2018 Audi Q5 first drive review: Everything you expect, in a better package

Sometimes, familiarity breeds discontent. Such was not the case with the Audi Q5, however. Though it first hit the market all the way back in 2008, the German automaker resisted updating its compact crossover until now—and that seemed just fine with its audience, which has snapped up around 50,000 annually in the United States, even though it was by far the oldest design in its segment

Following current Audi convention, the latest Q5 looks rather like a mid-cycle rehash rather than a full redesign, but beneath its slightly more sculpted exterior sits a new platform hiding a host of updated technologies in line with the rest of the automaker’s lineup.                                                                                                         

For those who have been following Audi’s progress over the last few years, there will be few surprises. Underhood sits its latest 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, rated here at 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It sends power to all four corners via a 7-speed automatic gearbox and a new, far more advanced version of the company’s Quattro all-wheel drive system.

Audi, of course, is synonymous with all-wheel drive; the brand has become the default upscale option in markets where snow falls regularly. Its new all-wheel drive system, dubbed Quattro Ultra, automatically disconnects the rear axle when power is only needed up front. When additional traction is required, the system rapidly spins up the driveshaft and, imperceptibly to the driver, shifts up to about three-quarters of available torque rearward. We drove the Q5 on its unlikely home turf in Baja California Sur, Mexico, a few hours as the crow flies from the assembly plant near Puebla where the Q5 is built, and found the system to be silently effective even in soft sand.

That’s right—the Q5 is screwed together in Mexico. It’s the first Audi to be built South of the border, and it becomes one of just a handful of luxury brand vehicles to have ever been sourced from Mexico.

New versus old

It may look like the outgoing Q5, but the new Q5 is subtly different. It’s just a hair longer, no wider or taller, and it casts essentially the same shadow now as it did before. Like the A4 line with which it is closely related, the Q5 boasts a slightly more sinewy line running down its mid-section, while its Audi-signature front grille has been brought in line with the rest of the company’s lineup.

As much a testament to the old Q5’s relatively timeless design as anything else, the Q5 is attractive and decidedly conservative. If it’s eye-catching style you’re after, you’ll want to bypass the Q5 in favor of the Alfa Romeo Stelvio or the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, both of which are far more interesting to look at.

Audi claims a marginal improvement in cabin volume as a result of more efficient interior packaging, but a lower dashboard and thinner roof pillars provide an airier experience inside than the somewhat confining feel delivered by its predecessor. Its front seats are more deeply sculpted than we’ve come to expect from this segment, while the second row allows enough room for two 6’0 adults to sit behind another pair of 6’0 adults in comfort. Only a pair of tiny, can-sized cupholders in the center console detract from a rear seat that can now move a few inches fore and aft at the lift of an under-cushion lever.

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