From Quattro to Q: Tracing the evolution of Audi's SUVs

We go all the way back to the rally circuit to lay out the birth and growth of Audi's crossover lineup.

If you live within 100 miles of civilization, odds are you've seen a number of Audi crossovers rolling around. They're popular, and they're conservatively pretty, but they're all pretty new compared to other utility vehicles on the market. Just because they're new, though, doesn't mean there isn't a load of history behind 'em.

While Audi's actual SUV efforts only date back to a concept car in 2003, the underlying bits can be traced all the way back to 1980. The forebear of all high-riding Audis has its roots in motorsport, which is sort of a spawning pool for a great deal of modern automotive technology.

They might not be built for serious off-road use, but they're still utility vehicles. So let's take a look back and see how it all got started.

Audi Quattro

Audi

The Quattro was Audi's first four-wheel-drive production car, and also the first car to connect four-wheel drive to a turbocharged engine. It was also the first 4WD rally car, which led to the Quattro dominating the rally circuit for two years. Powered by a turbocharged I-5 engine, the Quattro proved successful enough to where Audi would festoon all future all-wheel-drive with its name.

Wondering why Audi uses "quattro" so much? There's your answer.


Audi Pikes Peak quattro

Audi

The world's first glimpse of an Audi SUV was the Pikes Peak quattro concept from 2003. It was unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the first of three concept cars to debut that year. The concept wields a twin-turbocharged, 4.2-liter V-8, good for 493 horsepower.

It was a hodge-podge of Volkswagen Group parts, borrowing from the Touareg and A8. Yet there was plenty of new and interesting bits on there, like a carbon fiber body and exterior cameras meant to aid off-roading.


Audi Q7 (First Generation)

CNET

Audi did a bit of smoothing between the concept and the production version of the Q7. There's no two-speed transfer case or hard-core off-road bits, but its Quattro 4WD system stuck around, and it did feature a locking center differential. Built atop the same PL71 platform as the VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, the Q7 offered a number of engines, from a 3.6-liter VR6 to a 6.0-liter V-12.

It was the first Audi to offer blind spot monitoring. Our review of the 2007 Q7 called it a good luxury car, despite its tech not being at the cutting edge.


Audi Cross Cabriolet quattro

Audi

Audi's next utility vehicle was yet another concept. The Cross Cabriolet quattro was a two-door convertible SUV with a 3.0-liter diesel engine, an eight-speed automatic transmission, dynamic dampers and ceramic brakes -- all in 2007! It was unveiled at the 2007 Los Angeles Auto Show, and it served as a preview to the forthcoming Audi Q5.

Thankfully, Audi never went on to actually build a convertible crossover -- ask Nissan how that worked out.


Audi Q5

Josh Miller/CNET

Audi's second SUV was the Q5, which debuted in both Beijing and Los Angeles in 2008. The Q5 featured smaller engines to match its smaller footprint. Available gas engines included 2.0-liter I-4 and 3.2-liter V-6 units, with 2.0- and 3.0-liter diesel engines on offer, as well. The Q5 was given a slight refresh in 2012, followed by the introduction of the performance-oriented SQ5 in 2013. It featured a diesel engine -- a first for Audi's S lineup -- but received a gas engine for the US.

We've been fans of the Q5 for a while. Our first review, in 2009, praised its on-road demeanor and "some of the best tech of any small SUV." In 2014, we took a crack at the diesel version, and found it to be a veritable Swiss Army Knife of SUVs.


Audi Cross Coupe quattro

Audi

Audi's other 2007 SUV concept (I know we're a little out of order here, but bear with me) was the Cross Coupe quattro, which debuted in Shanghai. This one was even smaller than the Cross Cabriolet, packing a 2.0-liter diesel I-4. It, of course, came equipped with Quattro all-wheel drive, as well as a dual-clutch gearbox and a multilink rear suspension.

Audi must have been keen on convertible crossovers at this point, because this one had a fabric folding roof. It served as the preview for Audi's next crossover, the Q3.


Audi Q3

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

This diminutive little scamp arrived in 2011, riding atop the same platform as the fifth-generation Volkswagen Golf and the Tiguan crossover. The Q3 was a bit more lifestyle-oriented than previous utility vehicles, as its small size isn't really suitable for anything other than pounding the pavement. It eventually spawned the RS Q3 performance model, which never came to the US. A facelift followed in 2014.

Our latest review of the Q3 is still largely positive, but in the face of much newer competition, it's having a harder time standing its ground.


Audi Q7 (Second Generation)

Wayne Cunningham/Roadshow

Audi rolled out its second-generation Q7 at the 2015 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It was massively revised, sporting a much blockier look that brings it in line with other recent Audi models. The second-generation Q7 loses a few engine options, like the awesome V-12, but it gains a plug-in hybrid variant and a performance diesel option, neither of which are available in the US yet.

Its technological loadout has expanded, as well, offering a number of active and passive safety systems, the excellent Virtual Cockpit, night vision and more. We've driven it, and while it's definitely costly, it's one of the most advanced SUVs you can buy today.


Audi Q2

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The latest addition to Audi's Q lineup is the diminutive Q2, which is currently not available in the US. It can be had with six different engines, three of which are gas and three of which are diesel. They're all tiny powerplants, displacing between 1.0 and 2.0 liters.

Autonomous emergency braking is standard, and Virtual Cockpit, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can all be optioned.

We haven't driven it, but we did get up close and personal with the car at the Geneva International Motor Show, and we think it would be a great entry-level crossover for the US market. We love luxury, and we love low prices, and the Q2 would straddle those two pretty nicely.

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