New Audi Q5 exposes the fault in our star ratings
Objectively, the Q5 could be a four-star car, but I’m not feeling the love, so I could also give it a one
In spite of a slightly offset driving position, the Audi Q5 is comfy and refined
The Audi Q5’s economy is decent, with a claimed 5.1 litres per 100km, or 56mpg
The Audi Q5’s steering is Light & Mushy, Mushy, and Slightly Less Mushy
The Audi Q5’s cabin is analogous to a well-fitted Hugo Boss suit
The Audi Q5 was enlivened by the all-digital Virtual Cockpit instrument display
Date Reviewed: March 13, 2017
We need to talk about star ratings. They can be useful little things, those marks out of five, which we give at the bottom of every road test, especially when they are extremely good or extremely bad. A five-star review really means something, coming from us. It means that the car in question is unquestionably excellent, and most certainly worthy of your attention. A one-star review means the same, but locked in reverse: just keep walking. No, seriously, keep walking.
A two-, three-, or four-star review, though? A harder thing to quantify, to be honest. Two stars means mediocre but acceptable, three means forgettable but fine. Four stars is where the majority of cars seem to fit – good enough for a recommendation, but not quite sufficiently outstanding for five stars. And it’s this that exposes the blunt-instrument nature of a star rating. You see, the gap, that little sliver of white paper or pixels that lurks between the third and fourth and fifth star, contains a multitude. There are so many nuances, so much theory, so many questions and occasional answers that breaking open that space is like setting the Large Hadron Collider to full power and then running for the door.
Which brings us to the new Audi Q5, a car which, for me, occupies that white space between stars.
Objectively, it’s an excellent vehicle. Once it had been facelifted, the original Audi Q5 matured into a rather nice machine: comfortable and good to drive, practical and well made and only slightly maddeningly expensive once you’d dipped into the options list.
This new one follows that original catechism right down to the amen. It rides on a new platform, based on the same MLB structure that makes up the A4 and the next-gen A6 among others. It’s around 90kg lighter, model for model, comes with a bigger boot, more space for passengers and, thanks to raiding from the A4’s parts bin, one of the best vehicular interiors around.
I really mean that – the Q5’s cabin is analogous to a well-fitted Hugo Boss suit. Predictable? A little, yes. Subtle? Certainly. But you simply cannot deny the sheer quality of it, nor the way in which the various panels are stitched together into a coherent whole.
Our test car, in S-Line spec, was enlivened by the all-digital Virtual Cockpit instrument display, which can show you a wide-screen sat-nav map as well as the usual dials and trip computer functions. Hint: If you zoom the map right out you can fit the entire globe into the display and then you feel as if you’re Ming The Merciless (Flash Gordon’s nemesis, not the politician), plotting doom upon the Earth as you tackle the morning commute.
A touch gravelly
In spite of a slightly offset driving position, the Q5 is comfy and it’s mostly refined. I say mostly, as the 2.0-litre 190hp TDI diesel engine is a touch gravelly at times, and on coarse tarmac the tyres swish and roar a little more than I’d ideally like them to. Still, economy is decent for a big thing with four-wheel drive (Audi claims 5.1 litres per 100km, or 56mpg, but you’ll probably mostly get between 40-45mpg in real life) and performance, unless you have it in dulled-down Eco mode, is adequate. This is sounding like a solid four-star review if ever I heard one.
And then we get into the white space, the little gaps in the review. And this is where, for me at any rate, the Q5 seems to slip a little. The gearbox is my first bone of contention. It’s Audi’s seven-speed dual clutch S-Tronic box and it has an annoying flaw. If you pull up to turn right, waiting for oncoming traffic to pass, the engine not unnaturally slips into stop-start mode, which is fine – I’m all for saving fuel. But then, come off the brake and apply some throttle to take advantage of a gap in the cars heading the other way and . . . and . . . and . . . nothing happens. You sit, waiting, the gap narrowing, as the traffic keeps coming and then suddenly the engine and gearbox realise what’s happening, shunt themselves into action and with a clunk of transmission and a roar of over-enthusiastic revs, you make your turn, looking like a learner driver and with your ears burning from the insults being hurled at you. I know – you can switch off the stop-start and hold the gearbox in manual mode to stop that happening, but why should you have to? It’s just unnecessary.
Light & Mushy
There is another annoyance and it’s the steering. Our test car was equipped with Dynamic Select, which means you can pick from Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Individual modes and that’s great, but it basically means that you have steering that varies from Light & Mushy, Mushy, and Slightly Less Mushy. Which is not what you want from your sporting SUV, now, is it? Rivals from Jaguar and Mercedes come with much sweeter helms, so there’s no excuse.
I know, I know – that’s the enthusiastic, Mazda MX5-loving car nut in me speaking, not the level-headed consumer journalist, and this is where we come back to the star ratings conundrum. You see, objectively, I know that very few of you will select or reject a new car on the basis of steering feel or gearbox responsiveness. You will make decisions which are much more sensible, and much more foolish, depending on your point of view. As that great philosopher Obi Wan Kenobi put it, a great deal in this universe depends on your point of view.
So, with my objectivity hat firmly screwed on, and the accountant-like left side of my brain switched to “Active”, the Audi Q5 is a four-star car. Handsome (especially in the navarra blue of our test car), capable, comfortable and built like a tank. You’d have to be a colossal picker of nits to find fault with it.
Ah. That’s where the cantankerous, subjective, bloody-minded right side of my brain kicks in, takes off the objective hat and stamps up and down on it. And while doing so exposes the flaw in star ratings.
For me, and just for me, this is a one-star car. Why? Simply because I don’t love it, I don’t crave ownership of one, and, once Audi took it back, I barely thought again about it. As a lover of cars, such vehicles deserve, in the combative half of my brain, a mere single star.
For the sake of balance - and not to pick unfailry on Audi in this instance while not hammering home the message with its rivals. Two Irish Times motoring journalists have tested this car now and both have found flaws that would keep it from a top ranking. We're settling on three stars.
Which leads us to the lesson of the day. Star ratings are all well and good, but if you really want to know what we think, read the words.
The lowdown: Audi Q5 2.0 TDI quattro 190hp S-Line S-Tronic
Price: as tested, €67,022. (Range starts at €47,500).
Top speed: 218km/h.
Claimed economy: 56mpg (5.1-l/100km).
CO2 emissions: 133g/km.
Motor tax: €280 per annum.
Verdict: The new Q5 plays all the right notes, but depending on your point of view, not necessarily in the right order.
Rating: 1/5 (or 4/5 with objectivity hat screwed on)