In what may be a sign the luxury SUV boom is about to turn into a glut, the ★★★ 2018 Audi Q5 is all new, but feels only marginally different from last year's model.
Audi built a new assembly plant in Mexico to satisfy America's appetite for SUVs like the Q5, which are on their way to becoming the top-selling class of luxury vehicles in the U.S. and possibly worldwide.
The Q5 is the first vehicle from that plant. It competes with upscale compact SUVs like the Acura RDX, BMW X3, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar F-Pace and Mercedes GLC 300.
The Q5's market overlaps slightly with Cadillac's larger XT5, but only because Caddy's been lamentably slow getting a legitimate compact SUV on the road, and Audi's been equally lackadaisical building a five-seat SUV to compete with popular models like the XT5. Lexus RX and BMW X5.
There may still be "white space" - automotive marketers' pet term for a segment that's not packed with established models - for slightly bigger five-passenger SUVs like the RX and XT5, but the bouncer at the door to the compact luxury SUV party is about to start turning away late arrivals and anybody who doesn't bring something special to the party: You want to get past the velvet rope? Earn it.
That's a challenge for the new Q5, a tidy little SUV that doesn't stand out despite sprightly performance and good fuel economy.
2018 Audi Q5 2.0T Quattro S Tronic
All-wheel-drive five-passenger compact luxury SUV
Price as tested: $53,325 (excluding destination charge)
Rating: ★★★ (Out of four stars)
Reasons to buy: Fuel economy; performance; features
Shortcomings: Controls; fit and finish; slow, rough auto-stop
All Q5s have Audi's Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Prices start at $41,500 for a Q5 with a turbocharged 252-hp 2.0L four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. A performance version called the SQ5 starts at $54,300 and has a supercharged 354-hp V6 that generates 354 hp and an eight-speed automatic transmission.
I tested a well-equipped 2.0L Q5 with head-up display, 20-inch five-spoke wheels, voice recognition, Bluetooth phone and audio compatibility, Bang & Olufsen audio, navigation, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, top view camera, power tailgate, USB port, panoramic power sunroof, blind spot alert and more. It cost $54,300. All prices exclude destination charges.
The Q5's prices are in the same ballpark as similarly equipped models of the X3, F-Pace and GLC300.
While Q5 prices are comparable to compact luxury SUVs, a shopper can get similar levels of performance, features and as much or more interior space for less money in SUVs from mainstream brands like the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape and Nissan Murano. All luxury brands will have to find new ways to differentiate their SUVs as volume manufacturers raise their game.
Comparative base prices
- 2018 Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI: $41,500
- Acura RDX AWD w/advance package: $43,820
- BMX X3 xDrive 28i: $42,050
- Infiniti QX50 AWD: $36,450
- Jaguar F-Pace 25t AWD: $42,065
- Lexus NX 2.0t AWD F Sport: $37,785
- Mercedes GLC 300 4Matic: $41,150
Inside and out
The new Q5's grille and headlights take after its big brother, the seven-seat Q7. From a distance, the profile looks vaguely VW-esque, but Q7-style character lines along the fenders and door sills become apparent at close range. Under closer inspection, the gaps on either side of my test vehicle's hood varied in size, an unusual quality misstep from Audi.
The interior has plenty of passenger space. The luggage compartment is slightly smaller than the 2017 model, but cargo compartment outstrips its predecessor when you fold the rear seat flat. The front seat provides plenty of storage for phones and other gear. The dash and doors are covered in soft, appealing materials. The climate controls use simple buttons and dials. Audi has adopted CarPlay and Android Auto to manage smart phone apps, but the application is clumsy. The Q5 requires Audi's old-style rotary MMI controller to select apps and other functions instead of the easier and more appropriate touch screens the best systems use. The result is a bit like having to use a computer mouse to use your iPhone.
Specifications as tested
- Engine: 2.0L 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder
- Power: 252 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm; 273 lb-ft of torque @ 1,600-4,500 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Wheelbase: 111.0 inches
- Length: 183.6 inches
- Width: 74.5 inches
- Height: 65.3 inches
- Curb weight: 4,045 lbs.
- Where assembled: San Jose Chiappa, Mexico
Facts & figures
The 2.0L engine has more horsepower and torque than most competitive four-cylinder power plants. Peak torque of 273 lb-ft is available from 1,650 to 4,500 rpm for responsive acceleration around town and on the highway. The smooth and quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission adds to the sporty feel and delivers good fuel economy.
The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Q5 at 23 m.p.g. in the city, 28 on the highway and 25 in combined driving using premium fuel. The combined fuel economy feature beats all the competing four-cylinder-powered SUVs with the exception of the highly efficient but slower Jaguar F-Pace 2.0d diesel, which starts at $46,275 and has an EPA combined rating of 29 m.p.g.
The Q5's auto-stop feature, which stops and restarts the engine when it's idling at a stoplights, is slower and more noticeable than the systems the best competitors offer.
Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings
- 2018 Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI: 23 m.p.g. city/27 highway/25 combined. Premium gasoline.
- Acura RDX AWD w/advance package: 19/27/22. Premium gasoline.
- BMX X3 xDrive 28i: 21/28/24. Premium gasoline.
- Infiniti QX50 AWD: 17/24/20. Premium gasoline.
- Jaguar F-Pace 25t AWD: 22/27/24. Premium gasoline.
- Lexus NX 2.0t AWD F Sport: 22/27/24. Premium gasoline.
- Mercedes GLC 300 4Matic: 21/28/24. Premium gasoline.
Why buy it?
The Q5 doesn't break any new ground for Audi - and like nearly all luxury SUVs, it'll never break any trails off-road. It's a solid, unspectacular evolution of the compact SUV that's been a mainstay of Audi's lineup for years.
The lack of breakthrough features or drop-dead looks leaves the door open for competitors to rush ahead of the Q5. Until somebody does though, the Audi's performance and efficiency are likely to offset its clumsy phone controls and lackadaisical stop-start feature in the eyes of many buyers. Until luxury brands figure out how to distance their small SUVs from volume marques though, smart shoppers will cast a wide net before they decide which compact SUV is best for them.
Read more on Free Press.