A shake-up is coming in the premium crossover market. Audi and Land Rover are launching fresh crossover models in 2017, giving consumers even more reason to jump into this fast-expanding sector.
Since its launch in 2008, Audi’s Q5 mid-size crossover has been a runaway best-seller, not just in the U.S. but worldwide. Coming next spring is the second-generation Q5, built in Audi’s new Mexican plant.
Meanwhile Land Rover, maker of the iconic Range Rover flagship sport utility, is buttressing its position in the mid-size crossover/SUV segment with a complete makeover of its Discovery model for 2017.
In terms of sales volume, Audi’s Q5 is among the segment leaders. Audi’s U.S. chief, Scott Keogh, says the original Q5 was expected to attract 15,000 buyers a year at most. Instead, it has reached 50,000 units annually and has easily been the brand’s most successful model.
To maintain the Q5’s hot streak, the vehicle has been completely overhauled, with a platform based on its larger, well-received Q7 sibling. Lighter, more comfortable, better handling and more fuel-efficient, the five-seat Q5 improves in virtually all aspects.
A recent test drive of a pre-production Q5 model in Baja, California demonstrated the progress made in driving dynamics and refinement.
We greatly enjoyed the strong mid-range performance of the 3.0-liter V-6 diesel model, but its availability in the U.S. market is in question because of the ramifications of the VW diesel emissions scandal. For now, U.S. buyers will be offered the familiar although improved 252-horse 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, and later, a 3.0-liter gasoline V-6 in the high-performance SQ5 version.
As with other Audi models, the Quattro all-wheel drive system is standard on the Q5, but with a twist: A new system called Quattro Ultra allows drive to the rear wheels to be disengaged when it’s not required for traction, thus saving fuel.
Inside, the Q5 is more sophisticated than its predecessor, featuring Audi’s cool virtual cockpit system (as found in the new Q7 SUV and A4 sedan), upgraded infotainment and audio systems, and new leather and open-pore wood trim choices. Rear passenger room is improved because of a longer wheelbase and a sliding seat.
We look forward to driving the U.S.-specification Q5s soon, but it’s evident the new version should enjoy a warm reception.
Land Rover has yet to let us drive the new Discovery, but the vehicle promises to raise the bar in the class of three-row, seven-seat crossovers, such as Audi’s Q7 and the Volvo XC90.
Based on the Range Rover platform, the Discovery slots in below that model and also leaves room below for the smaller Discovery Sport, introduced last year, as well as an expected new, more utilitarian model to replace the discontinued Defender series.
Although the Discovery Sport also has three rows of seats, the new fifth-generation Discovery is longer and is designed to comfortably seat seven adults.
Overall, the Discovery takes a decisive step upmarket from its predecessor, with a more luxurious interior, much more advanced infotainment system and driver and safety aids.
By adopting the aluminum structure of the Range Rover and new gas and diesel powertrains, the Discovery is a remarkable 1,000 pounds lighter than its predecessor. That translates in better driving dynamics, comfort and fuel economy.
A key selling point is the seating layout, which can be configured in 21 different ways. A clever control system allows users to fold or raise individual seats from the dashboard display or remotely by a smartphone app.
Land Rover claims the 50/50 weight distribution of the Discovery gives it excellent handling characteristics, while living up to the brand’s reputation for go-anywhere capability.
So if luxury crossovers are on your radar, make sure to check out both the Audi Q5 and the Land Rover Discovery.
John McCormick is a columnist for Autos Consumer and can be reached at email@example.com