 TFSI e S line.
The more powerful 55 TFSI e comes only in a higher spec, called Competition, and costs from €69,395, or €71,860 if you want the Sportback.
At the top of the Q5 tree lies the SQ5, with its mighty 342hp V6 twin-turbo (one of them a lag-free electric turbocharger) diesel. It has CO2 emissions of 213-222g/km, and costs €95,355, or €98,600 if you want the Sportback.
Standard equipment for SE models includes 18-inch alloys; LED front and rear lights; aluminium roof rails; electric, heated and auto-dimming door mirrors; heated front seats; part-leather trim; multi-function steering wheel; power tailgate; Audi Drive Select, which allows you to choose from Efficiency, Auto, Dynamic or Comfort driving modes; three-zone climate control, cruise control, parking sensors and a reversing camera; Audi connect (which includes automated emergency calls); Bluetooth; and analogue instruments.
S line models get their own 18-inch alloy wheel design; headlight washers; tinted glass; sports seats in half-leather trim; illuminated door sill plates; and brushed aluminium trim.
TFSI e Competition models add 19-inch alloys; a flat-bottom steering wheel; and keyless entry. Audi currently has a PCP finance offer in place that would put a new Q5 on your driveway for €538 per month, but as ever we'd suggest visiting the Audi Ireland website to check the latest offers and prices.
The Audi Q5 35 TDI S line interior
The Q5's updated interior is really similar to that of the outgoing model, save for a few detail changes. The biggest of which is that the old rotary MMI infotainment controller has been binned, in favour of a system that relies entirely on a touchscreen in the centre of the dashboard.
That's partially successful - the screen is big, and the main menu buttons are large and easy to stab a finger at. However, the menu system itself can sometimes be unclear as to where the precise function you're looking for might live, and as with so many Volkswagen Group touchscreens of late, it proves to be quite slow and often unreliable.
Thankfully, unlike their colleagues across the hall at Volkswagen, Audi's engineers still see sense in having proper physical buttons and rotary controllers for the heating, ventilation and climate control so at least you can warm yourself up while you're waiting for the screen to figure out whether it's going to work or not.
Audi was one of the first brands to introduce a full-width, all-digital instrument panel, but our test car came with the more basic analogue dials with a small digital readout between them for the trip computer and audio functions. To be honest, we didn't miss the digital screen - the analogue dials are handsome and clear, and much easier on the eye when driving at night.
Down on the centre console, there's a stubby, flat-topped selector for the S tronic dual-clutch automatic gearbox, which is joined by switches for the electronic parking brake, a physical volume controller for the radio (another excellent addition that too many car makers have binned in favour of touchscreen control of late) and three small storage areas, one of them lidded. Behind the gear selector, and under an adjustable armrest, there's a larger storage area that also houses the Q5's cupholders - which is not a great arrangement as, if you've got a tall bottle in one of them, it gets in the way of your elbow when you're selecting drive.
Overall quality is excellent, as we've come to expect from Audi, and our car's multi-adjustable sports seats (which include an extra slide-out cushion for your thighs) are wonderfully comfortable. The only black mark we'd put against the cabin is that, well, it's a bit black and dark, and a bit plain in the face of increased and improved competition from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Jaguar and Lexus.
In the back, there's plenty of room for legs and heads, although the centre rear seat - as is so often the case - is realistically too narrow and too humped for anyone to get comfortable for a long journey. Rear-seat passengers get their own climate controls and a 12-volt socket, but no USB sockets. Front seat passengers get three. There are two ISOFIX mounting points in the rear, though, and a third in the front passenger seat.
The boot, at 520 litres, is pretty decent, as is the seats-down volume of 1,520 litres. Those rear seats fold flat at the tug of a lever in the boot, and there's a useful netted storage area to one side for stashing delicate items.
If you need to carry anything on a roof rack, there's a generous 75kg maximum load weight.
All-in-all, it's yet another solidly impressive interior job by Audi, and you can easily imagine being thoroughly satisfied strapping yourself into it for years to come. That said, and as mentioned, there are rivals with increasingly nicer cabins - Jaguar's just-updated F-Pace for one.
One complaint - in spite of Audi's well-founded reputation for high quality, our Q5 came with an ill-fitting driver's door that constantly creaked and squeaked over anything but the smoothest road surface. First world problems and all that, but in a premium car such as this, such small issues are not really acceptable.
The Audi Q5 35 TDI driving experience
There are few surprises in the way the updated Q5 drives, but it does have one trump card in its hand. We'll come to that in a moment.
You can spec your Q5 with four different suspension options - there's a basic 'Comfort' suspension that comes as standard, which you can option-up with adaptive dampers. Or you can spec your Q5 with sports suspension, or - for the ultimate experience - you can have air suspension. That last one is a €2,130 option though, so we'd imagine it will be a pretty rare choice in the cost-conscious Irish market.
That's fine, as even with the upgraded 19-inch wheels of our test car, the basic, standard suspension does an exemplary job. The ride quality is firmly damped, but never devolves into harshness, even on cratered city streets, and the body stays quite level in corners, with minimal lean for what is quite a tall vehicle.
There is optional 'Dynamic Steering' that can alter the power assistance at higher speeds, but again it doesn't seem necessary - the standard steering setup is well-weighted, accurate and quite engaging. In spite of its basic mechanical specification, this Q5 was surprisingly enjoyable to drive, with a really solid, planted feel on the road that you can see appealing to a huge potential audience.
That trump card we spoke of? The 2.0-litre TDI engine. Yes, I know - it's hardly in keeping with modernity to be praising a diesel, but this is a really cracking powerplant. It's refined, for a start, and in spite of its on-paper figures of 163hp and 370Nm not exactly looking too thrilling, it's actually very well judged in performance terms - it never feels slow, and there's enough pep to keep you interested on a more challenging road.
Refinement is good, too. You get a bit of diesel clatter on a cold start, but that soon fades away, while wind and tyre noise are reasonably well controlled at higher speeds, even if neither are quite class leading.
Best of all though, is the fuel economy. In a world where we're increasingly spending our times keeping a close eye on the range-to-recharge figure of EVs, and often find ourselves making constant Jim Lovell-esque (look it up...) calculations of energy-versus-distance, to climb aboard the Audi and see a distance-to-refuel figure of 1,120km was an actual treat.
It wasn't lying, either - our overall consumption figure of 5.9 litres per 100km in mixed conditions is impressive enough, but on one journey - which mixed city driving with motorway and dual carriageway - we recorded 4.8 litres per 100km, almost 60mpg. Proof, if proof were needed, that an efficient diesel engine is still very hard to beat when it comes to long-haul driving, at least until we get a decent network of high-speed EV rechargers.
Alternatives to the Audi Q5
The biggest rival for the Q5 is arguably Audi's own A6 Avant estate. It can be had with all the same engines and all the same options, yet it's a little cheaper model-for-model and, thanks to being lower-slung, is more efficient and more enjoyable to drive. Better looking to our eyes, too, and with all of the same interior practicality. Honestly, why don't we buy more estates in this country?
If it's SUV rivals you're looking for, then Jaguar's F-Pace is well worth a look. It has just been updated with a brand-new interior that just about matches the Audi for quality, but which out-does it for style, and has a much better infotainment setup too. Plus, it's a little sweeter to drive.
The Mercedes GLC and BMW's X3 both also make very impressive foils to the Q5, and offer similar model and engine line-ups. The Merc adds extra interest by being available as a petrol or diesel plug-in hybrid, while both it and the X3 are available as high-performance models that Audi has no answer to.
Or you could go for the incoming new Lexus NX hybrid or plug-in hybrid, or indeed Audi's own Q4 e-tron all-electric SUV, which matches the Q5 for interior space (if not quality) and which can be bought in long-range 535km form for the same price as a diesel Q5.
Our verdict on the Audi Q5 35 TDI
Quality snafu aside, this updated Q5 puts in a really impressive performance. OK, so the cabin looks a bit old-school, and the touchscreen is irritating, but we'll forgive it for that cultured, consistent driving experience, and the enormous economy potential of the unfashionable diesel engine. A terrific all-rounder, albeit one that doesn't quite hit the heights of its class.
What do the rest of the team think?
While the Q5 is getting on, it's undoubtedly still a great way to cover long distances in comfort and space - especially when powered by the efficient TDI engine. It's not particularly interesting to drive, but it looks good, is of high quality and has buckets of room for passengers and luggage. It's a quietly satisfying car, in summary.
Shane O' Donoghue - Editor