It’s hard to find a more polarising category of vehicle these days than the SUV. From some quarters they’re viewed as ‘the enemy’ on urban roads, yet to an ever-increasing number of buyers, they are the hottest segment in the market. Audi has created a broad range of SUVs in several sizes, meaning there’s an SUV for every occasion.
But as the legislators roll up their sleeves to drive down vehicle emissions, SUVs are always going to be the ones hit the hardest, after all, the increased size and weight makes them less efficient and therefore emit more CO2. To counter this, Audi is now equipping its mid-size SUV, the Q5, with a plug-in hybrid powertrain that keeps it relevant and reduces not only the runnings costs for owners but the potential local emissions.
The Q5 is placed right in the goldilocks zone of Audi’s SUV range, providing a much less daunting size than the behemoth Q7, while allowing more space for passengers and cargo than the slightly more compact Q3. Its 465 litres of boot capacity equates to 13 carry-on suitcases (in case you had trouble visualising it). Getting stuff in and out of the boot is made easier by its generous aperture and flat load height, meaning there’s no high lip to hoosh heavy items over.
Beneath that boot floor lies a 14.1kWh lithium-ion battery that can provide enough energy for an electric driving range of up to 26 miles. Its electric motor is more powerful than in some other plug-in hybrids, with a maximum output of 141bhp. Being electric means there’s a good deal of instant torque - 350Nm in this case - ensuring that when it’s being propelled via electrons, it’s not sluggish.
That driving range of 26 miles might not seem like a vast distance on paper, but chances are you might not do all that much each day, and calculating how far you do typically drive is an important thing to do when considering a plug-in hybrid (or electric) car. Yes, you do have the fall-back option of having an engine under the bonnet, but the trick to getting the most from a PHEV is utilising that battery wherever possible.
Setting off from home with a full battery and, for example, charging it while you’re at work or while out shopping, will net you some healthy savings on your typical fuel bill. Another benefit of charging at home is being able to pre-condition the interior while the car is still plugged into the mains. That way, the car is already at a pleasant temperature and already defrosted in the winter months. No more scraping the windscreen ice clear on those cold winter mornings.
Taking this approach can also help you get close to the mind-bogglingly low fuel consumption figures that Audi claim is possible with the Q5 TFSIe. Up to 117.7mpg makes the part-petrol-powered Q5 much more economical than a diesel equivalent. But figures aside, the Q5 is a very pleasant thing to drive when it’s moving under battery power. Its electric motor emits only the faintest of whirs during use, something that’s easily drowned out by the sound system.
Comfort on the move isn’t an issue, even on 19-inch alloy wheels, the Q5 soaks up the ruts and roots of the urban jungle. Audi equips it with its Quattro all-wheel-drive transmission, too, so if you did decide to venture away from the tarmac, the Q5 should still be able to get you home. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox is lovely and smooth in how it operates, and most of the time you don’t notice it shifting between gear ratios. If, or when, you run out of juice in the battery, the 2.0-litre petrol engine sparks into life with minimal fuss. The four-cylinder unit isn’t very vocal and gets on with the job in a decent fashion, delivering smooth power low-down while having the legs to make motorway cruising a cinch.
If you want to fully exploit the Q5 TFSIe’s performance, and aren’t so concerned about your position in the fuel economy league table, then you can opt to run both motors simultaneously. With the 50 TFSIe model we’re driving here, that results in a combined power output of 295bhp and 450Nm of torque. That’s enough to see off a 0-62mph dash in 6.1 seconds making it a decently brisk SUV.
Should you crave a little more performance, the S line Competition variant is equipped with a different powertrain that Audi badges as the 55 TFSIe. Mechanically it is an identical system, using the same 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor. However, a different state of tune results in a higher total system power output of 362bhp and 500Nm of torque.
But the all-out pace isn’t where the plug-in Q5 excels. It delivers its best performance when combining its dual power sources to provide refined and mostly economical driving. The discreet nature of that powertrain accentuates the premium nature of the Audi’s interior, where materials and surfaces have a quality to them that you won’t find in a Japanese or Korean SUV. It can be a touch clinical inside, especially if you don’t opt for any brighter colours, but either way, the Q5 is a lovely place to surround yourself in during the commute. Those in the rear won’t complain about space either, and if you play the plug-in game right, you’ll rarely have to visit a petrol station again.
Model: Audi Q5 50 TFSIe
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with 105kW electric motor
Power: 295bhp system maximum
Torque: 450Nm system maximum
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Max speed: 148mph
WLTP fuel consumption: 104.6-117.7mpg
WLTP CO2: 54-46g/km