Audi AG has seen 77 straight months of record sales in the U.S., selling more than 200,000 vehicles last year alone-twice as much as it sold here in 2010. SUVs are leading that surge to such an extent that the brand feels it must develop more large SUVs to go along with its top-of-the-line Q7.
That means a behemoth along the lines of GMC's Yukon Denali or Cadillac's Escalade, with a third row of seats and serious storage. So the question becomes, can the brand take the consumer-pleasing qualities of its popular Q5 SUV and splash them across a bigger palette?
I took the 2018 Q5 for a spin to check how the brand is doing in the coveted SUV category. It proved a great reminder of how skilled the Germans are at developing an intuitive, quietly luxurious interior space and a drive experience that is precisely as aggressive as it needs to be-no more, no less.
The iPhone of Cars
This latest iteration of Audi's $41,500 midsize SUV celebrates exactly where we are in American car culture. I think of it as I would an iPhone: expensive but not overpriced, designed elegantly by a ?cool? brand, and able to do everything you can probably think to ask it to do.
The Q5 sits between Audi's smaller $32,900 Q3 and its larger $49,000 Q7. There's also a $54,300 Q5S that adds power and speed (and two additional cylinders) to the Q5 model line. But if you want the size and functionality of the Q5 at better fuel efficiency and a lower price, stick with the standard-issue Q5.
It has a 252-horsepower, turbocharged, four-cylinder engine paired with a seven-speed automatic transmission and Audi's excellent Quattro all-wheel-drive. Zero to 60 miles per hour takes 5.9 seconds; combined fuel efficiency is 25 miles per gallon on the highway. That's faster than a base-level Porsche Macan, which does the same in 6.3 seconds, with 5 fewer miles in combined efficiency.
Q5 lags momentarily when you punch the gas at a low rpm, but it composes itself well as it gathers momentum. At cruising speed, the Q5 is smooth and quiet. Its wide stance means it responds to a delicate touch around corners, and it performs better than similar-sized SUVs from the likes of Lexus, Buick, and Infiniti.
Audi will have to modify this experience to get into the giant SUV game. It'll need more than four cylinders to push the engine, for a start. Real towing capability. And TV screens in the rear, naturally.
Well-Done, Not Overdone
Audi does interiors so well. It has found a way to blend the tech-forward philosophy of Mercedes with the minimalist mindset of BMW into a Goldilocks-perfect middle ground: just enough creature comforts and entertainment and safety systems to be pleasant without overdoing it to the point of confusion or annoyance. This is a difficult duality to achieve.
The Q5 is no different. With three-zone climate control, eight-way power leather seats, and dashboard controls with an intuitive combination of touchscreen, knobs and dials, and front-gauge configurations, the interior here feels just right. (The optional Premium Plus package-panoramic sunroof, heated seats, and a parking-aid system, among other things-is worth the additional $4,000.)
The exterior is the same: unexpectedly reassuring, with such high-quality design elements as brilliant Xenon headlights, LED tail lights, and that wide, friendly front grill-all distinctive, yet uncomplicated. The exterior mirrors are heated and power-operated; the rear tailgate is automatic, too, with privacy glass included as standard.
The Audi Q5 looks softer, more chic and elegant than the X5 and X4 from BMW. Compared with the Range Rover, it's smaller, less staunch and utilitarian. It comes closest in looks to the curves of Porsche's Macan/Cayenne duo-the upper-middle-class, free-thinking buyer is likely to cross-shop the two brands. (BMW and Mercedes-Benz have achieved default status in this category, so those choosing Audi/Porsche, or even Cadillac, for a midsize SUV tend to think of themselves as slightly more out-of-the-box. They may be right.)
It seems odd to say that the Q5 made me feel happy. Sure, other, ostensibly sexier things have brought great joy. But a midsize, mass-luxury SUV? Usually, they're boring by nature-after all, they have to appeal to the broadest swath of people possible. Even for this article, I wondered how much there could really be to say about it. But there's something about the Q5 that feels like an exhalation the moment you get inside. I really liked it.
That, of course, is the sign of great design-that something so big can be comfortable, using its bulk, plus light on its feet, like a heavyweight champion fighter. Here's hoping Audi can do it again when the time comes.
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