Payne: Audi’s Q-uintessential Q5 raises the bar
Alphanumeric luxury SUV nameplates have me baffled. There’s the BMW X3 and X4 and X5 and X6, with the even numbers connoting a coupe-like roof (or is it the other way around?). Lincoln’s SUVs start at MKC and are followed by the MKX and MKT (but doesn’t X come after T in the alphabet?). And Mercedes’ new lineup features the GLA, GLC, GLE, and GLS (which is at least an improvement over the previous alphabet soup of GLK, ML and GL). When Alfa Romeo bucked the trend to name its new SUV the Stelvio, I hugged it.
But Audi’s alphanumeric Q system hasn’t bothered me.
Maybe because, beginning with the flagship, three-row Q7 in 2007, the badges haven’t changed. Or because Q is sufficiently different from A — the letter that connotes Audi sedans. Or because the nomenclature is logical — Q3, Q5, Q7 — in ascending order from compact to full-size.
But Q also makes sense because it represents these very good SUVs. Take the second-generation, 2018 Q5 I’ve been testing across Metro Detroit the last few months.
Q is for “quick.” Common to Audis (and their VW Golf GTI and Golf R cousins), the turbo 4-banger at the heart of the Q5 is a pepper pot. Mated to a snappy dual-clutch, 7-speed tranny, the 252-horse/272 pound-feet of torque turbo-4 calls on deep reserves on grunt for quick acceleration. That power — a gain of 32 ponies and 15 torques over the last generation — vaults the Q5 from 0-60 miles per hour in a class-best 5.9 seconds.
Want more quick? Then opt for the SQ5 (OK, the alphanumerics are making my head hurt again, but at least S is literally for “Sport”) performance grade, which gains two cylinders and a whopping 40 percent more torque (to 389 pound-feet). I’d call it a rocket ship — but I think that’s what the “RS” in RS Q5 denotes. That meteor — with a redonkulus 442 pound-feet of torque — is rumored to flash across our skies next year.
Connecting 389 torques to the ground in a high-riding, 4,200-pound SUV might seem a recipe for disaster. But Q also stands for “Quattro”: Audi’s signature all-wheel-drive system that is standard on all Q5s.
With all four paws churning, I stomped the gas pedal with my size 15s and the SQ5 took off like Secretariat slapped with a two-by-four. The grip was sensational, keeping the beast poised through the twisting, undulating roads of Washtenaw County near Hell.
Quattro comes in two flavors for the Q5 and SQ5. The former brakes the inside wheel for better cornering, while the performance-oriented SQ5 opts for full outside-wheel-accelerating torque-vectoring — its electronically sophisticated traction control optimized to aggressively rotate the ute around, say, 180-degree cloverleafs.
Sound crazy? Consider that I’ve already tested the three-row Dodge Durango SRT and Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk on racetracks this year.
Shaving some 200 pounds from the first-gen Q5, the Audi’s diet has made it more manageable in turns. The same electronics that allow the modern coach-wagon to handle like a sedan, however, can also slap your hand. Audi’s safety systems are among the industry’s most advanced and the nannies intervened hard to break my momentum when I really leaned on the door handles in the Q5. Similarly equipped BMW X3s and Alfa Stelvios are less quick to judge. Don’t say that your crazed, race car-driving, ute-flogging reviewer never tested the limits for you.
More importantly, the Quattro system will be crucial when Hell freezes over in Michigan’s legendary winter.
Which leads me to another reason to remember Q: IQ. Audi’s intelligence quotient is off the charts these days. Thank its electronics quotient.
The Q5 gains 3 mpg in fuel efficiency on the previous generation thanks to its ability to sense when AWD is needed. Running around town, the system gives the rear wheels a rest for better fuel economy — but when it senses the need for something more, all-wheel drive activates in milliseconds.
It’s inside where Q5 really leads the pack. The Audi’s exterior is an evolution over Q5 1.0, but hardly threatening to the dramatic, curvy BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC. Open the door however, and the Audi’s Virtual Cockpit is in a different league. I first experienced VC in the Audi Q7 and sensational Audi TT, and now it is tucked into each model in the lineup including the Q5.
Standard on the $45,000 Premium Plus trim, VR’s gorgeous, Google Earth-rendered vistas are addictive. It’s the best system this side of a Tesla Model S — a car that costs double the Q5. And it’s right in front of you in the Q5’s big, 12-inch instrument display, helping keeping your eyes where they belong: on the road.
Augmented by steering-wheel buttons and wheels easily within a thumb’s reach, VR allows you to configure and scroll through its multiple features with ease. Take a bow, engineers.
But sometimes (like the AWD nannies) they go too far. Audi’s simple, elegant interiors are widely copied (looking at you Kia and Honda Accord). But Audi jumps the shark when it comes to consoles. The Q5 clogs the center with a mouse touch-pad that is redundant at best and a space hog at worst. Zipping around town, I had no place to store simple items like a smartphone and side of fries. I yearned for the simple cubbies of a Mazda CX-5 or Chevy Equinox.
Speaking of the CX-5, the Audi also ignores the fact that electronics have become ubiquitous in the cheaper, mainstream class. Where the CX-5 offers adaptive cruise-control, blind-spot assist and automatic headlights for $34,000, the Q5 insists you move up to the Premium Plus before you get the same features. It’s like luxe hotels charging you for room Wi-Fi when it’s free in every Best Western on the planet.
Electronics safety systems should be standard at $40,000.
Just as this was annoying me, however, my eye was diverted by the Q5’s long, sculpted shoulder-line. My cold hands gripped the heated steering wheel. And my lead foot punched the wide accelerator pedal. In an instant, the gutsy turbo-4 surged from a stoplight like butter, the 8-speed, dual-clutch tranny effortlessly — quietly flicking off upshifts. Quite a Qar.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.
2018 Audi Q5/SQ5
Front-engine, all-wheel drive, five-passenger SUV
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 cylinder; 3.0-liter,
turbocharged V-6 (SQ5)
7-speed automatic; 8-speed automatic (SQ5)
4,045 pounds; 4,398 pounds (SQ5)
$41,500 (base Q5); $54,300 (base SQ5)
252 horsepower, 273 pound-feet torque (Q5); 354
horsepower, 369 pound-feet torque (SQ5)
0-60 mph, 5.9 sec. (Q5, mfr.); 5.1 sec. (SQ5); top speed:
155 mph (SQ5)
EPA mpg est. 23 city/27 highway/25 combined (Q5);
EPA mpg est. 19 city/24 highway/21 combined (SQ5)
All-around all-star; virtual cockpit
Crowded center console; more base technology, please
Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★