On Autos: Audi quietly overhauls popular premium crossover

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The 2018 Audi Q5 features upgraded technology, power and fuel economy. (Brady Holt/The Current)

It takes an attentive eye to spot the updates to the redesigned 2018 Audi Q5. The brand’s best-selling product, a compact premium crossover, is entering its second generation with subtle changes to a successful formula.

Since its introduction as a 2009 model, the Q5 has offered quiet but classy styling and similarly quiet but staid driving dynamics. The new model, facing off against a host of strong competitors, retains that flavor — but, as quietly as ever, makes important improvements to performance and fuel economy.

At its base price of $42,475, the Q5 sits in the heart of a market segment that also includes the super-posh Mercedes-Benz GLC, the newly redesigned Volvo XC60 and an upcoming overhaul to the BMW X3. In this class, the upgraded Audi stands out for its roomy interior, dazzling dashboard displays and excellent EPA fuel economy ratings.

Starting with the exterior, Audi loyalists will spot familiar styling elements throughout the new Q5. The front-end design scheme is shared with the smaller Q3 subcompact. The side profile adopts a gently curving crease that’s also seen on the A5 and S5 coupe. The rear end has changed the least from last year’s model; Audi made a few rounded details slightly more angular, and otherwise left it alone.

The 2018 Audi Q5 interior includes two crisp display screens. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The more dramatic change is inside the cabin. Audi introduced this minimalist dashboard layout in the 2017 A4 sedan, and it features a slim instrument panel with a big, bright display screen. Even the gauge cluster is an electronic rendering, and it’s widely customizable — allowing most of the space to be handed over to a brilliantly rendered Google Maps satellite view, to trip information or to conventional-looking (though digitally created) round speedometer and tachometer displays.

Like most Audis, the 2018 Q5’s cabin is constructed from high-quality materials, and buttons and dials click into place with supreme precision. However, the new Q5 has some unexpectedly wide gaps between some interior panels — a lapse that’s not up to Audi’s usual standard. The front and rear seats are comfortable, and there’s a useful amount of cargo space, though slightly less than in 2017.

On the road, the 2018 Q5’s biggest advantage over its predecessor is some extra pep. The standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine now makes 252 horsepower instead of just 220, and it’s even quicker than last year’s Q5 with an optional V6 engine. Moreover, EPA fuel economy ratings rose from 23 mpg to 25 mpg despite the stronger acceleration.

The redesigned 2018 Audi SQ5 is the high-performance version of the Q5 premium crossover. (Brady Holt/The Current)

However, based on a brief preview drive at Audi’s Northern Virginia headquarters, the Q5 doesn’t have the sporty feel of a Jaguar F-Pace, Porsche Macan or Alfa Romeo Stelvio, or even a Lexus NX. Nor does it offer the supremely hushed refinement of a Mercedes-Benz GLC. Overall, while the Q5 is quiet and composed, it just doesn’t blow you away with an amazing driving experience. Rather, it serves as fuss-free transportation, except for a bit of raspiness from the engine under acceleration.

You can get a performance version of the Q5, called the SQ5, which comes with a 354-horsepower V6 engine. There’s also a height-adjustable suspension, which can lower this crossover’s center of gravity for sporty on-road handling and raise it for extra ground clearance on an unpaved road or in snowy conditions. But at least during a short drive in suburban traffic, it was hard to identify much sportiness to the SQ5’s driving experience. Its engine has a nicer sound than the standard Q5’s four-cylinder, but few other differences manifested themselves in those mundane conditions.