Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement
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 red Q3 with 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 the Q5 grows 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.
Wondering how well the new Q5 does donuts in sand? I'm pleased to say well-controlled loops are easily executed. Flip the traction control off, give the throttle a firm squeeze and you're off doing your best Ken Block impersonation.
For whatever it's worth, Mexico's passing cows appear to be fans of the new Q5's more wagon-like appearance, which is similar to the larger Q7. Many of the bovines lining the trailsides don't even flinch as they get an up-close look at our convoy. I guess I can't blame them, this German crossover's more defined body lines and slightly larger dimensions do give it a nice look and stance.
Our observers may even appreciate getting a peek at the interior as I tiptoe by. In typical Audi fashion, the Q5's cabin is comfortable and supremely built out of nice materials, eye-pleasing finishes and straight-forward controls. There's serviceable room for both front and rear passengers to ride without complaint, but the rear middle passenger will have to deal with a large center floor hump. Cargo space is solid, with 21.5 cubic-feet of space that grows to 54.7 cubic-feet with the rear seats folded. That's solid, but less so than rivals like the Acura RDX and BMW X3.
Like any self-respecting luxury vehicle, the Q5 punches high on the technology scale with available navigation, great-sounding Bang & Olufsen audio, Wi-Fi hotspot and head-up display, but you'll pay handsomely for it. As on the TT, A4 and Q7, the Q5 can be optioned with Audi's Virtual Cockpit, replacing a traditional analog gauge cluster with a 12.3-inch configurable screen, too. The navigation, vehicle information and the music and phone screens are right there in front of you. Other functions, like one-box entry for navigation, is done through the seven-inch center screen. It would be cool if everything could be moved to Virtual Cockpit, as is done on the TT, but the tech is still pretty slick and worth the extra $2,600.
If you're a fan of running your car's infotainment functions through your smartphone, you'll also be pleased to learn that the Q5 includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard throughout the range. However, the center display is not a touchscreen, and it's a bit weird to cycle through the icons using the control dial instead of your finger.
For safety, the usual grouping of advanced driver assistance systems is on the menu, but most are not standard. The base Q5 doesn't have much beyond a back-up camera, and you have to move up to the mid Premium Plus to get blind-spot monitoring and emergency braking. Adaptive cruise control and land-keeping assist are only available on the top-of-the-line Prestige trim and then they are part of an $1,800 package. A slightly novel offering is Audi's exit warning system, which warns if you're about to open your door into traffic. This simple bit of tech helps prevent your door from being taken off by other motorists and saves you from walloping passing bicyclists.
Looking for more heat under the hood? The Audi SQ5 with 354 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of twist is on sale now. You could also look at the Jaguar F-Pace for more aggressive driving dynamics, but the little 2.0-liter Q5 stands well on its own.
The 2018 Audi Q5 starts at $41,500 but our test model in the mid-trim Premium Plus with a few options like navigation and a Bang and Olufsun stereo comes to $52,700.