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The 2021 Audi Q5Courtesy of manufacturer

Audi is hoping an updated version of its best-selling Q5 SUV will tempt buyers back into showrooms – physical or virtual – now that people are buying cars again.

In May, new vehicles sales rebounded after hitting a record low in April, according to market research firm DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

The Audi Q5 already has sales momentum on its side. Through the first three months of 2020, it was the best-selling compact luxury SUV in Canada – ahead of the Lexus NX and Audi Q3 – according to GoodCarBadCar data. (This time last year, the Q5 ranked second in sales, behind the Mercedes-Benz GLC, for which sales data is missing for 2020.)

Clearly, the Q5 wasn’t broken and Audi didn’t need to fix it. Nevertheless, it’s getting some significant upgrades for the 2021 model year.

Chief among the updates is a new infotainment system that does away with Audi’s usual rotary-dial controller and replaces it with a new 10.1-inch touchscreen. The brand did the same thing in the revised 2020 A4, and while the screen itself was snappy and responsive, the lack of a physical controller meant taking your eyes off the road more often to look at the screen.

Compared to the number two best-seller, the Lexus NX, Audi’s infotainment system is already miles ahead. The 2020 Mercedes GLC has that brand’s new MBUX infotainment system, which is excellent, and still has physical controls in the form of a highly-intuitive touchpad. (Take notes, Lexus)

Usually when we talk about power in a car it’s horsepower, but increasingly computing power is going to be a differentiator, as is the case here. Audi claims the Q5′s new computing unit has 10 times the power of the previous one. It makes possible things like seamless pinch-to-zoom maps and high-resolution Google Earth images. Live traffic updates are now accurate down to individual lanes too, which should be useful on major highways.

Cloud-based voice control may not sound like a big upgrade, but in our experience the “cloud-based” bit makes all the difference. Similar systems that rely solely on the vehicle’s on-board computing power are often frustrating since they rarely understand what you ask them. In the Q5, if you say, like a barbarian, “I’m hungry,” the Audi will look up restaurants along your current route. Amazon Alexa is also integrated into the car too.

Open this photo in gallery:

Courtesy of manufacturer

Open this photo in gallery:

2021 Audi Q5Courtesy of manufacturer

The exterior style has received minor tweaks. It’s still much more conservative, less fussy-looking than the Lexus NX. On the flip side, the Q5 doesn’t really stand out as much among the usual array of small crossovers.

Dany Garand, a Montreal-born senior designer at Audi, said the goal of tweaks to the Q5 were to change how it looked on the road. It does look stronger now in profile, thanks to a lower side-sill graphic that props the car up visually. There are new OLED (organic light emitting diode) rear lights, that run through different animations when you lock or unlock the car. It’s a bit sci-fi and totally unnecessary, but could be useful for showing off to your neighbours.

A new set of 21-inch wheels adds curb appeal, as does a very on-trend new green paint colour.

The Q5 will be available with a plethora of engine options: two different plug-in hybrids, a four-cylinder and a V-6. The non plug-ins have a new mild-hybrid system that will improve fuel efficiency by a few percentage points. The motors are mated to automatic transmissions: a seven-speed dual-clutch with four-cylinder engines or an eight-speed conventional automatic with V-6 motors. A mildly sporty SQ5 model will arrive as well.

We expect quattro all-wheel drive on all versions, but Audi couldn’t provide details on the specifications or fuel consumption ratings of Canadian models yet.

There won’t be a fully-electric version of this SUV, since the Audi e-tron, e-tron Sportback, and upcoming Q4 e-tron already fill that void.

It’s a safe bet to assume prices will start at or around the $46,300 of the current model. If the price stays at that level, it represents a small premium over the Lexus NX and would be a few thousand dollars less than the Mercedes GLC or BMW X3. The Q5 will face off against other strong rivals, including the Volvo XC60, Acura RDX, Lincoln Corsair and Jaguar F-Pace.

As a group, sales of compact luxury SUVs didn’t drop as severally as most other types of vehicles during the initial months of the pandemic, according to data from DesRosiers. They were hot sellers before COVID-19, and automakers will be looking to popular vehicles like these to jump start sales.

Audi, like most other automakers, introduced online shopping for new and used vehicles through its website, as well as contactless test-drives and handovers.

The new 2021 Audi Q5, including the plug-in hybrid and SQ5, will arrive this fall in Canada.

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