Sunday Drive by Hormazd Sorabjee: Audi’s comeback in India

The Q5 could be the car that Audi is making up for lost time (and market share) with, after an 18-month hiatus
The Audi Q5 is a luxurious, practical SUV that is ‘not-too-big’ and ‘not-too-small’
The Audi Q5 is a luxurious, practical SUV that is ‘not-too-big’ and ‘not-too-small’
Published on Nov 13, 2021 09:17 PM IST
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The timeframe to launch a new car is something auto companies plot years in advance, but the pandemic has upended the most meticulous of plans. It’s not uncommon for car launches to be horribly delayed as brands grapple with an uncertain world which is beyond their control. Take Audi, for example. The German luxury car brand had discontinued most of its models by March 2020 with the onset of BS6 emission regulations. The plan was to replace its product line-up with fresh new models that met the stricter emission standards. But as we know, it was exactly at that time that the pandemic struck. Lockdowns, a ban on international travel, logistics issues and innumerable restrictions hit Audi’s plans for a six.

But now, with the world returning to some semblance of normality, Audi is making up for lost time (and market share) by launching models thick and fast. Which is why the launch of the Audi Q5, which returns after an 18-month hiatus, couldn’t have come a day sooner. The Q5, which sits in that ‘not-too-big, not-too-small’ sweet spot of the luxury car segment, is a key model for Audi, especially since in pre-pandemic times, SUVs accounted for 45 per cent of all Audi sales in India. The Q5 returns with a facelift it received in June 2020, but is it still fresh enough to lead Audi India’s SUV comeback?

Keeping it simple

The updates given to the new Q5 are few and subtle. The most noticeable changes are to the nose. The LED headlights have been redesigned, and the octagonal grille is wider and flatter with striking brushed metal, vertical slats. The tail lamps are redesigned too, and now linked with a metallic strip, but you’ll be hard-pressed to notice the changes. There’s a splash of silver under the doors and the bumpers are new, too. The wheel size has been increased from 18 to 19 inches, and the larger alloys and tyres give the Q5 a nice planted stance, but the alloy wheel design is too simple. And simplicity is the the theme of the Q5. The design changes are not dramatic and the Q5 remains a sharply styled, but understated looking SUV.

Inside the cabin, the changes are even fewer, the only visible one being a larger 10.1-inch infotainment screen in place of the previous car’s 8.3-inch. But the big news is that like in other recent Audi facelifts, the Q5 too gets, for the first time, a touchscreen which is slick and easy to operate. The good thing is that some physical buttons are still retained, which is refreshing in an age where you have to poke a screen to operate almost any function. Audi’s signature ‘virtual cockpit’ too has been upgraded with higher resolution digital dials.

The updated cabin gets a 10.1-inch infotainment screen, but retains physical buttons
The updated cabin gets a 10.1-inch infotainment screen, but retains physical buttons

The Audi Q5 was always well-equipped, and in addition to goodies like wireless phone charging, a panoramic sunroof, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, park assist, adaptive dampers and eight airbags, the latest Q5 gets a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system on the top technology trim.

A trusted companion

The Q5 is a pretty practical SUV too, with its generous back seat and large 550-litre boot. It makes the most of all the space inside the cabin which has enough storage area to keep your stuff.

Like all new Audis, the Q5 no longer comes with a diesel engine. It only gets a 2-litre TFSI which produces a substantial 249hp. It’s a smooth and refined engine which does the job of whisking you to some serious speeds pretty rapidly. This engine revs quite freely, but is lacking in pulling power at low speeds, and you have to play with the paddle shifters to get the most out of this motor.

Ride comfort is absolutely top-class and even on bad roads the Q5 feels like it’s riding on a pillow of air, especially when you’re in the softest ‘Comfort Mode’ suspension setting. The smooth ride, good composure at high speeds and a strong engine make the Q5 a trusted companion on long trips, and even in town, where the suspension rounds off sharp edges effortlessly. The Q5 could be the car to stage Audi’s comeback in India and put it a step closer to closing the gap with its rival brands.

The views expressed by the columnist are personal

From HT Brunch, November 14, 2021

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021