A luxury crossover for 2018 Audi Q5 First Drive in Cabo Mexico
1.6 million. That's how many Q5s Audi has sold since the model's 2008 debut, making the agreeable but stylistically neutral sport-ute the best-selling premium SUV on the planet. One in four Audis sold is a Q5, which is a big part of why the German carmaker made significant improvements intended to ensure the 2018 Audi Q5 is another success story.
Audi held the Q5 first drive in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, but not for the reasons you're thinking. Sure, it's a vacation-worthy destination replete with azure coastal roads and delightfully lawless stretches of open highway. But the less obvious reason for the locale is its proximity to Audi's new factory, which opened days before in Puebla, across the sea of Cortez and several hundred miles inland.
Q5s will be built at the $1.3 billion plant, which is Audi's first in Mexico. If all goes as planned, up to 160,000 cars can be built there, including other global models. Incidentally, global Q5 production will be based there, though Chinese-market cars will be manufactured in an Audi plant in China.
Back at the (admittedly sexier) Cabo San Lucas location, the drive started in a pre-production 2.0-liter model with a curious combination of options: pleasant S-line trim with quilted leather seats, but a manually adjustable steering wheel and seats. The new Q5's interior is a tidy and nicely outfitted space, with upscale, modern-feeling options like a choice of open-pore wood or real aluminum trim, and techy bits like the Q7-style electronic shift knob and the so-called Virtual Cockpit, which replaces traditional analog gauges with a slick, customizable 12.3-inch TFT screen.
Though Audi claims its turbo four-cylinder engine sounds better than its predecessor, don't hold your breath for an R8-like roar; this four-banger has a perfectly fine exhaust note, but nothing worth writing home about. More notable, however, is the smoother-shifting dual-clutch transmission, which works invisibly to lay down power to the road and helps propel the Q5 ahead with ease when the right pedal is buried.
One stretch of rutted trails revealed impressive capability and adaptability from the suspension that will only be available on SQ5s. Again, air suspension had an unfair advantage over lesser setups, delivering a surprising amount of travel and articulation over some rather nasty bumps. Later in the day, our convoy of Q5s stopped for a break at a sandy basin near the beach. Given the permissiveness of our hosts (and the absence of law enforcement), we took the opportunity to hoon things up with some donuts across the low-friction surface.
The impulse was juvenile, but the findings were revealing: crank the wheel and gun the throttle, and the torque vectoring driveline shoots the Q5 where you aim it, not on the sloppy, understeer-dominated trajectory most small crossovers would respond with. The pleasant surprise here is the fact that the Q5 pulled tail-happy power slides and can also remain efficiently mild-mannered (and 100% front-drive) during otherwise sedate highway cruising. Bravo, Audi, for not succumbing to soul-sapping dynamics in the interest of efficiency.
Though we can only speculate how the US-spec Q5 suspensions perform, the rest of this crossover feels capable, thoughtfully designed, and well put together – and importantly, with a powertrain that supports a broad variety of driving habits, from low-consumption commutes to irresponsible, tire-spinning romps. If our drive along the Baja California coast is any indication, Audi's new south-of-the-border factory should stay very busy churning out second-gen Q5s.