Before discussing the newly launched Audi SQ5 TDI – Ingolstadt’s first diesel-powered S model – we should address the elephant in the room. In the coming months, the segment for premium compact SUVs will undergo a significant shake-up when Porsche launches the Macan. It’ll be in South Africa by mid-year and undoubtedly upturn the segment. After driving the SQ5, I’d be worried if I were Audi…
Don’t think the SQ5 doesn’t have its merits, however. The biggest of which is the incredible powertrain. The biturbo-diesel shoves relentlessly, is always perfectly smooth yet growls when provoked (aided by some electronic audio trickery called Exhaust Sound Actuator). It may be the first S model with an oil-burner under the bonnet, but it’s a performance engine with few equals in the petrol sphere. I don’t doubt Audi’s claim that the SQ5 can reach 100 km/h in 5,1 seconds.
Aiding the TDI in its relentless urge is the quick-shifting ZF eight-speed automatic transmission that has a knack for selecting the right gear at the right moment.
Aside from the engine upgrade, the engineers tinkered with the suspension – the car sits 30 mm closer to the ground – and filled the arches with gorgeous 20-inch wheels enveloped in 255/45 R20 tyres. The grille is coated in Platinum Grey paintwork, there’s a somewhat-superfluous roof spoiler, and modified bumpers. S-signature silver mirrors complete the visual upgrade.
Inside, the trim is glossy black, the seats are generously bolstered, the steering wheel has a thickened rim and the instruments have been painted grey. Despite these welcome upgrades, the cabin feels very much like that of an Audi from a previous era (which, of course, it is; the Q5 was unveiled at the end of 2008). It does without newer models such as the A3 and A6’s horizontal facia, and the button count is high. Quality, however, is as good as it’s always been, and the standard spec has been enhanced with the addition of sat-nav as standard, as well as Audi Connect online service.
On the bumpy, lumpy roads of the Eastern Cape, the SQ5 displayed good composure (falling heavily onto its springs only over the worst undulations) and bump absorption (I was expecting a pretty terrible ride on those large wheels, but was very surprised at the compliance level). However, the electro-mechanical steering with speed-dependent assistance robs the driver of useful feedback and entertainment. The SQ5 is a brisk cross-country device that doesn’t entertain except when the throttle is pressed south on long straights.
Which brings me neatly to the Q5 3,0 TDI. It costs R120 000 less than the (grimace-inducing) R800 000 Audi charges for the SQ5, is barely any slower in real-world conditions and is more comfortable in daily running, shorn as it is of low-profile tyres and the SQ5’s sport suspension. It’s my choice. Otherwise, wait to test drive a Macan before you sign on the dotted line. (Incidentally, I’m sampling the Macan range in Germany next week, so check in again for a driving impression of that car.)
Model: Audi SQ5 TDI Quattro
Engine: 3,0-litre, V6, biturbo-diesel
Transmission: eight-speed auto
Power: 230 kW at 3 900-4 500 r/min
Torque: 650 N.m at 1 450-2 800 r/min
0-100 km/h: 5,1 seconds
Fuel consumption: 6,8 L/100 km
CO2: 179 g/km
Top speed: 250 km/h (limited)
Price: R794 500
Maintenance plan: 5 years/100 000 km
Service intervals: determined by onboard computer
*According to Audi