Curious legal issues surrounding pre-production cars might be the main reason Audi has brought us to the Baja peninsula, but the weather sure helps. A row of all-new, Mexican-built Q5s sits gleaming in the sun’s rays, while sharply sculpted door panels seem to glow in the light reflected from the paved driveway.
Next to the stark, cubist Marriott hotel, the five-seat SUV’s styling seems flowing and glamorous without losing its Germanic stoicism. The knife-edge shoulder line rises subtly over each wheel arch before gracefully curving down into the light clusters’ new LED daytime running light signatures. This Q5 hides its size better than its bulky-looking predecessor, despite gaining 34mm in length and 4mm in height. It still dwarfs the standard 18- and 19-inch wheels, though, so the fleet here rides mainly on optional 20s.
Audi Q5 2.0 TDI 190 S line
Engine: 2.0-litre turbodiesel
Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic
Top speed: 135mph
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Fuel economy: Up to 56.5mpg (18-inch wheels)
Emissions: From 132g/km (18-inch wheels)
Most of the extra length has gone to the rear passengers, the outer two of whom who get acres of legroom. The middle seat, hampered by the transmission tunnel, is best avoided by anyone who has legs, but it’s worth noting that the rear seats slide to fine-tune overall legroom against boot space. The minimum is 550 litres; 10 more than before, with 610 opened up by pushing the seats forwards.
At the business end of the cabin the materials quality is outstanding. Reference the Q7 rather than the Q3. Standard-fit technology has taken a giant leap courtesy of the digital instruments from the A6 and a large touch pad for hand-writing sat-nav and media inputs. It’s something Audi is adamant about, but unless you’re left-handed you’ll find it tricky and distracting to use. Stick to the main dial.
Before we set off, we’re warned to stay in convoy. The official reason is that mobile signal is poor in the peninsula so they can’t track the cars, but other reasons come to mind when we reach the first toll booth and find guards armed with pump-action shotguns. Mexico is not an entirely safe place to go wandering, despite the friendly waves and smiles of local farmers and kids en route.
There’s less sense of bulk in the Q5 than you’d expect, the cabin managing to avoid the sense of overwhelming width you notice in some other mid-size SUVs. Light steering adds to the low-speed manoeuvrability but never quite weights up enough to inspire confidence in harder cornering, which somewhat wastes the good work done to stiffen the bodyshell.
The 248bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine is the most responsive of the four that the UK is definitely getting, seeming keener beneath your foot than the diesels and quicker to deliver its considerable torque. Swapping to the 2.0-litre diesel as we cross the Tropic of Cancer, the surprise is how little refinement the familiar 187bhp unit gives away. There’s almost no diesel clatter even with your foot hard down, until you reach close to 4,000rpm. Both 2.0-litre engines use a twin-clutch S tronic gearbox that works with ghostly stealth.
The ride is good, matching the recent improvements elsewhere in the Audi range. Naturally the larger wheels introduce more road noise and a harshness over sharp edges like potholes and expansion joints, but that’s the sacrifice buyers make in the name of aesthetics. The Q5 gets a thorough bashing as we leave the main road and make for unsurfaced farmland, tapping into the Audi drive select module and switching to allroad mode. With Adaptive Air Suspension fitted, that raises the ride height to 25mm above standard and permanently engages four-wheel drive.
Not that it’s shy about engaging all on its own. A new and much more complex system speeds up the response times and effectiveness of the rear wheels, constantly measuring the amount of grip and seamlessly switching between driving two and four wheels. It’s engineering genius, and even on ordinary road tyres there’s no wheelspin in the gravel. Donkeys look over fences as we pass, apparently unimpressed.
Descending to a beach on the Pacific coast we get to try the highest Lift/Offroad drive select setting. It’s 45mm higher than standard for maximum ground clearance at very slow speeds, and lowers automatically as speed rises. The wind gusts off the aquamarine sea as we churn past a ‘for sale’ sign outside a modest beachfront bungalow. Tempting.
Cruising at high speed back on the road, this time in the firmer, lower Dynamic drive select mode, it’s obvious that the Q5 is seriously long-legged. At 70mph it registers a hushed 1,700rpm, and there’s even still useful acceleration if you need it. Straight-line stability is good, too, with the vague steering the only weak link.
It’s designed to be an all-purpose everyday car and in practice it ticks a lot of boxes. It’s spacious, driver-friendly, clever and luxurious enough to justify the price tag. It’s expensive, but it’s very, very good.
Road trip: Mexico in an Audi Q5