Chasing down the Q5
It was a really hot afternoon when I was handed the keys to the 2018 Audi Q5 2.0 TFSI Quattro S Tronic. The funny thing was that I didn’t get to drive the car first; I was originally expecting to bathe myself in the air-conditioning before I got serious. Instead, my colleague swapped cars with me and I had to chase down the Q5 in a BMW Z4 sDrive 35i.
“The Q5 is frickin’ fast”
It took some effort trying to catch up even in the 3-litre turbocharged Z4. It was becoming obvious after a drive from Kallang — to ECP/MCE — to MBFC that Audi wasn’t mucking around with the drivetrain. The Q5 is frickin’ fast for something its size.
Under the hood, the Q5 is powered by one of the best 2-litre inline-4 turbo engine in the Volkswagen Group (VAG) lineup — the EA888, now in its 3rd generation. In the 2018 Q5, the engine is rated at 252 bhp. This same engine is used across an entire range of VAG vehicles, with the highest output seen in the Audi S3, VW Golf R (Mk7) at over 300hp.
Torque > HP
Let’s be honest — we’re going to be spending time in the Q5 around town with our families, not race it around Sepang, so torque matters more than horsepower for drivability. The engine pushes 370 Nm of torque @ 1,600-4,500 rpm, the highest in the segment; such levels of torque from a 2.0L was only seen in diesel engines less than a decade ago. For a hefty car like the Q5, the torque is definitely welcome when coupled with the brilliant S Tronic 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Overtaking at both city and highway speeds are a breeze.
EA888 – 10 years in production
It is clear that Audi is pushing the limits of what a 2.0L petrol engine can do here. While we are eager to see what they have after the EA888 Gen3, it really goes to show how brilliant the engine is to have gone through 10 years of production, trialed and tested and millions of vehicles. Audi has reduced internal friction and weight, switched to an electronic wastegate for better response, improved thermal management with electronic coolant control, and many more improvements that is probably for another discussion.
Dual injection technology
Dual injection technology brings back multi-point injection (MPI) before the intake valves. Modern engines have all switched to direct injection for efficiency, performance and improved emissions since direct injection allows for more precise fuel injection, but these engines suffer from carbon buildup due to a lack of fuel going through the intake valves, rendering efficiency and performance gains in a new engine lost after several years of use. The return of MPI should help to reduce carbon build-up in the intake valves to maintain engine efficiency and performance over its life.
Quattro: Same name, not the same technology
The Q5 also features a new Quattro, which Audi calls “Quattro with ultra technology”. This new Quattro drivetrain found in the 2018 Q5 2.0 TFSI is geared towards efficiency while maintaining the driving dynamics of the vehicle. It can now completely disengage the rear wheels during coasting for maximum efficiency, but engage all four wheels and even apply torque vectoring when traction is needed.
The results of the engine and drivetrain developments really do show; the car is really peppy to drive but still returns a good fuel economy (>10 km/l with about 50/50 city/highway drive in Singapore when we tested).
I think it is worthy to share some info on the new MLB platform (“MLB Evo”) that the Q5 sits on, which is also the same platform for the Audi A4 to A8, Q7 and even the Lamborghini Urus. It is an extremely complex task to design a platform that would fit different vehicle weight and sizes, different suspension geometries, across a full range of engine and transmission options: Imagine walking into a software development requirement gathering session and have users from every department tell you to do what they want, and then you also have to get it to run on Windows, Linux and MacOS — you get the idea.
Having a unified platform will eventually save Audi time and money, so that they can spend more time developing each individual car. There is a lot of focus on other aspects of the car such as the interior, where we have seen great improvements in the Audis of recent years.
Interior first impressions
Anyway, after a fast and furious chase I decided to settle myself into the air-conditioned cabin and drive the Q5 in a civil manner. The first thing anyone would have noticed would be the futuristic instrument cluster known as the “virtual cockpit“, which is the coolest thing in the cabin.
(It is a pity though, that our test car didn’t come with a heads-up display, otherwise, that would have been the second coolest thing.)
Dedicated Nvidia chip
As a techie, I know making an odd-shaped screen is not easy. On top of that, to display Google Maps with 3D buildings definitely takes some processing power, so instead of being just a display panel driven by a computer elsewhere, the instrument cluster has a dedicated Nvidia T30 graphic processor to make that happen.
Safety for the family
The car has all the modern safety features that now come standard with the car, like blind spot detection, and active seat-belt tensioners, making the Q5 even safer than before for the family.
I picked up Ethan from childcare later in the evening, and he started poking at everything and made the rear AC going full blast. Thankfully I could control the rear AC from the front panel.
As a parent, you know you have to constantly look behind to yell at your kid. I hadn’t noticed before but now I realise the frameless rearview mirror is not just a design element but really improves visibility. I am starting to appreciate these large and clear mirrors since being distracted by a screaming kid doesn’t exactly make driving any easier.
The car can help you parallel park, but if you prefer to do it yourself, it has a 360 surround view camera which is being digitally stitched together with 4 cameras — one in front, one at the back (shared with rearview camera) and two under each of the side mirrors.
What I hoped to see though, is the display to retract into the dashboard like in the Audi Q7 to get a clear dashboard for the view of the outside, especially when driving with the family on the Benjamin Shears bridge.
Cars these days are also starting to adopt what I would call Human Interface Design, rather than just Graphical Interface Design — which was most car manufacturers were doing 5-10 years ago when they started adding big LCD screens to cars. Old interfaces mostly receive only tactile input, and while tactile input is still the primary interface method with the driver, car manufacturers like Audi have started incorporating other ways to interact with the driver to reduce distraction, but at the same time provide more information.
In the recent years, more powerful computers, improved storage technologies and also wireless connectivity have made cars really shine in this aspect. You no longer need to refer to a manual to understand what an icon means on the dashboard because the car now provides on a large high-resolution display with adequate description of an issue, oftentimes with details of a corrective action, e.g. low tyre pressures, have your tyre pressures checked.
The car also “talks” to you instead of just doing away with a chime, such as reminding you to not leave your phone in the car when you stop the engine. It will even learn your routes, and as you leave your office for the day it automatically brings up the route back home. It knows, sometimes scarily — too well (but you have a choice to turn it off.) The problem with these interactions though is the balance between too much and just enough.
At SGD 219,999 (as of the time of this writing), the Audi Q5 packs a lot of technology both under the hood and in the cabin. The drive is sure-footed (although the steering is a tad vague), fuel consumption is good, the car feels very well put together. It’s hard to fault the Q5 — it is arguably one of the best mid-size SUV in the market.