That fact that Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, is home to picturesque beaches isn't a shocker, yet the well-cared-for roadways north of the city are a pleasant surprise. But large portions are straight and not very entertaining from the driver's seat of my European-spec 2018 Audi Q5 tester, which is why I'm happy the leader of our six-car convey is moving at a quick clip to get to the better stuff through the mountains.
Under directions from our hosts, the drive is a lead-follow format that has an Audi employee blazing the trail in a redwith five new Q5s in tow. A glance at my speedometer shows a number that will surely anger any federales we may come across, but since I'm a good guest, I follow orders and keep pace. In doing so, I grow to appreciate the smooth ride, excellent high-speed stability and quiet cabin of this second-generation crossover. We are definitely moving.
Luckily, nobody from the group makes a side trip to the hoosegow before the roads begin to climb, dive and wind through the Sierra de la Laguna mountains, where my appreciation for thegrows further. With Drive Mode Select in its Dynamic setting, this is a surprisingly ferocious family hauler through quick sweepers, digging in with loads of grip and composure. There's little lean in the suspension that features adaptive dampers and air springs, with the former being optional and the latter sadly not available on US-bound cars. The brakes also stay strong, with no signs of fade following abuse in the scorching outside temps.
The week-long tester we had was a US-spec Q5 without the air springs. Fortunately the adaptive suspension is standard, with the option of comfort, auto, dynamic, offroad or individual. Each sets different throttle, transmission and steering parameters. Comfort is all well and good for easy commuting, but as we found out in Mexico, the Q5 comes alive in Dynamic mode. We didn't even miss the air springs as the chassis is eager to change direction, eliciting grins of glee on the back twisty roads of San Francisco.
In addition to a suspension tune that helps keep this SUV feeling lighter on its feet, another reason for the chassis' newfound eagerness is because this Q5 is itself, well, lighter. During the model's ground-up redevelopment, engineers whacked out mass wherever possible through design, and by using more high-tensile-strength steel and aluminum. Depending on trim, this new Q5 can be up to 198 pounds lighter than its predecessor, which is substantial.
Back-country roads also squash any reservations you may have about this new Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which decouples the rear axle when not needed for improved efficiency, making the Q5 a front-driver most of the time. Initial understeering tendencies are never an issue when pedaling hard, but if you drive on the street like Marcel Fässler canes his Audi R18 during qualifying for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the chassis will push.
Adding to the Q5's enjoyment is a peppy 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder with 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque on 17.4 pounds of boost pressure. While the previous generation rolled with a traditional torque-converted automatic transmission, the new model works with a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox offering fantastically quick shifts and a stellar manual shift function. This drivetrain combo never feels underpowered, with lively pull throughout the engine's rev range. Unlike some other dual-clutch transmissions, my drive suggests low-speed refinement is a strong suit, not a weak spot. The EPA gives the Q5 a fuel rating of 25 miles per gallon combined, a number that matched ours after one week of real-world testing.
Our intense run through the hills reveals only a sore spot with the Q5's electric power steering. Response to inputs is acceptable, and effort varies according to the Drive Mode Select detent, but regardless of what setting the driver has it in, there's no feedback available through the wheel.
To prove the Q5 isn't just a pretty face with enough mustard to handle asphalt, our squadron leader dives off the main drag for an off-road excursion. Our trail has ruts, rocks, inclines, ascents, mud, small stream crossings and a slew of free-roaming cows to navigate, and it's where the Drive Mode Select's new Lift/Offroad option comes in handy to lock in all-wheel drive and have the air springs pump up for additional ground clearance.
Over the rough terrain, the Q5 motors ahead without missing a beat. Its 20-inch road-focused tires grip surprisingly well to scamper up hills, over rocks, through sand, mud and water, but most impressive is the ride quality the suspension manages. Things certainly get a bit bumpier, but the adaptive dampers and air springs do an almost magical job of preventing occupants from being tossed around violently.