THERE’S a certain calculated conservatism to Audi’s Q5 that, were you of a cynical persuasion, could be described as vehicle development by numbers.
It’s hard to shake off the feeling that plug-and-playing parts from the Volkswagen-Audi Group’s existing platform and componentry catalogue to form a cohesive end result can’t have been overly taxing.
Despite this circumspection, the Mexican-built Q5 initially seems greater than the sum of its parts bin. In fact, it’s a thing of quiet loveliness in the way that it draws a bead on its target market and then coolly ticks boxes until it appears folly to consider anything else. Audi does button-pressing with a truly opaque guile.
We arrived with a $65,900 2.0 TDI quattro, a $73,500 2.0 TFSI quattro and a $99,611 Audi SQ5 and it was apparent that the steel-sprung diesel car needed the optional air suspension, despite riding on blimpy 60-series Michelin Latitudes. The 2.0 TFSI not only had the $3990 adaptive air suspension option, which quelled head toss no end, but also featured more focused 45-series ContiSport Contact5 rubber.
Both of these vehicles ride on the quattro ultra chassis, which uses a fiendishly complex set of predictive algorithms to direct drive to the rear wheels only when required, promising better fuel economy as a result. But on the gravel at Lang Lang, it was soon apparent that quattro ultra has its limits, applying a big clamp of traction control under acceleration due to the fact that it can never send more than 50 percent of available torque to the rear axle.
Driven solely on bitumen it would rarely prove an issue, but demand too much away from the blacktop and the Q5’s shortcomings soon become apparent.
Of the two regular Q5s, the delightfully slick 2.0-litre TFSI is the undoubted pick, its 185kW output more than enough to make the 140kW diesel feel somewhat lumpen.
Nevertheless, the SQ5 served as a telling reminder that software sleights of hand only get you so far. This 260kW hot tamale features a more traditional centre-locking differential and, as a result, featured none of the axle-tramp of quattro ultra when accelerating on the loose surface, the nominal 40:60 initial front/rear torque split capable of sending up to 85 percent rearwards. The SQ5’s optional quattro sport diff on the rear axle also delivered a rewarding and well-dialled smearability out of fast corners.
The Q5 emerged as unadventurous, inoffensive but pleasantly executed; a combination rarely sufficient for an extended innings at COTY.
In the end, a glitch with the Q5’s electronics (see below) rendered moot any discussion of it progressing to the second round.
That issue didn’t affect the SQ5, and had we left the cooking Q5s at home and only brought the SQ5 along, it could well have claimed some notable scalps.
THEM’S THE BRAKES
The Q5s raised eyebrows at Lang Lang when judges consistently reported severe corner exit braking interventions in both of the non-S cars. It was enough to heavily weight the nose to the extent that the vehicles would lurch wide by around half a lane’s width.
It also happened at speeds generally replicable in spirited road driving. Through the lane-change manoeuvre, the Q5’s stability control system proved over-zealous, but it wasn’t clear which of the car’s control systems was responsible for throwing on the anchors at the proving ground.
After discussing the symptoms with Audi, an investigation into the cause of this issue is under way. Stay tuned...