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2017 Audi Q5 review: does more tech keep it at the top of the class?

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The original Q5 of 2008 was Audi’s first SUV, and has gone on to become its biggest-selling car worldwide. This all-new version aims to move the game on, with the German manufacturer claiming it sets the benchmark in its class for quality and refinement.

With rivals that include the Range Rover Velar, BMW X3, Jaguar F-Pace, Volvo XC60 (an all-new version is coming soon) and Land Rover Discovery Sport, that’s a bold claim. In order to deliver, Audi has equipped the Q5 with its latest technology and offers it with a range of petrol and diesel engines, including V6 units. Adding to the premium feel, all Q5s use an automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive

The latest Q5 has grown slightly in size compared with the original. The boot has a small load lip to negotiate but is competitive with rivals for overall space, matching the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC and beating the Volvo XC60. Only the Land Rover Discovery Sport is significantly more spacious (so much so that it offers seven seats to the five in the Q5).

Boot space can be extended by folding the rear seats, although they don’t go completely flat. As an optional extra you can also order the Q5 with rear seats that slide fore and aft to trade rear leg room for boot space. Slide them all the way back and the Q5 offers enough room for a tall passenger to sit behind a tall driver without their legs brushing the seat in front. Head room is also excellent and it’s possible to fit three adults side-by-side, although whoever is in the middle will need to straddle a large lump in the floor. That the rear doors don’t open to the full 90 degrees also hampers access slightly.

In the front the Q5 feels impressively spacious and has plenty of large storage spaces for phones, wallets, keys and water bottles.

If the Q5 should excel in any area, this is it. It gets off to a great start, with quiet engines ( the 2.0-litre petrol and diesel options are both very smooth) and barely any wind noise at motorway speeds. You do hear a bit of tyre noise, but it’s far from excessive, and the seats are comfortable, with lots of adjustment to help find a good driving position.

Where you need to be careful is in speccing the Q5’s wheels and suspension. On S-line suspension with 19-inch wheels, for example, it is far too firm, jostling occupants around whether you’re trundling through a town or tackling a country road.

Audi finished 22nd out of 24 manufacturers in the 2016 JD Power Vehicle Dependability Study- a pretty poor showing by anyone’s estimation. In addition, the first generation Q5 gets a below average score in the Warranty Direct Reliability Index.

It’s also worth noting that Audi’s warranty last for three years or 60,000 miles – whichever comes sooner – whereas BMW and Mercedes offer unlimited mileage cover over the same time period.

Things improve dramatically if you add the optional air suspension, which gives the Q5 a much calmer ride (there’s also a cheaper Adaptive comfort suspension upgrade, but we are yet to try this). Regardless of what suspension set up you opt for, we’d recommend sticking to 18-inch wheels for the best ride. Thus equipped, the Q5 is a fantastically comfortable SUV.

If you’ve driven any modern Audi the Q5’s dashboard design won’t hold any great surprises. It is beautifully finished, hi-tech and easy to operate. Take Audi’s MMI infotainment as a prime example, packing as it does satnav (on Sport and S-line models), music streaming, DAB radio, smartphone mirroring and much more into a system that is crisply presented and easy to navigate. Upgrade to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit and you can even opt to display much of this information on a 12.3-inch digital screen where the dials would usually be.

Only slightly fiddly heater controls and the placement of the Drive Select button (for the Q5’s various driving modes) on the far side of the centre console where it isn’t terribly easy to reach detract from the overall excellence of what is surely one of the best SUV interiors around.

The Q5’s raised driving position gives a good view out, although the chunky rear bodywork makes it difficult to judge where the rear of the car ends. Thankfully all models come with front and rear parking sensors, and a reversing camera is among the long list of optional extras.

Audi only offers the Q5 with an automatic gearbox. The seven-speed unit fitted to 2.0-litre models is ultra-smooth apart from the odd hesitation when pulling away (experience of the eight-speed gearbox fitted to V6 models in other Audis suggests it won’t suffer from the same issue). Light steering at low speeds also helps with manoeuvring.

The fact all Q5s are fitted with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system means it is capable in all weathers, and with air suspension fitted you can even raise the ride height if you fancy taking it off-road.

So far we’ve tried the Q5 with the two available 2.0-litre engines – one petrol and one diesel. The latter is likely to be the biggest seller and offers good performance, with the kind of strong mid-range pull that not only makes overtaking easy but is also capable of putting a smile on your face.

The 2.0-litre petrol engine is more powerful still, and can propel the Q5 off the line almost as quickly as a hot hatch. It also revs hard (if not sounding particularly inspiring) and the gearbox shifts extremely quickly, whether you leave it in automatic mode or take control with the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

Handling is improved compared with the previous Q5, and there’s plenty of grip, but the steering weight feels artificial and you need smaller wheels or air suspension to get any sense of the car flowing along a good road. As such, a Jaguar F-Pace will be better suited to keen drivers.

Audi claims that the Q5 2.0 TDI offers the best fuel economy in its class, at 56.5mpg in official EU tests. However, that’s only compared with rivals featuring an automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive. If you’re happy to settle for a manual gearbox or front wheel drive then a Land Rover Discovery Sport edges it, and a Mercedes GLC returned identical figures.

The 2.0 TFSI petrol engine managed 40.9mpg in the same controlled conditions, but in our hands failed to top 30mpg in normal driving (admittedly this was a car with only a few hundred miles on the clock, so we’d expect it to improve in time). Similarly, our tests in the 2.0 TDI diesel resulted in economy of 37mpg, but again this was with a very low mileage car.

While you can buy versions of the Land Rover Discovery Sport and BMW X3 that are cheaper than the Audi Q5, you’ll have to make do without an automatic gearbox. Spec rivals to the same level and the Q5’s pricing is in line with the competition, and the fact it is predicted to having the strongest residual values in its class will keep leasing rates competitive.

As a result, the Q5’s running costs are also predicted to be among the best in its class, and only the Mercedes GLC emits less CO2, making it marginally cheaper to run as a company car.

The Q5 emerged from Euro NCAP’s industry standard crash tests with a maximum five star rating. Ultimately its scores for occupant and pedestrian protection weren’t quite a match for the Mercedes GLC, but with the full complement of airbags as standard plus a strong core structure it should stand up well in the event of a crash.

Audi also fits technology to prevent that crash happening in the first place, such as its Pre-Sense City autonomous emergency braking system, which can slow or stop the car by applying the brakes if it senses an impact is imminent.

On the options list meanwhile you can choose from the firm’s full range of safety devices, including an active lane assist that will automatically nudge the car back into its lane if you drift over a white line, and a traffic jam assist function that can drive the car at low speeds for short distances.