In the eight years the Audi Q5 has been around, it's made an outsized splash for the German automaker. As part of a wave of compact luxury SUVs such as the Acura RDX, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Infiniti QX50 all aiming to battle the BMW X3, the Q5 quickly became a best-seller. Since its birth, over 1.6 million Q5 models have been sold worldwide, and this 2-row/5-passenger crossover SUV has been Audi's top-selling model since 2013, making up about a quarter of its sales.

With that high bar as its backdrop, Audi knew it had to get the all-new, second-gen, 2018 Q5 right. If our first impression of a pre-production model is any indication, that mission appears a success.  

More power, bigger, yet familiar shape

The all-new Q5 is fresh yet familiar, boasting crisp lines, new LED lighting and revamped grille. And this isn't a mere comb over and slight enlargement of the existing model. As one Audi executive put it in the media introduction, it's "all new down to the last bolt." 

While global variations of this Audi luxury SUV will offer a choice of powertrains, the U.S.-spec model offers only one: a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, the same size offered on the current base model, linked to a 7-speed S tronic automatic transmission. Unlike the current Q5, no V6 will be offered. But Audi is quick to point out that the new 4-cylinder, which makes 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, is actually quicker from 0-60 mph than the current-gen 6-cylinder model, boasting the ability to hit that performance benchmark in just 5.9 seconds.  If you're even more serious about performance, know that an all-new SQ5, featuring a turbocharged V6, will be offered later.

In addition to having slightly more interior room, the new Q5 comes with Audi's latest innovations, many of which make the all-new A4 sedan a standout. Among the highlights are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Audi's slick Virtual Cockpit -- a configurable, digital dashboard -- and driver-assist features that can do everything from automatically stop the car to prevent a collision to recognize traffic signs and warn you about an approaching car or cyclist when exiting the vehicle. 

Quattro, Ultra-fied

For our initial test of the 2018 Q5, Audi invited us to Baja California, where we drove this luxury crossover SUV over hundreds of miles around the southern tip of the Mexican peninsula. Terrain ranged from ribbons of smooth and empty asphalt to an off-road course filled with sand, moguls and ruts. 

As the 2018 Audi Q5 is still a few months off from hitting showrooms, the versions we drove were pre-production models, but you'd have a hard time knowing that based on their fit and finish. Like all the models that will be destined for the United States, these second-gen Q5 SUVs are built at Audi's factory in San Jose Chiapa, Mexico.

Like the current model, the 2018 Q5 comes with Quattro all-wheel drive (AWD) standard. As with the rest of the Q5, Quattro has been revamped. This new version has Audi's Ultra technology, which optimizes the AWD for both performance and efficiency. Years in the making, Ultra helps save fuel by powering just the front wheels as often as it can. But it's always ready to send power and grip to the tires that need it most, with the ability to instantly send 100 percent of power front or back depending on circumstance. When starting from a dead stop, Quattro is enabled to assure the best grip possible.

We can attest to the system's strengths. Audi's Quattro has always been among the best AWD systems out there, and Ultra only enhances that. We had an Audi engineer with us who, using a proprietary app on an iPad, was able to show us the system working in real time. Quattro Ultra's response was instantaneous and imperceptible. During a particularly twisty mountain road, we pushed the Q5 as hard as we could, and it never lost grip or composure. The SUV just stuck.

The new turbo engine and 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission worked just as flawlessly. The engine offers plenty of verve, especially in Dynamic mode, and shifts come smoothly and quickly. On the comfort side of the equation, this new Audi scored high marks there, too. We particularly like the seating position and the wide windowsill where you can comfortably rest your arm.

Off-pavement performer

The Quattro AWD system is made for any kind of weather condition or terrain, and while Audi's reps couldn't quite manufacture a rain storm or snow for our drive outside balmy Cabo San Lucas, they did lead us to an extensive off-road course.  

Here, too, the Q5 performed better than expected thanks to its excellent powertrain and slight increase in ground clearance, from 7.9 inches in the outgoing model to 8.2 in this new one. We basically treated this Audi crossover as a rally car, bombing over dirt and sand and high speeds. We may or may not have even caught air over a mogul. Again, the Q5 delighted. We doubt most buyers will try high-speed off-road adventures or jumping their Q5, but if the urge strikes, know that this Audi is up to the task.

Pricing and availability

The 2018 Audi Q5 is set to arrive in showrooms in spring of 2017. Audi reps are mum on exact pricing, but said the new model will be "comparable" to the existing one. Or as one PR guy put it: "If you can buy the old one, you can buy the new one." The existing model, by the way, begins just under $42,000. 

Like the current model, the new one will come quite reasonably equipped even in standard form, with amenities that include leather seating, Audi's Pre Sense active safety system, Apple and Android smartphone integration, Quattro Ultra all-wheel drive and the ability tow up to 4,400 pounds. 

Audi's first-gen Q5 became an instant hit and an easily recommendable luxury SUV. From our first brush with the second-gen version, we think the new model will only improve on that model's success.

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