AUDI'S BUNCH OF FIVESAudi's SQ5 TDI brings massive power and torque to the compact 4x4 sector. It's one heck of a package. Andy Enright reports.
Ten Second ReviewThe Audi SQ5 TDI does what few thought was either advisable or possible, namely packing a 313PS twin-turbo diesel powerplant into a mid-sized SUV. Do you really need that much power? Not really. Would you like it though? You bet. It's not cheap but it does bring a welcome shot of sparkle to the Q5 line up.
BackgroundThis is a bit of a first. To date, all Audis that have carried the go-faster 'S' badge have been powered by petrol engines. Every last one of 'em. The SQ5 model is the first to sport a diesel engine under its bonnet and it's exactly the right engine to usher in a new wave of S-cars. The S models don't have the quasi-motorsport heritage of BMW's M models so Audi don't have quite the same resistance amongst customers to the idea of a diesel S model. A diesel RS model though? It'll probably come and it'll probably be very good.
The Q5 probably wasn't the car that many would have fingered to usher in this quiet revolution. Audi's mid-range 4x4, it's sold respectably but has failed to cause much of a stir. Perhaps Audi felt that now was the time to really let the car off the leash and show what it was capable of. First seen at the 2012 Le Mans weekend, the SQ5 is a serious signal of intent.
Driving ExperienceIf you're a seasoned Audi watcher, you might have witnessed the arrival of the BiTDi engine in the A6 range in summer 2012. It feels an absolute brute of a motor fitted to this Q5, developing 313PS and some 650 Nm of torque between 1,450 and 2,800 rpm. That's instant go, channelled through an eight-speed tiptronic automatic transmission to the road via quattro all-wheel drive. This translates into a sprint to 62mph from a standstill in just 5.1 seconds, or 0-60 in 4.9 seconds if you prefer. Like most Audis, the top speed is electronically limited to 155mph.
In case you were wondering if a diesel S model might sound a bit, well, dieselly, Audi has fitted the SQ5 with a specially developed sound actuator in the exhaust system which brings a bit of bass and purpose to the exhaust note.
The SQ5 sports a broadly similar electromechanical power steering system to the rest of the Q5 range while sport suspension reduces its ride height by 30 millimetres. The optional Audi drive select system can be expanded upon request to include the dynamic steering system with its steplessly variable steering ratio. Needless to say, with the lowered ride height and low-profile tyres, this is one 4x4 that you won't want to be pointing at a rutted track.
Design and BuildThe SQ5 looks the part with a platinum grey single-frame grille and galvanized roof bars in an aluminium-look finish. There's also a subtle roof spoiler and modified bumpers. The high-gloss package and the aluminium-look exterior mirrors accentuate the area around the windows, while the SQ5 is also offered with the crystal effect paint finishes Estoril Blue or Panther Black. The body includes a high proportion of ultra-high-strength steels in all of the key load pathways, making it extremely safe and rigid. Fitted as standard are a set of five parallel-spoke 20-inch wheels, shod with 255/45 series tyres. Should you want to harshen the ride quality still further, Audi will sell you a 21-inch alloy wheel. The recommendation here is to try before you buy.
The interior is as smart and practical as you'd expect from Audi. The rear seat backs can be reclined to increase comfort and the whole of the back bench can be folded at a stroke by means of a lever in the boot. Luggage space is 540 litres but once those seats are stowed, 1,560 litres is available.
Market and ModelThe interior is finished in cool blacks and greys with a minimalist look that is reassuringly expensive-looking. If the black theme seems a little overbearing, the head lining can be specified in lunar silver which lightens the ambience a little. The power-adjustable sport seats are leather trimmed, complementing the brushed aluminium inlays. The fascia inlays can be specified in Carbon Atlas and Piano finish but there's also an aluminium/Beaufort wood black trim option which is a lot more attractive than you might expect.
The instrument dials are finished in grey and include a 3D-design S badge. The needles are a contrasting white and the pedals and shift paddles have an aluminium-look finish. Additional visual highlights in the interior are the S gear lever knob, the S badges on the door sill trims, the start button, the specially-shaped steering wheel and the lighting package.
Options also include Audi's state-of-the-art assistance and infotainment systems, as well as Audi connect services, bringing the many benefits of the internet to the car. The 'Mobile phone preparation - High with online services' package is on the options list and features an integrated Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) hotspot. This allows passengers to access the Internet and email with their smartphones, plus it also brings customized Google online services into the car. Another data feature is the smartphone app Audi music stream. This accesses more than 5,000 web radio stations and the audio signal is transmitted over the audio system loudspeakers and controlled via the MMI system. It's clever stuff and one area where Audi seems to be taking technology leadership.
Cost of OwnershipSomewhat remarkably for an SUV that will get to 60mph in less than five seconds, should you choose to drive it in a less demented fashion you could see 39.2mpg. Of course, it'll be hard to resist prodding those turbochargers into life at any opportunity and in the real world, if you can get anything over 30mpg, you've got some rather saintly restraint, but that's still not a bad return for such a potent and useful vehicle.
With prices starting at around £45,000 without options, it'll be interesting to see the final price tag that these cars are actually carrying out of dealerships. If it's less than £50,000, I'd be very surprised. The very extremity of the SQ5 acts as a buffer in certain respects to depreciation. If you want the 'most everything' mid-sized SUV, accept no substitute. That alone will guarantee a ready queue of takers.
SummaryThe Audi SQ5 TDI is a fascinating glimpse into the state of the SUV building art. Okay, so shoving a hugely powerful diesel engine into a mid-range 4x4 doesn't sound like rocket science, but this is no ordinary engine and the Q5 is no ordinary vehicle. The combination of these constituents moves the genre on a good few steps. All too often with premium brands, and especially with Audi, the fast all-wheel drive estate cars already on offer are so good it leaves you wondering why you'd bother with the SUVs. The SQ5 poses just one question to that mindset: why not?
With 313PS on tap, you're never short of power and with 650Nm of torque on tap, you won't even need to buy a caravan. Just screw a towing eye to the side of your house and drag it up the road. But is this car a wee bit over the top? Probably. Will you love it regardless? Most definitely.