A more steroidal version of the stampeding SQ5 is set to keep Audi’s medium crossover relevant until the new-generation replacement comes in early 2017.
ARRIVAL soon of a hardened performance model has helped fuel importer resolve that the Q5, though now Audi’s oldest product and a prestige category veteran, will last out a full final year of sale in good form.
Mercedes’ just-landed GLC has further tightened the screws in an already crowded and seriously competitive prestige medium sports utility sector and a diminished 2015 sales tally suggests Q5, which dates back to 2008, is feeling the heat.
Also perhaps not helping sell the current car is the gradual release of information about its replacement, seen here in camouflage.
The new-generation Q5, built off the latest VW Group platform and set to feature many of the advanced features that Kiwis see on the latest Q7 and the new A4 launching in a matter of weeks, is being unveiled internationally around September.
However, Audi NZ says the next Q5 won’t reach NZ until perhaps April, 2017, with a spin-off coupe-like Q4 a year after that.
In the meantime, New Zealand boss Dean Sheed reckons fighting fire with fire is the right response to ensure the Q5 remains as “the mainstay, the backbone of our line-up.”
He has obliquely confirmed the SQ5 Plus, an enhanced 250kW/700Nm version of the turbodiesel performance flagship SQ5 that for the past two years has accounted for 50 percent of Q5 volume, will become the focus of sales effort this year.
“We won’t let Q5 languish until run-out … if you take a macro view, this country is crazy on SUVs; they’re about 40 percent of sales – we love them.”
Audi NZ had a plan to ensure Q5 remained relevant. “What has changed in the market place is that we are facing some competitors that have tweaked up the heat. There’s been a new entrant with the GLC and the Porsche Macan has also done exceptionally well.
“We have more competitors in that segment than we have ever had. So we need to ensure Q5 is as competitive as it can be in its last 12-18 months of its life. There’s nothing wrong with the car – but there are more competitors. We are not afraid of that.
“But we have a good market plan (for Q5),” he continued. “The performance version is a model with a very sound niche and we have a nice recipe there to take that car out to 250 kiloWatts. We’re good with sporting SUVs so look out for that car.”
The ‘Plus’ part of the name in the main reflects that peak power and torque outputs from the model’s 3.0-litre turbodiesel are enhanced by 20kW and 50Nm over the current car.
A higher fuel injector pressure and more boost allow outputs that, in terms of torque, leave the medium crossover with as much muscle as Audi's mighty RS6 Avant - and it does so while returning an average fuel economy of 6.7 l/100km.
For all that, the enhanced and current SQ5s have identical 0-100kmh sprint times of 5.1 seconds.
However, there’s no argument that the SQ5 Plus looks even more the business than its donor. The upgraded model steps up to 21-inch alloys and also sports new exhaust tip finishers and gloss black exterior mirror housings, door handles, tailgate spoiler and diffuser.
There’s probability Audi here will offer at least some examples in the bespoke and highly distinctive "Macaw Blue" colour scheme that has been limited to 100 examples in its home market. Those special versions of this special also take sports front seats in black Nappa leather with blue contrast stitching and unique alloy interior trim.
There’s a mechanical upgrade beyond the engine bay, with the ‘Plus’ taking an upgraded quattro all-wheel-drive system that provides an active rear differential that vectors torque from left to right to aid handling.
Launch dates and the full specification for New Zealand remains under wraps, likewise the price – though it would be fair to assume the ‘Plus’ might carry a premium over the current SQ5, a $128,500 offer.
Audi nominally has three Q5 derivatives here but in reality is down to two, with the price-leader $91,900 (or $97,400 in S-Line) 2.0-litre having been withdrawn since late last year due its engine being caught up in the VW Group dieselgate emissions cheating scandal.
Shead says the entry model will be returned to sale once it is cleaned up – potentially with a re-chip for an engine management computer – but until that occurs, the only alternate to the SQ5 is the 3.0-litre biturbo, a $111,500 (or $117,000 in S-Line) ask.
Despite its age, Q5 remains a core performer for Audi NZ but it has been hurt – normally good for 250 sales a year, it appeared to pull in just 111 registrations in 2015, when overall Audi count also dropped, to 1765 units from 2075 in 2014. Mercedes meantime took the category crown with 2095 units and BMW placed second with 1952, after also sustaining a volume drop, from 2126 units in 2014.
“We hover around 200-250 Q5s a year … but for the fourth quarter we have not been able to sell that 2.0-litre TDi which has been the other 50 percent of our Q5 sales.”
New Q5 will retain a performance turbodiesel in the SQ5 format, but there’ll be a new top dog in the first RSQ5, presumed to pack a twin turbo version of Audi’s new petrol V6, producing more than 370kW and delivering 0-100kmh in around 4.5 seconds.
Being on the new MLB platform, the next car will also be up to 100kg lighter and will switch to the A4’s five-link suspension, but with self-levelling air suspension according to one overseas’ report.
The new cabin, meantime, will offered the Virtual Cockpit instrument panel so far seen in TT and Q7, but also to be a key feature of the new A4 here.
Also potentially set to release at some juncture is an e-tron plug-in rechargeable electric prioritized drivetrain not available with the current generation. With Audi NZ committed to the A3 e-tron and set to receive an e-tron Q7 this year, the power-packed Q5 seems a natural future fit.
Another interesting new angle is sourcing point; currently all NZ-bound Q5s come from Europe, but next time around the car will also be assembled in China, Mexico and India.
Sheed says while Europe remains the most likely future provider, there’s still potential for an alternate source. “It hasn’t been determined yet … Audi has built, and will be building, Q5 out of Mexico. We will assess that but, quite frankly, we haven’t yet made any decisions. I’ve got no product taking product from there.”
Meantime, the current car should remain in stock right up until the new era replacement arrives, he says.
As for last year’s diminished Audi sales performance? “If you look at volume, it was definitely down and, yes we were No.3, but on customer satisfaction it was our best ever.”
The A4 runout and losing Q5 2.0-litre did impact, but the late-year RS3 and Q7 launches delivered positivity that has yet to be fully realized and there’ll be a lift, he argues, with new A4 arriving – first in sedan then, a month on, in Avant wagon. Also Audi NZ is about to undertake an Audi Sport push with the new R8 taking lead role.