Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
With our sensible hat on, the 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel (badged 40 TDI) is the engine to go for. It doesn’t make the Q5 quick, exactly, but will match its BMW X3 20d rival for straight-line pace and simply destroys a Land Rover Discovery Sport D180. There’s enough oomph on hand to breeze you up to motorway speeds with little effort, even if the seven-speed automatic gearbox that comes with this engine can be a bit slow-witted when pulling away from junctions.
The 242bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine (named 45 TFSI) wouldn’t be our first choice, but it’s worth a serious look if you really don't want a diesel. This four-cylinder engine revs keenly and feels genuinely lively on the move, being turbocharged, it’s flexible, too, being happy to pull strongly from low revs – much like a diesel.
If you want seriously rapid performance, though, you have a couple of options. There’s the diesel-powered SQ5 (see our separate review), or the 50 and 55 TFSIe plug-in hybrids. We’re yet to try the 50, but the 362bhp 55 TFSIe is very nearly a match for the SQ5 in a straight line, feeling every bit as fast as its 5.3sec 0-62mph time suggests. It’s also far less hesitant when pulling away from a standstill than the non-hybrid models in the range. In electric-only mode, it’s nowhere near as rapid but feels nippy enough around town, accelerating up to 70mph with relative ease.
Suspension and ride comfort
There are two suspension setups available on the Q5. Most models get conventional steel springs, while top-spec Vorsprung trim uses air springs.
On battered urban streets, the steel springs deliver a slightly firmer ride than we'd like, but things smooth out nicely on faster A-roads and motorways. On these, the Q5 feels supple enough but controlled – good news for anyone who suffers from motion sickness. Of all the steel-sprung Q5s, the plug-in hybrid 55 TFSIe’s ride is the most comfortable.
With the adaptive air suspension of Vorsprung models, you can adjust the stiffness of the ride. Set in Comfort mode, the Q5 is one of the best-riding cars in the class on fast A-roads and motorways. However, because the Vorsprung is available only with giant 21in wheels, the low-speed ride can be a bit fractious, especially on craggy urban surfaces.
The system also allows you to vary the Q5 Vorsprung’s ride height. That means you can raise the car for extra ground clearance on uneven roads, or lower it to make lifting items in and out of the boot easier.
The Q5 is grippy in corners and instils confidence in its driver. All models have four-wheel drive, assisting with traction in slippery conditions. There is a bit of body roll, especially with plug-in hybrid versions, but the Q5’s handling is generally far tidier than the Volvo XC60’s or DS 7 Crossback’s and is a close match for the BMW X3’s. Indeed, the Q5 feels more akin to a well-sorted hatchback on stilts than a lumbering SUV.
When Comfort mode is selected on the Vorspung model’s adaptive air suspension, the car can wallow a bit in corners. However, you can firm things up to improve agility at the touch of a button.
Agility is one thing, but, compared with rivals such as the Jaguar F-Pace and Porsche Macan, the Q5 isn’t especially rewarding to drive quickly. This is mainly due to its steering, which doesn't give you quite the same sense of connection to the front wheels that you’ll feel in the best large SUVs. It's precise enough to allow you to place the car accurately through bends, though.
The SQ5 is a somewhat different matter. Read our separate review for more detail on that range-topping model.
Noise and vibration
This is a wonderfully relaxing car on long journeys. Wind noise is well stifled at high speeds, partly thanks to standard acoustic glazing for the windscreen and, on all but entry-level Sport versions, the front side windows. Road noise is more noticeable in cars fitted with regular springs and dampers than it is with adaptive air suspension, but, even with the former, it’s far from deafening.
Every engine, including the four-cylinder petrol (45 TFSI), is smooth and hushed, and the diesel engine is among the quietest in the class. Whichever engine you choose, the automatic gearboxes slip smoothly through their gears but can be a bit jerky at parking speeds and in stop-start traffic.
The plug-in hybrid versions are, unsurprisingly, hushed in electric mode, with just a faint whine coming from the electric motor. Again, its petrol engine is hushed and its automatic gearbox is actually one of the smoothest in the Q5 range; it doesn’t seem prone to the jerkiness encountered in other models.