Car reviews - Audi - Q5 - SQ5
Great throttle response, unique engine note, good fuel economy, stacked with gear
Room for improvement
Difficult to disguise the fact it’s a tallish, heavy soft-roader, bargain introductory offer is no more
19 Jul 2013
By BARRY PARK
Price and equipment
The Audi SQ5 TDI landed in Australia with a limited-run, feature-packed introductory offer on the first 60 cars sold, complete with a $89,400 price-tag that included extra kit that saved buyers more than $14,700.
However, they’ve all been snapped up. The car is still sub-$90k, but now you’ll have to pay extra for the $15k of gear. Hot damn.
It’s not all bad. Despite the extra poke under the bonnet, the SQ5 officially sips no more than 7.0 litres per 100 kilometres, so it qualifies for a decent luxury car tax concession straight away. It’s also the cheapest performance-badged Audi – until the arrival of the circa $65,000 S3 hatchback later this year – when you consider the S4 starts from $119,900.
Standard kit runs to the 230kW/650Nm twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 under the bonnet matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, xenon headlights, leather seats with the front two powered and bearing the “SQ5” name, satellite navigation, a Bluetooth phone connection, 10-speaker six-CD audio, dusk-sensing headlights and rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors with reversing camera, an electric open-and-close tailgate, 20-inch alloy wheels, the high ride height with the commanding view over the road ahead, and the smug satisfaction that you have a fair chance of winning the drag race from the traffic lights.
If you were lucky enough to snare a launch edition – and our test car was a launch edition – you’d have 21-inch alloy wheels, Audi’s three-mode dynamic steering, a cracking Bang and Olufsen audio with digital radio, heated front and rear seats, extended aluminium trim, a luggage rail system and net in the boot, automatic high beam dipper, carbon-fibre-look inlays, alarm, and tinted glass from the rear doors back.
Cosmetically, there’s the more aggressive looks compared with the boggo Q5, including a vertical grille and a rear spoiler that kicks off the top of the tailgate.
If you get grumpy at missing out on a launch version, good luck taking your loyalties elsewhere. The BMW X3 xDrive30d featuring a 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder turbo diesel costs from $76,500 and drives well, but its only-mother-can-love-it looks don’t come close to the Audi.
Mercedes-Benz doesn’t compete – its GLK is left-hand-drive only – and Lexus only has a sluggish hybrid contender, no diesel. Infiniti has the FX30d GT priced from $85,900, but the interior space under its swept-back looks is compromised and the engine lacks welly – and fuel economy.
And then there’s the style leader, the Range Rover Evoque Prestige SD4, priced from $75,375 with an old-school six-speed auto. However, with only 140kW and 420Nm on tap, someone forgot to inject a sense of fun under the bonnet.
Audi does brilliant interiors, and the SQ5 does not stray from the reputation.
The Q5 received a mid-life interior spritz late last year, and is all the better for it.
Fit and finish are razor-sharp, all the materials used exude quality, and everything seen from the driver’s seat shows that the focus is all on you and no one else.
The interior is much like any other Audi Q5, although our test car includes that “Audi select” button on the rising centre console. Our test car had the dynamic steering system that either weights up or lightens depending on the mode selected ranging from “economy” to “dynamic”, but also changed the engine’s note from a distant background noise to a deep, croaky burble.
The SQ5 also maintains the versatility of the more pedestrian Q5 range, which starts from $62,200 for the entry-level 130kW 2.0-litre turbo diesel model and tops out at $75,500 for a 200kW supercharged V6 version. That includes the narrow, but deep boot opening, and the split-fold sliding rear seats that fall forward at the pull of a boot-mounted lever to provide a flat load space.
Engine and transmission
Diesel engines tend to have a very narrow, powerful torque band, which tends to lend them more to lazy highway loping rather than out-and-out performance.
That’s reflected in the SQ5’s characteristics. Accelerate away from a standing start, and the engine’s revs will start to rise before suddenly dropping off as the next gear in the eight-speed torque converter rockets into its slot.
Compared with a rev-happy petrol V6, the party is over all too quickly.
Under a heavy throttle, nothing else sounds quite like it. There’s a low rumble with a metallic, almost BMW-esque metallic rasp to it, although you need to keep in the back of your mind that a fair component of what you’re hearing is synthesised noise, not the real deal. Don’t expect me to say what is real and what isn’t, though.
It is quick for a soft-roader though, and able to propel the SQ5 TDI from rest to 100km/h in just 5.1 seconds, all while using no more than 6.8L/100km on the official combined cycle.
We didn’t resist flexing the right ankle in the SQ5, yet we weren’t punished at the fuel pump. Our fuel use registered 8.7L/100km at the end of our week behind the wheel, 0.2L/100km below the 1400-odd kilometre long-term average the car was showing.
Ride and handling
At close to 2.0 tonnes, the SQ5 TDI is a big, heavy mid-sizer. But that works partly in its favour.
It endows the SQ5 with a confident on-road stance, riding smoothly and comfortably even on its oversize 21-inch optional wheels.
It corners well, too, with little body roll despite its lumbering height and excessive weight, although finding the limit of grip before the patron saint of balance abandons you and the devil that is understeer steps in to push the nose wide won’t match a road car.
Helping things is Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. It finds the best balance of front-wheel pull and rear-wheel push to allow the SQ5 to punch out of corners. Counting against it is steering that, even with Audi’s optional dynamic adjustment that pumps up the weight to give a sense of more feedback, fails to give the driver enough confidence in what the front wheels are doing.
Road noise, too, is a constant companion from the 21-inch rims, which makes us think the standard 20-inch hoops are the better choice.
The SQ5 TDI has ventilated brake discs front and rear that, on our testing at least, are well up to the task of pulling up all that mass in a hurry.
Safety and servicing
A crash test of a right-hand-drive diesel Q5 in Europe has earned the soft-roader a top five-star rating under the equivalent Australian rating system. That’s better than the Q5’s bigger brother, the four-star Q7, was able to achieve.
Standard safety runs to six airbags, including head-protecting side curtain airbags, electronic stability control that includes an off-road mode, a hill-hold function that grabs the brakes on a slope to stop the Q5 rolling back, and the reversing camera.
Owners get an offer of roadside assistance for the life of their three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
When you drop your car in for a service, Audi will even offer you transport options to get back to the office, including in some instances a low-cost loaner.
Audi’s SQ5 TDI shows you can still be at the cutting edge of the SUV boom, drive a fast car and yet show an environmentally responsible side.
Most of the talent we saw appears to express itself in a straight line, although with a raucous, engaging soundtrack to accompany it.
But you know what? There’s nothing out there quite like it, it’s economical, much more practical than a pure sports car, and in the right circumstances – such as claiming line honours in the sprint from the traffic lights – a heck of a lot of fun.
BMW X3 xDrive30d (From $76,500 before on-roads).
Get past that brutal name, and the next challenge is those brutal looks. An ugly puppy, but cheaper and handles nicely thanks to 190kW/560Nm serve and all-paw grip via an eight-speed auto. Cramped interior also counts against it somewhat.
Infiniti FX30d GT (From $85,900 before on-roads).
Polarising but muscular looks define Nissan’s US-based luxury brand. Torquey 175kW/550Nm turbo-diesel V6 delivers to the ground via grippy all-paw system, but swoopy design limits boot space and rear-seat headroom. Guzzles fuel compared with other in class.
Land Rover Evoque Prestige SD4 (From $75.375 before on-roads).
Only a growly 140kW/420Nm 2.2-litre single-turbo four-pot, so this serious, surprisingly tail-happy off-roader mated to a six-speed auto is little more than taking up space in this company. Worth considering for its looks alone if mumbo is not a key factor in the buying choice.
MAKE/MODEL: Audi SQ5 TDI
ENGINE: Twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6
LAYOUT: Longitudal, all-wheel-drive
TRANSMISSION: Eight-speed automatic
TOP SPEED: N/a
EMISSIONS: 179g/km CO2
SUSPENSION: Double wishbone (f)/trapezoidal link (r)
STEERING: Electrically assisted rack and pinion
BRAKES: Ventilated disc (f)/ventilated disc (r)
PRICE: From $89,400 before on-roads
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