You have to hand it to Audi India. Despite the parent company’s tightening of belts worldwide, they do know how treat us entitled auto beat folk well. This is in hindsight, however. You see, I received the airport cab details before anything else – the city we’d be flying to, the airline et al. We just had to show up at Mumbai’s domestic airport and leave the Vorsprung to the Technik.
As we were ushered to a separate counter by airport staff, we discovered that Audi had booked us on a chartered flight on a new carrier using Bombardier CRJ jets – the kind you’d expect billionaires to use to avoid the plebeian rush. Of course, no amount of Technik can account for airspace congestion, so we ended up leaving a couple of hours late. The plane was even painted in the colours of the German flag. Way to line up those ducks, Audi.
Our short flight to Ajmer’s Kishangarh airport (another surprise: brand-new airport, used exclusively by us) was uneventful, smooth and quick – terms that I now feel apply quite well to the new Q5 as well. “I’ve got to get myself one of these,” I thought of the plane. After all, some of my friends have. They, however, write code, not pithy prose.
The 2018 Q5 is the second generation of the vehicle, and is built on the MLB platform. For those of you that aren’t auto-enthu cutlets, that means that it shares elements with the Bentley Bentayga and Lamborghini Urus. Remember this factoid – it will serve your street cred like a pre-Daytona Rolex. It is larger than the outgoing model, and is styled very closely with the larger Q7. While other corporate cousins such as the Skoda Kodiaq and the VW Tiguan continue to favour the severe, straight-edged creases front to back, the new Q5 has adopted a slightly more lilting profile across its sides, with a subtle bump in the shoulder line above the wheel arches, like we saw with the A5 series of vehicles.
Up front, you see the trademark Audi LED “matrix”-style headlamps, and a very reserved, familiar looking rear. The roofline has a mild slope toward the back, and the new Q5 looks subtly sportier than its outgoing ancestor. Wheels are a conservative 18-inch size and 60 profile, which plays well with the rest of the understated vibe. About the only bit I’d call a ‘flourish’ are the sharp creases on the front bonnet, which you could slice fruit with.
Our drive – even with the ‘scenic’ detour on the by-now familiar Audi navigation system – was a brief, 90-minute affair, like the private conversation you’d have with a prospective partner while your parents wait in the living room, before you commit to a lifetime of happiness (or resentment). Rajasthan’s highways are a rare treat, and the Q5 was eminently comfortable in these environs. The new-generation 2-litre inline four-cylinder diesel motor is storied and overall very agreeable. It’s smoother and quieter than before, more powerful at 190 hp/400 Nm and makes you feel like you’re loping along, when you’re actually going irresponsibly fast. At launch, this will be the only engine option available, though we were told that a petrol variant will come later, for those that enjoy the rev-happy TFSI motors.
Even if you’re not using the flappy paddles to keep revs high — and why would you, with 400 Nm on tap – the Q5 feels sprightly, and very well planted. Driving modes include the usual Dynamic, Auto, Comfort, Off-road and Individual, if you’re a tweaker. I think it’s a testament to how far electronics and integration have come in this class of vehicle, when differences in modes are subtle, and never a compromise. The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is sublimely smooth and smart, and pairs very well with the motor.
Audi has included dynamically-adjusting dampers in the new Q5, and they make all the difference. The SUV tracks true and secure, thanks to the quattro all-wheel drive system, stays flat and feels almost sporty in the way it conducts itself. Going off-road is comfortable as well, though Audi has erred on the side of “sedan” and not “mountain goat”. The brakes and steering feel good, but I had no opportunity to test them at their limits.
The interior is no-nonsense and feels premium – about par for this sort of vehicle. The materials are slightly better than some I could mention, and the wide MMI screen and “virtual cockpit” are the party tricks. The Q5 has no traditional speedo/tacho dials, and instead uses a huge full-colour LCD screen to display a variety of information, including navigation instructions. I found this very convenient, as looking away to the centre of the dash for my next turn was a bit distracting. Controls for the cockpit are on the steering while, though the MMI must be navigated via the traditional Audi dial on the centre console. There’s also a clickable touchpad like you’d have on a laptop, which will take some getting used to. In general, I found the splitting of controls a bit odd.
The cabin is a nice place to be and feels airy, no doubt helped along by the panoramic sunroof. I expect sunroofs to actually open, and thankfully this is the case with the Q5. Seating comfort was excellent for my small frame, and rear comfort is also good, thanks to the sliding/reclining/40:20:40 splitting rear seats. The driver seat has a memory function, but sadly, the front passenger seat doesn’t. A separate climate control zone for rear passengers is also a plus. Boot space is generous and starts at 550l, going up depending on how you fold the second row of seats. The tailgate is powered, so you don’t have to tug down on it like an animal. Just press the button, walk away putting on your sunglasses and follow your staff to your chartered plane, like I did.
About the only niggle I could find with the Q5 is that one must reach across to the opposite side of the centre console to change driving modes, something I imagine could be made more convenient. The new Q5 will be assembled locally, which should keep prices competitive – and competition it will have, with the very competent Land Rover Discovery, Volvo XC60 and interesting Lexus NX300h on hand to keep it honest. Mid-size SUVs have been most pleasing partners in 2017-2018, and I look forward to more Vorsprung.