Audi Q5: and oldie but a goodie, but this one is an “S”.
Yes yes yes, oh YES!: Comfy, quiet, spacious, quick
Oh dear me no: pricey, bad instrument layout, feels behind rest of fleet in looks and function
Audi has renewed much of its fleet over the last few years but the Q5 is still waiting for a replacement model.
The sporty S version scores a superb 3.0L V6 turbo diesel with a slick 8 speed tiptronic auto transmission, but at the end of the day, it is still a diesel. The permanent AWD system uses a self-locking centre diff and a hydraulic torque converter with a lock-up clutch. The lock-up clutch means the engine is driving the wheels directly with no slip. The torque converter is the bit that allows cars to stop at lights without conking out like a manual would if you forget to stick your foot on the clutch.
The V6 puts out a reasonable 230kw of power, and a monumental 650Nm of torque, 170Nm more torque than that of her petrol sister. It’s this torque that will rocket you from a standing start to 100 in only 5.1 seconds. You get an average fuel consumption of 6.8 L/100k yielding more than a thousand kilometres from the 75L fuel tank.
Your road trip from Sydney to Melbourne would take a single tank with 540L of gear in the cargo hold. If you lower the back seats you’re going to fit a huge 1560L of stuff in. That’s not class leading by any means, but it’s enough to be going on with.
The exterior design is relatively modern with smooth lines and tasteful LED daytime running lights (DTRLs). I like the look of Audi lights but these have been around for almost 8 years and feel a bit so-so.
The 2012 refresh made a few changes to the front and rear, and brought a raft of new engines, but even that was 4 years ago.
The SQ5 feels luxurious as all Audis do but there is a marked difference between this, and the brand new interiors such as the Q7 and TT.
Most notable is the infotainment System. There is no USB for charging devices but plenty of 12v power points. It’s a BYO charger affair I’m afraid. You connect via a special cable which you get when you buy the car. It plugs into a socket in the glove box and provides a USB for your phone. We didn’t have the cable so were unable to test it.
The infotainment LCD is a fixed unit at the top of the centre stack. Newer Audis pop up out of the dash but can be stowed electrically if you don’t want it cluttering your dashboard. A fixed screen doesn’t affect function but doesn’t look as impressive.
The functions and buttons have an odd layout. For example, the Blind Spot Monitoring button is high up on the driver’s door near the exterior mirror, and the SYNC control for the dual air cond is deep in the infotainment menu. The menus are just too poorly laid out to be useful. I like at least 8 preselect radio buttons for a start. You can just reach over and press you desired station selection. In the SQ5, you have to select “radio”, then pre-sets, then the station you want, or press the button on the steering wheel. It does not scroll between preselects of course, so you have to press to bring up the menu in the driver’s instrument cluster, then scroll through, then press again to select, then back out again to get the digital speedo back. It is such an insufferable faff. The newer models have a beautiful layout including a digital instrument array, and by comparison are almost psychic in operation. Of particular note is the centre-console-mounted selector which controls the on-screen functions of the centre stack. I tlooks modern enough but feels light years behind Audis other models in function. It too is hard to use, especially while under way.
At night, the cabin is a dramatic sea of red. The dash and centre console are lit like emergency Christmas trees. I needed to turn them drama back a notch or two by dimming the lighting slightly. I personally don’t like red lighting. It is too distracting and makes a calm soothing space feel frantic and crazy, and gets old fast.
The seating is comfy but firm. The surfaces and materials have a quality about them, and so they should for $100,000.
The torque is glorious, there is no other word for it. Quite unexpectedly, the exhaust note is similarly divine. There is a V8-style throb at low speed which rises to a thrilling crescendo as fuel is dumped into the combustion chambers.
Performance is as you’d expect in a “S” despite its oil-burning power plant. A gentle pull on the gear lever moves the auto into Sport Mode. If you combine this with the Sport Mode in the Driving Dynamics menu, you set yourself up for a treat. I particularly like the way a driver is able to tailor a style to suit them. You can have firmer steering and a spritelier engine response, but you can leave the auto in normal mode.
There are pre-set modes, but the “individual” memory setting nails it. By Using “individual”, you can save what suits you. You might want a throatier engine note, but super light steering rather. It stays there until you change the setting, unlike some brands that reset to factory every single time you start the engine. It’s infuriating.
We took the SQ5 into the wilds of the Macquarie Pass. Anyone who knows this road knows it can be treacherous despite its beauty.
I tackled this in “individual” which had the engine in sports mode and the steering in comfort mode. The auto transmission was shifted between normal and sport as the bends demanded. It was slower going than usual with both of us being wary of the greasy conditions. Apart from the dampness of recent rain, there was also the odd patch of mud interspersed diesel dropped from large trucks which labour up the pass. Frankly, this is a road trucks have no right being on. The switchbacks are far too tight, and the lanes far too narrow, but as you rise though the twistier sections, you can understand the allure of time saved by the shortcut.
One of the tight-ish bends saw the back end step out under light acceleration. It would have been a disaster had we not been in an AWD Quattro. By then, we were so far up the pass that falling off the road would have seen our clothes out of fashion by the time we hit the bottom.
As you change direction, the clever diff shunts power, which concert with the electronics, keeps the tyres pointing the right-way down. There are corners where you’d be forgiven for thinking the Audi had 4 wheel steering such is the grip.
Some say the soft-roader revolution has led us to a place we never thought we’d be. If you include LCVs like Hilux and Triton, SUVs make up more than 50% of all vehicles sold. All car makers who grasped the crossover vehicle reins have done well. Crossovers bridge the gap between conventional cars, and the more capable 4WD vehicles so as that goes, will probably have an increased role to play.
I could imagine bush bashing in an Audi Q doing a light spot of rallying. What you wouldn’t be doing is climbing mountains. AWD is not to be confused with 4WD with locking diffs and low gear ratio selection. However, there is sufficient ground clearance for your weekend retreat but that’s about it. Crossovers are really aimed at city slickers with an eye for activity, or at least they were.
There is no doubting the extra head height comes in handy at times, but the cargo carrying is not much more than a wagon in the same brand.
I like the SQ5 for its power and luxury. It is nippy, and very quiet unless you sink the boot in. But, I could not live with the instruments and controls. It feels clunky, unfriendly, and downright ornery and makes simple tasks a chore.
Would I buy one? I love Audi as you know, but I would wait for a new model, or find a few extra farthings for a Q7. There is also the adorable Q3, or even better I’d wait a while for the stunning little Q2. Of course there isn’t a go-quick version of either of the latter 2 as yet, but does a go-quick hatch ever really have a diesel? Sadly, I have to say no.