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First Drive: 2018 Audi Q5

Looks can be deceiving. The redesigned Audi Q5 is in fact a very new car, even though it doesn’t immediately appear to be one. It’s unmistakably an Audi, and unmistakably a strong contender among luxury SUVs that cost around $50,000.

The new 2018 Q5, which goes on sale in the spring, is derived from roughly the same set of components as the latest Audi A4, which bowed earlier this year. And like the A4, the Q5 represents advancement in terms of structural and performance traits, but the purpose and function of the car is largely the same – much to the delight of owners who helped make the current Q5 so popular against the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Volvo XC90, to name just a few.

Keen observers might have to study the new (and now built-in-Mexico) Q5 closely, though. Apart from adopting the latest corporate face, the Q5 strikes a very similar look to the outgoing model that’s been on sale for the better part of a decade. Even the external dimensions are largely the same. Optional LED headlights and standard LED taillights cut a slightly more chiseled look, but your neighbors might not notice at first that you traded your old Q5 for the new model.

2018 Audi Q5
(Audi of America)

Until the performance-oriented SQ5 returns, all Q5s bound for the U.S. will be powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 252 horsepower, which is mated to a seven-speed transmission and standard all-wheel drive. That system, called Quattro Ultra, aims to make some economy gains by operating in two-wheel drive mode on pavement and in most on-road surfaces. Once the wheels lose traction, power then electronically shifts around to give four-wheel grip, like a traditional full-time all-wheel-drive system. The driver has little input on this, save for an Off-Road mode that puts the system into permanent full-time mode. Nevertheless, driving on a variety of paved, gravel and sandy roads at the launch in Mexico made it clear the Quattro Ultra system operates relatively seamlessly.

That generally summarizes what the Q5 is like to drive. If you have any familiarity with newer Audi models, you might forget which one you’re driving. The Q5 doesn’t drive like an SUV most of the time, but just a nicely sorted European sedan. Take a corner too quickly and the body may lean a little more than it would in an A4, but it’s ultimately secure. Audi quotes a 5.9-second 0-60 mph time and early evidence shows the Q5 feels like it has more than a 2.0-liter engine under its hood.

Inside, you’re also treated to a quiet interior even on bumpy and broken roads. Even tire noise on the available 20-inch wheels is fairly muted, while wind noise from the exterior mirrors is mitigated by thicker front glass. That and comfortable front seats give off an aura befitting of a luxury car. Quality is generally good, although competition is catching up to Audi’s formerly outstanding material finishes.

The new Q5 also benefits from a new dashboard design derived from the A4. It’s lower and allows for a slightly airier feel than before. A new center display is operated through a scrolling wheel mounted on a center console, and you can also have the option of writing out destinations on a touchpad. But most versions can also be equipped with the Audi Virtual Cockpit, which replaces most of the instrument cluster’s physical gauges with a 12.3-inch screen that can become essentially a big view of Google Earth or other vehicle information. It’s strikingly clear and slick to operate. The Audi Connect Prime system also includes 4G LTE Wi-Fi for an additional fee.

2018 Audi Q5
(Audi of America)

But considering it’s an SUV, the Q5 has been designed to better accommodate passengers and cargo. Despite it being only slightly longer than before, rear-seat space is very generous given its footprint. The split bench also slides forward and backward to better manage between legroom and cargo space. But the cargo hold is also generous, easily capable of swallowing four people’s luggage for the weekend or an ambitious big-box store haul.

Pricing and fuel economy figures will be announced closer to the spring on-sale date. Audi USA officials said to count on three versions, Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige, and for a price range similar to the outgoing Q5 – count on something roughly in the $40,000 to $60,000 range, with most being the Prestige models for around $55,000.

It isn’t exactly inexpensive, but the Q5 seems worth the premium over rivals that also include the less pricey Acura RDX and Buick Envision. The technology is slick, it’s nicely brisk to drive and handles just about every road surface with aplomb. The Q5 does everything one would think a Q5 should do.

Predictable, sometimes, is a good thing.

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