It is 10am and the temperature reached almost 35 degrees Celsius. In front of me is a giant cactus the size of a four storey-building and right next to it is one of the first second generation Audi Q5. I’m in Mexico for the first drive of the new premium SUV from the brand with the four rings.
You might wonder why Audi hosts the first drive of its new German SUV in Mexico but the answer is rather simple. After building more than 1.6 million Q5s over the last 8 years Audi had to find a new location to continue and extend production of its successful SUV. It developed a completely new and hyper-modern factory in Mexico about three hours from Mexico City in Puebla. Besides that Mexico is the new birthplace of the second gen Q5 and the Baja California peninsula also offers a varied landscape and great range of roads to test the new Q5’s capabilities.
The second generation Audi Q5 comes with 5 different engine options when it arrives at dealers beginning of next year. There are four different diesel options ranging from the 150hp 2.0 liter four cylinder to the 3.0 liter V6 diesel with 272hp and 620Nm of torque. The only petrol option is a 2.0 liter TFSI engine that produces 252hp and 370Nm of torque. During our first drive in Mexico we had the opportunity to test both the petrol engine as well as the most powerful 3.0 liter diesel engine.
Audi introduced a new 9-speed gearbox with the 2.0 liter engines, the 3.0 liter diesel comes with an updated version of the good old 8-speed ZF gearbox – one of the few gearboxes capable of handling the large amounts of torque produced by turbocharged diesel engines. In total Audi shaved up to 90kg of the weight of the Q5 while increasing performance and reducing emissions.
The design of the new Audi Q5 is still quite in line with the looks of the old Q5 but features sharper edges. Although the Q5 expanded in size in every dimension (length, height and width) it still has the same proportions that make it look a lot better than its long Q7 brother. Apart from the sharp shoulder line along the side of the car I’m quite pleased with the looks of the new Q5 – it is refreshed without losing too much of the strong design of the old Q5. Something most current Q5 owners will appreciate – myself included.
Inside the concept remains largely the same but everything is updated to the year 2016. The analogue dials have been replaced by Audi’s Virtual Cockpit – a large display directly behind the steering wheel that can display anything from a large navigation map to info about incoming flights at nearby airports. The center console is also completely different from its predecessor. The MMI controls are located behind the automatic gear lever that now works as a hand rest. One of my remarks remains that Audi doesn’t have one set of uniform infotainment controls and logic across all models which makes that I can’t reach the desired button without looking down.
Overall the interior looks very slick and you can order a lot of new gadgets as optional extras that weren’t previously available on the Q5 like air conditioned seats, seat massage, Apple Carplay (which I personally find useless though) and high-speed LTE internet. Above the new and very slick looking climate controls is a tablet like screen – a trend that all automotive manufacturers seem to consider a must at the moment – which sadly is not touch screen. I don’t like a touch-only infotainment system but in addition to the MMI controller it could have been a easy way for a lot of drivers to interact with the system.
The new Q5 is completely redeveloped from the ground up, it shares the base platform with the Audi A4 but moves a lot closer to the A6. This is not only shown by the plethora of premium extras you can spec your Q5 with but also the availability of air suspension – which is not available on the A4.
As standard the 2017 Audi Q5 comes with conventional suspension that can be equipped with adaptive dampers. But I would recommend every potential customer to opt for the air suspension as it widens the bandwidth between comfort and dynamic significantly and adds a few other tricks too. Audi also put specific emphasis on the off road capabilities of the new Q5. With the adaptive air suspension the vehicle can be raised or lowered by up to 30mm. It can wade through 50cm of water and also have hill descent control.
During our test drive with the new Q5 we had the opportunity to test the new air suspension on various road surfaces from smooth and raw tarmac to a dirt road and even a beach. On the road it is very soft and comfortable – a bit too soft for my liking – so I prefer the slightly harder and stiffer dynamic setting. On the dirt road I switched to all-road which raises the car to the second highest setting – only off-road offer a higher ride height but that is limited to a top speed of 30 km/h.
In all-road it absorbs all the bumps and holes in the road nicely and you can go a lot faster than you would in a car with traditional suspension. But even when I switched the suspension to the lowest and stiffest dynamic mode on this unpaved road it didn’t get really uncomfortable and smaller bumps and holes were smoothed out nicely. In the corners the outside suspension stiffens to reduce body roll.
There are two new options that I was keen to test but they weren’t available on these first vehicles yet: the sports rear-differential and dynamic steering which in contrary to previous dynamic steering systems not only stiffens the steering feel but actually changes the steering ratio from comfort to sport.
With the first customer cars being delivered beginning of 2017 there are two more variants of the Q5 confirmed: the SQ5 with 48V architecture and electric turbos coming later in 2017 and a plug in hybrid variant, no word about the RS Q5 at this point. We particular look forward to the SQ5 with its powerful engine and beefy sound. In terms of sound the 2.0 TFSI and 3.0 V6 TDI don’t really impress – a slight sporty tone would have added some more character in my opinion.
Overall the new Audi Q5 is an excellent travel companion. Comfortable, good looking and well equipped. The strong V6 diesel suits the Q5 perfectly but the 2.0 TFSI is not bad either and packs more punch than the 2.0 liter petrol engine in the GLC. The new air suspension is a must for all Q5 buyers. I dislike the tablet-like screen not being a touch screen and the confusing MMI controls.