Audi Q5 and SQ5: Chasing great

The new Audi Q5 range once again features a SQ5 flagship – one with a change of heart.


GOOD news for fans of the previous Audi SQ5 who've been left confused about the fabulous stonking biturbo-boosted oiler being dropped.

It’s a momentary adjustment. Your favourite toy is coming back – just not straight away.

Ingolstadt’s decision to oust the highly-acclaimed twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre turbodiesel that delighted as a performance flagship choice in the preceding Q5 range in favour of a similar capacity, single turbo petrol V6 for the new-gen equivalent is not an end-all, Audi New Zealand’s boss assures.

In introducing the new $121,900 flagship of a three-model Q5 line that also includes 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol and diesel versions, respectively priced at $99,900 and $92,900, Dean Sheed yesterday wasted no time assuring that the SQ5 TDi, the car that immediately on arrival back in 2013 reset the concept of what a phwoarhorse medium ‘sports’ SUV can be, will be reborn.

And when it comes back, again in biturbo format, Sheed is committed to taking it. Because? Well, to broaden the car’s appeal and, in a way, as an insurance.

Sheed says so far he has not had any adverse comment from the owner base for the outgoing car about how eager they are about abdicating a highly-rated turbodiesel for a petrol that, on the face of it, might provide a less intense kind of thrill.

“Only a few people who have got their ear to the ground know that the new SQ5 is petrol … currently. But I can say we will have a new diesel coming and, yes, it will be a new biturbo diesel. But it’s about 12 months away.”

Is there room for both kinds of SQ5? Sheed having sistership stonkers - one that drinks high-octane lager, the other still preferring to sup the darkest brew on the forecourt – makes it the best kind, cover-all-bases solution.

He agrees the fanbase for the outgoing car is incredibly strong; in accounting for 50 percent of Q5 volume since its introduction three years ago, the diesel SQ5 is considered “the foundation of the (old) Q5 range.”

Continues Sheed: “It was an extremely good car. It was our first ‘S’ model to be a SUV and it was our first ‘S’ model to be a diesel – and it has just gone gangbusters.

“Which why we’ve put our hand up for the new biturbo and will take it as soon as it is available.”

Meantime, there’s this petrol edition, also not a new idea – except to Kiwis.

The outgoing car also provisioned with a lairy V6 petrol, just not here, because it restricted to left-hand drive. Now, as result of it striking big in petrol-specific markets America, China and Japan, this engine has assume priority status.

So how will those 400 or so New Zealand market owners of the first-gen car feel about this second coming?

Sheed accepts there will be some who might choose to stay true to the devil they know.

But he reckons others will take a punt on the alternate direction model now, if only so they can immediately enjoy a new shape Q5 offering a ton of enticing fresh technology.

Fair call? Initial exposure to the latest Q5 in all its iterations was certainly an agreeable opportunity.

Yes, the new SQ5 is quite different to the old – we’ll get back to how much soon – but with this new Q5 line you get a swag of improvement.

Prepare to meet a street-smart SUV with very tidy on-road dynamic talent that, against usual category convention to tune for tarmac and ignore the possibility it should really suit any other terrain, actually acquits reasonably well off-road. For us, that box was ticked with a tour of a high-country farm adjacent to the launch venue, a golf resort near Windwhistle, inland from Christchurch, with some creek crossing, hill-climbing then, best of all, a drift skill sharpening grass gymkhana.

Audi is on a big tech roll-out and while the Q5 stops short of offering the very latest gizmos - such as level three autonomous driving (that hands’ free delight is reserved for the NZ-booked A8) - it has plenty of whizzo features to surprise, astound and - if your electro-ability is challenged by having to do something as simple as setting up an email account - potentially stump.

Another upgrade over the previous gen is the introduction of the virtual cockpit that is now increasingly prevalent in all Audi cars and wireless phone charging. It takes 20-plus driver assistances, whereas the old line had eight.

In addition, on the 140kW/400Nm TDI Design model and 185kW TFSI Sport, there’s the new 'quattro with ultra' system that reverts to front-wheel drive whenever possible - to the benefit of economy and emissions – but snaps back, in milliseconds, to full all-paw ability the moment it senses a loss of traction.

I personally prefer AWD that’s AWD all of the time, but Audi’s seemed to work. Ultimately, in the off-road bits, it was only when the road rubber became mud-clogged that the cars started to slip up.

Styling-wise, Audi hasn't gone to town with a radical overhaul. The new shell is something of a lookalike in general air, but more angular around the edges and sporting smart new headlamps and an angular grille.

The new underpinning means it is larger in every dimension, and though the styling disguises this at the kerbside, the enhancements to interior room are obvious as soon as you slide in, with obvious benefit to comfort. Finally, it seems, the Q5 will be roomy enough for five adults. Also, the boot holds more luggage.

Audi doesn’t do cheap cars; but neither does it provide cheap interiors. The cabin environment is beautifully finished and effortlessly operable. The provision here of the trick Virtual Cockpit in place of conventional dials is a smart move; the configurable display with its many options is strong singular selling point.

That it seems quieter and more refined reflects not just on the more exacting design techniques but also on it being an epitome of German design excellence and craftsmanship … even though the place where it is built is as far away from Berlin as Blenheim is and employs line worker more likely to answer to Jose than Herman.

Audi’s investment in the country Donald Trump wants to wall off is hugely ironic; the whole point of commissioning this brand-new factory at San Jose Chiapa, in the northern Mexican state of Pueblo, was so Audi can better serve US demand. Everywhere else in the world benefits too, because this is to be the sole global sourcing point. From the seamless quality of the cars we drove, this plant is well on the way to proving that German excellence can transfer overseas’ without hitch.

All in all, then, the new car is destined to truck on as a major contributor to Audi's sales success in the SUV sector.

You can imagine the four-cylinder products lifting their game, which will please Audi NZ; these models’ predecessors were being hurt by the new Mercedes GLC.

How the SQ5 goes from now on will be interesting: It’s definitely a fast and sharp-edged model, but at the same time has a very different character now.

Good news is that there’s even more power, another 30kW in fact, so 260kW in total, and a scintillating soundtrack.

Get it into the performance mode, snag the gears down a cog or two and you’re treated to a snarly exhaust song with some nicely satisfying crackle-pop on the over-run. And it knows how to rev, too; much more so that the TDi did.

Not so good news is that the famous wall of torque has crumbled. While the optimal 500Nm claimed for the petrol V6 represents decent muscle for that type, it’s not on par with the gravity-counteracting shove you experienced with the old. The diesel SQ5 had a Porsche Macan-humbling 650Nm at launch and that rose to 700Nm with the final-issue ‘Plus’ see-me-out.

To be fair, the new model has less mass to muscle. Switching to the new MQB platform not only brings better body integrity but also allows a decrease in weight.

Yet even though the torque-to-tonnage ratio is improved over the old petrol SQ5, a factory-claimed 5.3 seconds 0-100kmh means it’s smoked by the old diesel, which had a 0.2s advantage.

Also given the burn is economy. The previous SQ5 would achieve 6.8-litres-per-100km fuel economy on the test bench and barely broke 10L in real life use; but petrol offers a lab-tested best of 8.3L/100km. Give it the bash, as occurred on the launch, and the count is into the teens.

But maybe the above is all semantics, given that according to Audi that, in the old Q5’s eight-year life cycle, at least half were sold to professionals who mostly lived in Auckland. In all likelihood, that buyer base almost certainly wasn’t thinking about thrift when they bought into the old SQ5. It was all about the immense thrust.

In addition to taking wheel time in the hotshot edition, I also got to drive the four-cylinder products. Pick of those two has to – ahem – the diesel; again, it’s all about the seamlessness of the shove. Also, this engine is especially smooth and quiet once moving, whereas the 2.0-litre TFSi is the opposite.

The four-cylinder models have conventional springs with variable damping, with a Drive Select control to select the comfort level, while the SQ5 steps to air suspension, again with a rotary controller.

The dynamic modes obviously take some of the bounce and body roll out of the Comfort setting, but without adding harshness. All three Q5s cornered with assured ability, though the SQ5 does so with a little more verve.

The car’s roll-out completes a period of extensive launch activity for Audi here; last week it released a plug-in hybrid version the Q7 large SUV flagship and recently the new A5 coupe, RS3, TT RS have released. More is to come. Before the end of the year sellers will have to find showroom space for an A5 cabrio, R8 Spyder, the new RS5 coupe and revised RS3 Sportback.

Oh yes, there’s also talk of an RS Q3 using the RS3’s all-new aluminium five-cylinder turbo engine – the most powerful in the class with 294kW – and, in 2018, the Q8 and an all-electric SUV.