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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Road test: 2018 Audi Q5/SQ5

The updated compact SUVs provide a lovely environment for driving

The latest Audi SQ5, the sport-tweaked version of the Q5 SUV, in Salalah. Courtesy Audi
The latest Audi SQ5, the sport-tweaked version of the Q5 SUV, in Salalah. Courtesy Audi

As the relentless rolling out of new Audi products continues, it is time to say hello to the "all-new" Q5 and the muscular SQ5 premium compact SUVs. There wasn’t much wrong with the old Q5 variants, to be fair – something that wasn’t lost on Audi’s customers, who bought 1.6 million of them in the nine years following its debut. The company would have to be crazy to change the basic ingredients that made it such a hit, so it is understandable that the new one doesn’t appear to be "all-new", but rather a mild evolution.

Seeing new and old side-by-side, the visual updates are more obvious, though, and Audi’s current "slab-sided" design language works much better here than on the gargantuan Q7. There is more harmony and flow in the lines, and there are clever stylistic flourishes, such as the side swage that blends in to the new clam-shell bonnet in a continuous curve, that do nothing to diminish its premium appearance. It looks grown-up and expensive (which it is, on both counts).

Under the skin, the Q5’s all-newness is much more apparent, with an interior that has basically been lifted straight out of the new A4 – not that anyone will complain about that, because it is a lovely environment in which to find oneself. Optional on the Q5 but standard on the more powerful SQ5, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit gives a thoroughly modern vibe. Unlike some others on the market, it makes for a properly intuitive user interface that is useful, easy to use and beautiful to look at.

As seems to be the way with all "all-new" cars these days, the Q5 is marginally bigger (and lighter) than its predecessor, but while the external dimensions are barely different, the interior is noticeably more spacious and gives genuinely comfortable accommodation for five normally-built adults. Much like the exterior, this is an intelligently designed and well-built place that is extremely easy on the eye, particularly in the SQ5, which looks and feels every bit as luxurious as its rivals from Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Jaguar.

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It is what used to be known as a "soft-roader", inasmuch as the Q5’s dune-bashing and mud-plugging capabilities are less important than its on-road behaviour, which is where it will spend the majority of its time. Despite this fact, the new model employs a full-time quattro four-wheel drive transmission that the driver has no control over; the car's computers constantly monitor and work out whether it needs power to be sent to two wheels or all four. The transition, while on the move, is perfectly seamless and unnoticeable, except for the fact that you will be visiting the fuel pumps less often.

The 252hp, 2.0-litre engine of the standard model is punchy enough in normal driving conditions, though tends to sound a bit thrashy when put to work on the more steeply inclined roads of our Salalah test-drive route. But the SQ5, powered by a 354hp, 3.0L V6, is a much meatier affair with no end of pulling power and a suitably gruff soundtrack – it is genuinely a rapid performer and handles like a well-sorted super saloon. If money wasn’t an issue, it is the one I would go for. Either model, though, offers panache, modernity, prestige and plenty of meaningful technology.

Is it "all-new"? Or simply the same as before, but slightly better? When the results are as good as this, who cares?