SQ5 TDI first drive

The new Audi SQ5 TDI has arrived – time to head for the hills.

From the moment you hit the starter button it has you, and the smile just gets wider the twistier the road gets.

James McRory

Camber Collective

11 December, 2020

As strange as it might seem today, once upon a time, there was no such thing as a performance oriented SUV. Popular though the SUV segment was from the early days, it was largely the province of practicality and comfort, with performance confined to sports cars and sedans. Of course Audi also created the performance wagon, or Avant, but that’s a story for another day.

The idea of high-riding vehicle with all of the comfort and practicality of an SUV also delivering on the performance front simply hadn’t been explored until Audi unveiled the SQ5 TDI back in 2012 – at Le Mans of all places.

Not only was this the first Audi Q model to wear that coveted S badge, but it was also the first diesel powerplant in the S range. With its introduction, Audi essentially created the performance SUV and changed the whole perception of the SUV in the process.

Respected Australian motoring journalist, Peter McKay, wrote in Audi Magazine Australia after attending the 2012 international launch event:

“Not so long ago, launching an SUV of any description at a race track would have been laughable … of course this vehicle at this location [Le Mans] is not much of a stretch when one considers the recent history of diesel engine dominance by Audi at Le Mans.”

“Later, on those wonderful roads in verdant Bavarian forest, we discovered the Le Mans heritage hinted at earlier is indeed no big stretch.”

The following year the SQ5 TDI made its debut in Australia, and, given our penchant for performance vehicles Down Under, it became an instant success. And with good reason. Here were all of the qualities that had already made the Q5 a worldwide success – supreme luxury, great driving characteristics and superb finish – all combined with blistering performance.

Here were all of the qualities that had already made the Q5 a worldwide success combined with blistering performance.

Just the sound of the SQ5 TDI alone never fails to illicit a smile and a nod

Following that initial model release, a petrol, TFSI version of the SQ5 was also introduced and remains a strong part of the SQ5 line-up, but there remain those who felt that the SQ5 worked best with its torquey TDI engine, and now their prayers have been answered.

The latest iteration of the Audi SQ5 TDI comes with a new engine for Australia in the guise of a 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel powertrain. Unlike the original powerplant which was also a 3.0-litre V6, the twin turbo arrangement has been replaced with a single turbo and produces 255kW of power and stonking peak torque of 700Nm – the most powerful SQ5 TDI ever offered in Australia.

That massive torque is available from 2500rpm through to 3100rpm, creating a sweet spot that gives the SQ5 its trademark acceleration. Tramp on the accelerator at standstill and you’ll hit 100km/h in 5.1 seconds which is 0.3 seconds quicker than the TFSI version.

Despite the extraordinary performance, the SQ5 TDI still manages to deliver 6.8L/100km, thanks in no small part to the 48 volt mild hybrid system – the first time this technology has been offered in the Q5 range. This system also incorporates an electric powered compressor (EPC) which was first seen in the Audi SQ7. This itself generates 7kW of power and spools up to speed faster than you can think about blinking. 

Just the sound of the SQ5 TDI alone never fails to illicit a smile and a nod. Amplified as it is through an actuator in the exhaust, it has that low, menacing grumble that a performance vehicle should have. In fact it’s reason enough to start the car and then get out under the pretence of checking something just to hear it from outside the vehicle.

Importantly, every driving characteristic of the SQ5 TDI well and truly lives up to the promise that the exhaust note makes, with its lightening quick eight-speed tiptronic transmission and of course the unmatched grip of quattro permanent all-wheel drive.

Sitting some 30mm lower on its adaptive suspension than a regular Q5, the SQ5 TDI hunkers down like a sports car when the going gets twisty, the standard 40:60 torque split between from and rear axles adjusting to send as much as 85 percent to the rear if you decide to press on. Add in the optional quattro sport diff and you can direct the bulk of the rear axle’s toque to the wheel with the most grip with physics defying results.

Brakes are of course well and truly up to the task, with 375mm discs up front with six-piston callipers providing relentless and dependable stopping power.

The sum total of this combination is an absolutely engaging drive whenever the occasion and the road permits, but for the majority of the time when it’s not just you and the empty mountain road, behind the wheel of the SQ5 TDI – or any seat on board for that matter – remains a wonderful place to be. Fit, finish and execution is first class, with carbon atlas inlays, fine Nappa leather sport seats with that distinctive diamond patterned stitching and heating and massage functions up front.

Three-zone climate control is standard for rear passengers and the back seats offer Audi’s 40:20:40 split as well as being adjustable fore and aft for the comfort of passengers. The ambient interior lighting system with more then 30 different colour choices is a personal favourite and with the Bang & Olufsen 3D premium sound system and its 19 speakers and 755W, night drives take on a whole new dimension.

Up in the driver’s seat there is of course the flat-bottom multifunction leather steering wheel with shift paddles and of course virtual cockpit and head-up display providing all of the important vehicle information at a glance.

The sum total of this combination is an absolutely engaging drive whenever the occasion and the road permits

Peter McKay’s footnote from that first drive in the Bavarian forests in 2012 still rings true to this day with one small update

Specification, as in the TFSI version is impressive. Every available Audi safety and driver assistance system is included as standard along with items such as the aforementioned  B&O sound system and the items such as the panoramic sun roof. But it’s the little touches that are not at first evident that really impress and will mean a lot as you live with the vehicle. Electronic tailgate with gesture control becomes part of daily life, but just by attaching the cross members that come with the standard roof rails, the SQ5 recognises that the vehicle is now carrying roof-born cargo and adjusts the vehicle settings to make allowance for that fact. 

This attention to detail, fit and finish are impressive in isolation, but combined with the instantaneous acceleration and beautifully balanced handling, the SQ5 TDI once again ticks every conceivable box on the automotive wish list.

Celebrating the reintroduction of the SQ5 TDI to the Australian market though, also sees the addition of a black exterior styling package, Matrix LED headlights with dynamic front and rear indicators as well as the massage function for the front seats in what is known as the SQ5 TDI Special Edition at $104,900*. Indeed, all of these new SQ5 TDI vehicles will be offered as the Special Edition models, further adding to the appeal of the vehicle.

Of course it’s not possible for any one vehicle to be all things to all people, but the SQ5 doesn’t an admirable job without compromising in the important areas. Fast, luxurious and beautifully appointed, it turns the daily commute into an enjoyable experience with the same ease it demonstrates on winding country roads.

Peter McKay’s footnote from that first drive in the Bavarian forests in 2012 still rings true to this day with one small update.

“The SQ5 is (remains) the machine that will broker peace among warring couples where dad hankers for a sports sedan and mum an SUV.”

(*Manufacturer List Pricing [MLP] – excludes dealer delivery and government statutory charges)