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Feb / Mar 2018
Inside Story

 WRITER: Nadia Michel

The new Audi Q5 may not be the fastest product in its segment but it could well be the most convincing, thanks to standout technology and clever, crowd-pleasing features.

Remember when German cars had a reputation for being the best? They were faster, more solid and longer lasting. That though, was before the Japanese and Korean automakers came along and disrupted the status quo with sleek-looking, well-made, technologically advanced cars. Add to that, the fact there’s also good inexpensive American muscle flooding the market and you’re left with some serious questions about the wisdom of paying a premium for European cars.

But the Germans are not taking this lying down and the emergence of an existential threat has allowed Audi, the smallest of ‘Germany’s Big Three’, to dream big and set its sights on becoming the frontrunner in the race for popularity and automotive supremacy. One of the keys to achieving these goals will be its new Q5 crossover, which we had the chance to sample on a recent trip to Oman.

 

 

Imagine the scene. Green, mountains and rain are not what you might imagine when you think of the Middle East, but Salalah has all of these things, and there, in some of the most sleepy and remote villages beyond the city’s confines were we, traipsing through, in our colourful motorcade of gleaming SUV’s. As you’d expect we created wave after wave of excitement, and maybe it wasn’t of the utmost concern to the vast majority of curious locals that we were indeed driving Audi’s (and not some run-of-the-mill Korean brand), but to those behind the tinted glass, it was of great consequence.

Nowadays, carmakers from pretty much every corner of the world are managing to make cars that look pretty good, as a result it has become more and more a case of what’s on the inside that counts. Anyone who has spent time behind the wheel of an average rental car will attest to the fact that there’s a lot more to this game than decent ergonomics, a navigation system and some parking sensors. In the case of Audi, the magical stardust they sprinkled over their first generation Q5 was a key factor in helping make the crossover their best selling car between 2009 and 2017. It’s also why it was so important they didn't make any mistakes with the new one, and why they decided to invest 1.3 billion USD in a new plant in Mexico, where 5,000 employees can focus solely on building Q5’s.

 

 

The new model is a little longer (34mm) than the old one, and it’s quite a bit lighter (up to 90kg, depending on the engine). The engineers say their focus wasn’t just on the interior – which has a neat, clean design that’s full of high-quality materials and definitely one of the best in its class – they also did their best to enhance the driving experience. First off, based on the premise that the average driver spends 38 hours a year in their car, they’ve improved comfort, with pedals that properly align with your feet (apparently, that isn’t the case in most vehicles), and ergonomics, with easier access to the MMI rotary dial. They’ve also added deeper door bins that can accommodate 1.5-litre bottles, and cup holders that heat or cool, depending on your needs. There’s a new Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system that offers 19 speakers and a 16-channel amplifier with an output of 755 watts for concert hall-like music performances, and a pad for charging your phone wirelessly. Finally, though you’ll probably spend more time navigating the parking lot at your local mall than testing the limits of the all-wheel drive system in the rugged terrain of Oman, you’ll still be equipped for any situation, whether soaking up potholes in style and comfort, or finding relaxation at speed.

Still, given it’s not as agile as a Macan or an F-Pace, the Q5 isn’t probably the ideal choice those who are looking for a fun car, or someone like me, who prefers an all or nothing approach. I mean, as an owner of a Q7, I subscribe to the philosophy that a luxury car should either be fast and good looking, or oversized and lofty. I’m just not a fan of in-between types, even if they offer a little bit more practicality, or slightly better economy. However, if this car was for someone else, whose life I cared about more than my own, I might be convinced.

 

 

The Q5 is after all a pretty smart car. While it’s not quite the driverless vehicle the new A8 promises to be, it does come with a driver assistance ‘pre-sense’ system that uses cameras, radars and ultrasonic sensors to detect vehicles and pedestrians in your path and help you take avoiding action. That, in addition to the fact that the Audi Connect package allows you to monitor whoever is driving, with the option of an alert should a defined speed limit or geographical boundary be exceeded, or even if the car is being used past a curfew, makes it an especially smart choice too. The fact that this same technology can even help you locate your car in a crowded parking lot might be the kicker.

If it were my bottom dollar, I’d fork out for the SQ5 version. It replaces the regular model’s turbocharged 2.0-litre inline-four for a kickier 354-horsepower 3.0-litre V6. It definitely feels more responsive, especially climbing up hills and taking sharp, windy turns. But even if you go for the base model, with its relatively competitive price and impressive safety features, the Q5 kind of establishes itself as a thinking (wo)man’s car, albeit one with a luxury label. No wonder it’s selling like hot cakes.

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