Audi Q5 (2008-16): wolf in sheep’s clothing?

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Audi sales are on an ever-increasing up, with buyers lapping up the brand’s hi-tech cabins and the security of Quattro all-wheel-drive. This success has largely been driven by an ever increasing array of crossover and sport utility models – currently Audi offers four, but this number could double in the next few years.

Unarguably its most popular is the Audi Q5, a mid-size crossover which seems to have found a sweet spot with buyers who appreciate its practicality, smart styling and manageable size. While I initially wasn’t a fan, I’m now strangely drawn to the Q5 and owning one could make a lot of sense.

Exterior:

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pre-facelift Q5’s are not my cuppa

Although I have long been a fan of SUVs and crossovers, those in the mid-size luxury category tend to carry a lot less appeal than their bigger brothers. From the awkwardly styled BMW X3 to the relatively mumsy Volvo XC60, few manufacturers have been able to get it right (not that this has held back sales). When the Q5 first launched back in 2008, I was by no means a fan, with bland car-like dimensions and fussy headlights, I much preferred the bold statement which the larger Q7 made.

However familiarity, and a subtle 2012 facelift, has softened my opinion. I still think the Q5 looks a little safe, but in S-Line Plus trim with 20 inch wheels it at least comes across as desirable and smart, if a bit small. Sporty SQ5 models get added detailing like silver-capped mirrors and can be had with 21 inch-ers, but also get a noticeably 30mm lower ride height; this improves handling but detract from the truck-like look which I prefer.

Interior:

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One of Audi’s key strengths is the design and quality of its interiors; it’s a credit to the company that the Q5 remained generally praised, even in recent years, despite having few changes made inside since 2008. Heavily based on the previous generation A4/A5 models, this means an older version of the Audi MMI infotainment system. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, certain rivals have a more impressive system (namely the BMW X3/X4).

I’d be keen to have a proper play though, as the majority of other cars I’m considering also have a dated infotainment system; the Audi also has a reasonably extensive colour screen located in-between the dials, and overall the design of the interior is smart. Equipment levels are mixed, but most cars have the Technology package and heated seats and lumbar support, even if full electric adjustment is relatively rare.

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In terms of practicality, for me it’s a mixed bag. While the passenger space and 540 litre boot are competitive for the class, you have to remember that the Q5 is 4.64m long and 1.88m wide, so not diminutive by any means. In comparison, the first generation X5 (my current car) is 4.66m long and 1.87m wide, yet due to its height (around 100mm taller) comes across as a much larger vehicle. Admittedly the X5’s official boot capacity is lower (465 litres), but that’s more due to a very high boot floor – passenger space is noticeably poorer in the Audi thanks to a large transmission tunnel, something to think about if you carry five people.

Engines:

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I’ve put engines before driving in the Q5’s review, as what you choose will greatly affect how the car drives. The vast majority of buyers go for a bog-standard 2.0 litre 4-cyl diesel; one has just 148hp but the more popular version has a reasonable 187hp. A 0-62mph time of 8.4 seconds is also pretty decent, but from what I’ve read the engine needs to be worked quite hard, which can lead to worse fuel economy.

Middle of the pack is a 3.0 litre V6 diesel engine – with 245hp it’s actually pretty damn quick, managing to get from 0-62mph in just 6.1 seconds. That makes it comparable with many hot hatches, with the only outward differences being twin tail pipes and a chrome grille, so it’s a bit of a sleeper. Audi also offered a 3.2 litre V6 petrol on pre-facelift Q5’s, as well as a 2.0 litre 4-cyl petrol; neither was very popular, but rarity means they’ve held their value well.

Top of the heap is the SQ5, Audi’s first S-badged SUV and first diesel S model. It’s actually the fastest diesel SUV ever made, and one of the fastest diesel cars ever made, too. With 313hp it can get from 0-62mph in just 5.1 seconds, roughly comparable to older versions of Audi’s RS4 and the BMW M3. With quad exhaust pipes that feature sound boosts, the SQ5 has a V8-like burble that could quickly get addictive.

Driving:

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As you might now guess, the Q5 can drive very differently depending on which engine choice you make. Owners with the 2.0 litre diesels will probably find that their car performs perfectly adequately at most tasks, although rarely excels. Audi has given the Q5 competent and safe handling, all versions coming with Quattro all-wheel-drive, but even without driving it I can tell that these versions are likely to be no more exciting to drive than the average family hatchback.

The 3.0 litre diesel Q5’s are fitted with a seven speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox as standard, though it’s a popular option on the 2.0 litre diesel models as well. Shifts are apparently smooth and quicker than a comparable torque-converter manual, but there have been some well publicised issues, particularly with the lower powered engines. The ride is another weak point, exacerbated by the larger wheels of S-Line models, but opting for standard suspension can negate this to an extent.

The SQ5 is an altogether different kettle of fish, and has been given to maximise driver involvement – as a result it’s managed to win a reasonable level of respect from the enthusiast community, as well as those who like the noise/power/image that it offers. It does get sports suspension as standard, but you get an eight-speed automatic as well – the ZF unit which is so well regarded in many other premium cars. It’s worth noting that this is also the gearbox you’ll get if you want an automatic petrol model.

Value & Costs:

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The Q5 comes in four trim levels; SE, S-Line, S-Line Plus and SQ5. Many UK buyers go for S-Line spec, which brings sportier styling bits, larger alloy wheels, leather/alcantara seats and xenon headlights with attractive LED DRLs. Stepping up to ‘Plus’ gets you sat-nav, an electric tailgate, privacy glass and snazzier 20 inch alloy wheels. New, these added £2,400 and £4,900 to the price of an SE model, but used the difference is a little bit less.

Residuals for the Q5 used to be some of the very best of any car, and despite it’s age they remain impressive. It’s possible to buy an early model for under £10k, but £15k will buy you a tidy pre-facelift car with reasonable mileage. Those after the facelift model will have to raise their budgets to around £20k for a 2012 S-Line car, with a little more getting you Plus spec. However these prices are all for the basic diesel engined cars, adding a bit more power can add around £4k – which takes the price to around £25k for a 2012/13 car.

The SQ5 is a much more desirable model, so perhaps it’s not surprising that most cars have only lost 1/3 of their value in the past four years. Prices are starting to creep under £30k, which makes it pretty expensive when compared to larger (albeit slower) SUVs like the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne. SQ5 models tend to be well equipped, with panoramic sunroofs and adaptive cruise control being popular options, but these won’t be found on all examples.

Running costs, as you might not be surprised to know, differ depending on what model you choose and how you drive it. Official fuel economy of the 2.0 litre diesels is around 47mpg, but drivers expecting a realistic 40mpg shouldn’t be too disappointed. The 3.0 litre diesel and SQ5 officially return 44 and 42mpg respectively, and given their effortless performance apparently high 30’s is easily achievable, as long as you don’t make too much use of that power. Road tax and insurance are about par for the course, although the SQ5 will cost a little more to insure and maintain that your average family SUV.

Verdict:

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The Audi Q5 is undeniably a very competent and desirable mid-sized luxury SUV, so it’s not hard to see why it’s remained a popular choice with new and used buyers for the past nine years. It’s not the cheapest to buy, but strong residuals and reasonable running costs mean that it makes a lot of sense given its broad skills set.

From my point of view, though, it’s the Q5’s distinct flavours which give it appeal.While the 2.0 litre diesel versions probably suit most, I reckon I’d find the resulting product a bit mundane compared to the other cars I’m looking at. The V6 engine does give the Q5 a decent turn of speed, but the price increase doesn’t seem all that justified compared to larger rivals. The SQ5 is downright bonkers, but while it has plenty of appeal I’m unsure if it could command me to spend that sort of money.

 

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