The 2018 Audi SQ5 is a champ among among luxury compact SUVs. The SQ5 is blazingly quick in the dry and sure-footed on wet and snowy roads, helped by its driver assists and safety technology. The Audi cockpit is the epitome of upscale, restrained tastefulness, and proof that four adults can travel long distances in comfort. In other words, there’s a reason why you’re paying so much.
Nicely equipped Audis don’t come cheap. The base Audi Q5 starts in the low 40s. My test SQ5 Premium Plus came in at just under $66,000 and at that price did not have adaptive cruise control or lane departure warning, which are available only on the SQ5 Prestige trim line costing $4,000 more. The Q5 and SQ5 are sized and priced in line with similar upscale offerings from BMW (X3) and Mercedes-Benz (GLC).
Second-Generation 2018 Q5 Is a Big Step Forward
From the outside, the 2018 Audi Q5 and SQ5 look pretty much like the first generation Q5 of the 2009-2017 model years. That’s deceiving. It’s a significantly better car. The on-board technology does more, the ride is better, there’s less cabin noise, and handling continues to be responsive, albeit with modest road feedback from the power steering.
The Q5 employs a 252-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a seven-speed sequential automated manual gearbox (that is, no clutch pedal). The performance-oriented 354-hp SQ5 uses a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 TFSI (turbocharged, stratified fuel injection directly into the cylinders) and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Audi Quattro all-wheel-drive is standard.
There’s a lot of information available to the driver through MMI, the Multi-Media Interface, especially once you’ve spent a couple weeks with the car and figured everything out. You can’t just push the ignition switch and back out of the driveway until you’ve learned how to move the gear selector: Depress a button on the side then push forward for reverse, pull all the way back for Drive, pull back a second time for Sport Drive mode, and press a button at the base of the shifter for Park.
Many Little Reasons You’ll Love the Q5/SQ5
Audi has done as good a job as any automaker in thinking about how people actually use cars. A steering wheel scroll wheel (photo above) is the best way to quickly control infotainment volume (or mute it with a tap on the wheel). It also controls entertainment and navigation volume and a prompt onscreen tells you which you’re adjusting. A second scroll wheel shifts among instrument panel information choices.
The virtual cockpit–that is, a 12.3-inch LCD behind the steering wheel–can be all gauges, a combination of gauges and maps, or a full-screen map that’s easy to glance down at. It can be a traditional map or a Google Earth image, even (when you’re stopped) a street-view image. It’s possible because the car embeds 4G telematics, Audi Connect, carried over the AT&T network and including a multi-user Wi-Fi hotspot. Audi Connect bundles automatic crash notification, a stolen vehicle locater, manual emergency calling, real-time information (traffic, weather updates, fuel prices, internet radio streaming, picture navigation, read-aloud personalized news headlines, and Twitter alerts), driver monitoring (curfew, speed, and valet alerts), remote lock/unlock, and a car finder.
You can dial in the ride quality using the MMI controller. If you spring for the optional air suspension ($1,000) you get an additional ride setting, Comfort, that is as limousine-like as you can get from a car with a 111-inch wheelbase (the longer the wheelbase, the less the car pitches going over bumps).
MMI on the Q5 now includes a touchpad with handwriting recognition (write an address one letter at a time), map zoom using swipe/pinch motions, and eight radio button presets. There’s still the MMI control knob as well, plus voice input.
There’s a full-color head-up display available, giving you three places to see three different pieces of information: the center stack LCD, the instrument panel in virtual cockpit mode, and the HUD.
Adaptive Cruise, Lane Departure Warning Gets Costly
The one significant drawback to the overall excellence of the Q5/SQ5 is that you need to specify the costliest trim lines in order to be able to order adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning (“active lane assist” in Audi terminology). On the Q5, you need the top Prestige trim line, which costs $9,000 more than the entry Q5 Premium. Then you must order the $1,800 driver assistance package. On the SQ5, you need the Prestige trim line as well.
Audi might scoff at the idea of the Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V being competition, but both have ACC and lane departure warning standard, and blind spot detection is offered. In the course of driving 1,000 mostly highway miles, about 100 of them in stop-and-go conditions, it struck me as odd that a high-end automaker doesn’t include all three when the majority of its cars have as-equipped prices more than $50,000.
Room for Improvement: the Little Things
Nice as the Q5/SQ5 is, the car still has rough edges. The illuminated USB and line-in jacks in the console are genius: no hunting for a flashlight to guide them into place on dark days. But: Tthose are the only two physical infotainment connectors in a five-person car. You get as many as six jacks from a Chevrolet Equinox and four from a Mazda CX-5, both $30,000 vehicles. Rear seat occupants must make do with a single 12-volt accessory jack, to which you can add a USB charger. No 120-volt outlet is offered, either, unless you bring your own via a 12-volt adapter.
There’s a smartphone cutout in the center console, but it won’t hold an iPhone Plus model or similarly sized Android phone. Nor will a Plus-size iPhone fit in the cubbyhole at the base of the center stack. That said, the phone interface is excellent, either through MMI or Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.
The two console drink-holders are deeply recessed to hold big beverages; it’s unlikely any drink will tip over when you attempt a 0-60 run (about 5 seconds) in the SQ5. But Dunkin sold me a lawsuit-hot medium coffee that scalded my hand when I tried to pull the coffee out from the depths of the cutout, dislodging the top and sloshing coffee on my fingers.
The Best Audi Q5 to Get
Driving the SQ5 was enjoyable, especially with the air suspension. Audi’s S models are meant to compete with BMW M-badged vehicles and Mercedes-Benz AMG editions, and cost about $70,000 if you want all driver assists. Also, the low-profile tires will be susceptible to damage where potholes aren’t quickly filled in. Most will be happy with the mainstream Q5 and its turbo four. Outside the US, for 2018 you can get Audi’s fabulous V6 diesel engine with a 48-volt system running an electric turbocharger, offering hybrid operation and almost 400 hp.
The base Q5 Premium, $42,475 including $975 shipping, is reasonably equipped other than driver assists. It does have a backup camera, Audi Pre-Sense Basic (which tightens seat belts and starts closing windows and sunroof in a possible crash situation) and Audi Pre-Sense City (which detects pedestrians and cornering or stationary vehicles at speeds up to 52 mph or 85 kph and brakes in a potential collision situation). Navigation, telematics, a sunroof, and heated front seats are options. The instrument panel consists of traditional gauges with a 5-inch monochrome multi-information display. Headlamps are xenon-based.
The mid-level Q5 Premium Plus, $46,475, incorporates LED headlamps, Audi Side Assist, and Pre Sense Rear. Side Assist comprises blind spot detection, vehicle exit assist that warns if you’re about to open the door with other cars or cyclists about to pass yours, and rear cross traffic alert. Pre Sense Rear applies Pre Sense Basic to cars approaching from the rear, to minimize possible injuries if you’re rear-ended. It also includes the panorama sunroof, keyless entry with an auto-open rear tailgate, and heated front seats.
Premium Plus options are navigation with touchpad input plus the virtual cockpit ($2,600), warm weather package with power-ventilated front sport seats and rear side sunshade ($1,450), cold weather package (heated steering wheel and rear seats, $500), and 19-speaker, 755-watt Bang & Olufsen audio ($950). Rear side airbags ($350) are important, but potentially hazardous if children fall asleep and slump against the side doors.
The Q5 Prestige, $51,775, integrates the virtual cockpit LCD, navigation, six months of Audi’s premium telematics service, the B&O speaker system, and Parking System Plus (front and rear acoustic sensors, surround view camera, and superimposed lanes on the center display). The driver assistance package ($1,800) is a must-have if you’re spending $50K on the car: adaptive cruise control, Turn Assist (detects oncoming traffic and warns when you’re about to make a left turn at 1-7 mph), Traffic Jam Assist (slow speed follow), lane keep assist, automatic high beams, and traffic sign recognition. Adaptive damping (air suspension, $1,000) is worthwhile for passenger comfort and sporty driving. Warm and cold weather packages are also available. A fully equipped Q5 Prestige would be $56,875.
If you really want all the driver assists–and you should–you’re in for at least $53,575 on the Q5 Prestige. This is the Q5 to get. That or a loaded SQ5 at about $70K.
Audi Q5 vs. the Competition
Audi’s closest competition is the major German automakers. The Mercedes-Benz GLC, new in 2016, is 183 inches long, an inch less than the Q5. (A compact SUV is 180 to 190 inches long.) All-wheel-drive is optional and the interior isn’t quite as desirable as Audi’s. The third-generation BMW X3, 186 inches long, is all-new for 2018 with first shipments in November. I’ve driven at X3 briefly, at a racetrack, and there it was fabulous. The cockpit has been upgraded. Like Audi, it will offer four- and six-cylinder versions.
Other competitors include the Porsche Macan (less carrying room), Jaguar F-Pace, Alfa Romeo Stelvio (great exhaust sound, questions on reliability), and Volvo XC60 (excellent highway cruiser, lots of safety features), Cadillac XT5, and Lincoln MKC.
The 21018 Q5 has been on sale for most of this year and ranks second in sales behind only the Lexus NX, although there’s less Audi cross-shopping than with European competitors. The top five currently are Lexus NX, Audi Q5, Acura RDX, Mercedes GLC, and BMW X3.
For those who want their compact SUVs both luxurious and sporty, with solid driver and safety assists, the Audi Q5 is the best bet today. Our only concern is that you have to pay mid-fifties to get safety features standard on mainstream SUVs from Honda and Toyota.