David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Tow cars’ written by David Motton
Some cars make a deep impression within the first mile. Others take longer to really appreciate. The new Audi Q5 is in the latter category.
First impressions are of a handsome but entirely predictable design. The Q5 follows Audi's current design cues with the discipline of a language student repeating common phrases until they're committed to memory.
It's a similar story inside. The Virtual Cockpit, with its configurable digital display instead of dials, was strikingly modern when it first appeared, but it's now to be expected in any new Audi. And yes, the Q5 is very nicely put together from high-quality materials, but you'd be surprised by anything less.
Capable and composed
Drive away and the Q5 is predictably competent. The feel of the controls, the weight of the steering – it's all familiar if you've driven other recent Audis.
The more you drive it though, the longer you spend poring over the specification and technology, the more the Q5 starts to win you over with its remorseless competence.
If you're looking for an upmarket mid-sized SUV to tow your caravan, you'd be rash to overlook the Audi Q5 because it lacks the more immediate appeal of some rivals.
Lighter – but not lightweight
There are two engine options for now, with more on the way. If you favour petrol power you can choose the 252PS/249bhp 2.0 TFSI engine. Diesel buyers can opt for the 190PS/187bhp 2.0 TDI.
Both engine variants come with a seven-speed S tronic auto and use the latest generation of Audi's Quattro 4x4 system. Later in the year these engines will be joined by a 286PS/282bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel and the 354PS/349bhp petrol-powered SQ5.
The new Q5 is lighter than its predecessor by up to 90kg, depending on the model. The 2.0 TDI, which is expected to be the best-seller, has a kerbweight of 1845kg, including 75kg for the driver, so despite the Q5's diet it's hardly a featherweight.
The 85% match figure is 1568kg, the legal towing limit is 2400kg, and the noseweight limit is 100kg.
The engine is unmistakably a diesel, but Audi has done a tremendous job of keeping it quiet. You can hear the engine going about its work, but it sounds like it's a long way off rather than just the other side of the dashboard.
And there's plenty of performance – enough to make you question why anyone would need the 3.0-litre diesel. Audi claims a 0-62mph time of 7.9 seconds. With 295lb ft of torque, there should be enough pulling power to cope comfortably with any sensibly matched caravan.
You get what you pay for
Stability when towing isn't easy to judge definitively on a solo test drive, but all the signs are good.
Our diesel test car was fitted with what Audi calls 'S Sport' suspension, which is 10mm lower and stiffer than standard. It's a no-cost option over the standard suspension on top-end S Line models. The more affordable SE and Sport models aren't available with 'S Sport', but buyers can opt for adaptive dampers or air suspension.
With the old Audi Q5, I'd recommend avoiding the sports suspension, because of the overly stiff ride. In the new model the 'S Sport' set-up is still quite firm, but it's far more forgiving of sharp bumps. For keen drivers who want an agile car, it works well.
Unfortunately, I can't compare it with the standard set-up as none of the cars available to drive were fitted with it – frustrating when this is the suspension which the majority of Q5s will be bought with. However, the petrol model we drove was equipped with air suspension.
With 'comfort' mode selected the ride was noticeably smoother than the S Sport-equipped diesel, despite the test car's 20-inch alloys. As well as allowing drivers to enjoy softer or stiffer suspension, depending on the circumstances, air suspension also allows drivers to drop the ride height for a lower centre of gravity or lift it for more ground clearance off-road. It's certainly an impressive set-up, but so it should be for £2000.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine is superb. Although the diesel is quiet and refined, the turbocharged petrol engine is smoother and more hushed, while delivering even stronger performance. Audi claims a 0-62mph time of 6.3 seconds.
How does it compare?
Whichever engine is chosen, the Q5's cabin is roomy, comfortable and well-appointed. And there's enough space for adults in the back.
However, there's not as much legroom in the second row as you'd find in a Land Rover Discovery Sport, and the Q5 is strictly a five-seater whereas most versions of the Land Rover offer space for seven.
There's enough boot space for a family caravan holiday, with 550-610 litres depending on the position of the rear seats. With the back seats folded that increases to 1550 litres.
Prices start from £37,240 for the 2.0 TDI Quattro SE. That compares with £31,095 for the entry-level Discovery Sport – so the Q5 is far from cheap. However, resale values are predicted to be very strong, and official combined economy of 56.5mpg for the diesel should keep fuel costs down.
Is the Audi Q5 a better tow car than the Land Rover Discovery Sport and the Jaguar F-Pace? Disappointingly, we won't have the chance to find out for some time as Audi isn't able to supply a car to this year's Tow Car Awards. It would be a close run thing, though.
The Discovery Sport is more practical, the F-Pace more exciting. But as a car to live with, day in day out, the Q5 could have the edge. Its appeal may not be so immediate, but it's hard to ignore.