The Q5 compact luxury SUV is Audi’s star in the United States market. Yes, the company also makes exciting 500-hp people movers, sultry R8 supercars, and impressive high-end electric vehicles. But the Q5’s 50,435 sales last year make it the clear breadwinner of the bunch, selling at nearly double the rate of the brand’s second most popular model, the Q3 subcompact crossover. Audi knows not to toy with a proven formula, which is why the Q5’s mid-cycle evolution for the 2021 model year is an unsurprisingly conservative one.
We’ve already driven the updated Q5 55 plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model, and a sporty SQ5 variant continues to serve as the range’s performance-oriented option. The standard version is the Q5 45, which in our test car’s mid-level Premium Plus trim is essentially a modern equivalent of the 2018 Q5 2.0T we last tested. As with that vehicle, the Q5 45 comes standard with all-wheel drive and one of the better turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-fours on the market. Minor tweaks allow the engine to produce nine horsepower more than before—for outputs of 261 horses and 273 pound-feet of torque—and a 12-volt mild-hybrid system has been added, although it doesn’t contribute any additional motive power. The four-bangers in the 45 and 55 models continue to mate to a quick- and smooth-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Only the SQ5 with its turbo V-6 gets a conventional eight-speed torque-converter automatic.
Weighing a scant five pounds more than the previous example, our 4185-pound Q5 45 ran to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds and covered the quarter-mile in 14.2 seconds at 97 mph—plenty fleet in regular use and 0.2 second quicker than the 2018 model in both measures. If you find yourself drag-racing a four-cylinder BMW X3 or Mercedes GLC-class out of the Starbucks lot, know that the Q5 has enough scoot to beat the Bimmer by a few tenths of a second and will run neck and neck with the Benz. Audi’s turbo four makes strong low-end torque, delivering its full amount of twist at just 1600 rpm, yet it happily revs to its 6750-rpm redline with a subdued, 72-decibel thrum at full throttle. Settled into a 70-mph cruise, we recorded a fairly hushed 67 decibels of noise.
We did notice some lag as the 2.0-liter’s turbo spools up, a situation that isn’t helped by the occasional low-speed hesitancy of the dual-clutch transmission, particularly in stop-and-go situations. Notice that without the aid of the dual-clutch’s launch-control function (which we employed for maximum-thrust starts), the Q5’s rolling 5-to-60-mph sprint stretches to 6.3 seconds. That’s still quicker than the aforementioned BMW and Mercedes but nearly a second longer than from a dead dig. We doubt most owners will notice those balks. This gearbox is smartly tuned to mimic a regular automatic, and activating the transmission’s Sport mode via the shift lever sharpens its responses, virtually eliminating the issue.
Our relatively aggressive driving netted a 21-mpg fuel-economy average, which is the same number we saw in our previous test but less than the Q5 45’s 23-mpg EPA city estimate. The return on our 75-mph highway test was better, with the new Q5’s 28-mpg result matching its federal rating and topping the old model by 2 mpg.
On its optional 20-inch wheels (19s are standard) and Continental CrossContact LX Sport all-season tires, our test car posted 0.86 g of grip around the skidpad—solid for a crossover and 0.05 g stickier than before. Its 171-foot stop from 70 mph is about par for the segment, albeit 10 feet longer than the 2018 model’s. Ride quality with the standard coil springs and passive dampers (air springs and adaptive dampers are limited to the PHEV and the SQ5 models) is on the taut side of comfortable, with only Michigan’s largest potholes sending shocks through the otherwise stiff structure. While this Audi’s body control is nicely managed in quick transitions and its steering has a quick, precise action, the chassis setup reacts to exuberant inputs with stolid indifference. Exciting the Q5 is not, but its refined competence is what we imagine most buyers are after in a luxury SUV.
Those shoppers will recognize the new model by its subtly revised front and rear ends and its updated (massive) grille that better matches the brand’s other SUVs. Also new are the LED head- and taillights, although you’ll have to step up to the top $10,700 Prestige trim package or a grander model to get the matrix-LED headlamps that can do a little dance when you approach the vehicle or unlock it. Our car’s Premium Plus bundle cost $4800 and brought a panoramic sunroof, an excellent 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a heated steering wheel, adaptive cruise control with Audi’s Traffic Jam assist, and a few other goodies. Along with a $1500 Navigation package and a few small extras, our Q5’s price climbed from a base of $44,395—a mere Ben Franklin more than last year—to an as-tested $53,040.
Sadly, Audi limits the Q5’s two new vibrant paint colors—District Green and Ultra Blue—to the more expensive PHEV and SQ5, which is a shame because the regular model’s six greyscale and lone dark-blue hues are rather dull to the eye, as you can see by the Manhattan Grey blob in our photos. We’d also recommend opting for warmer looking upholstery than our test car’s black leather hides, which brought a weary gloominess to the minimalist, high-tech interior. The big update here is a crisp new 10.1-inch center touchscreen that runs Audi’s latest MIB 3 infotainment software. Unlike the larger Q7 and Q8 SUVs with their dual-touchscreen interfaces, the Q5 welcomingly retains physical knobs and buttons for its climate system.
We wish Audi had revised the front seats—we struggled to find a comfortable position on their small, flat perches—but little else changes inside. Fit and finish are still exemplary, the back seat remains snug yet tolerable for a pair of six-footers, and the decent 26 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat is only one cube less than before. Audi didn’t need to reinvent the Q5, but this latest polishing has brightened its star model’s luster in what is one of the market’s most competitive segments.
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