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Audi's bum steer

By Sean Poppitt, 20 Mar 2009 News

Audi's bum steer

EXCLUSIVE: Audi Q5 steering failures point the rings in the wrong direction ... <i> Wheels</i> News Editor Sean Poppitt reports.

You may have seen it splashed across magazines, newspapers and television as Audi's slogan for the new Q5 compact SUV: "Perfectly synchronised engineering".

Well, sometimes things don't go exactly as planned.

Three Audi Q5s have suffered complete power-steering failure on Australian roads within the last nine days, leading to an admission from Audi Australia there is a fault with the steering system on a small number of cars delivered from the factory in Germany. The fault has been identified and the fix is being implemented, but it was nevertheless a slightly embarrassing glitch for a company that prides itself on quality.

On the recent media launch of the car, held in NSW's Alpine country, two Q5s suffered complete power steering failure. The first meltdown happened in my own hands. After traversing a reasonably challenging firetrail (over which the Q5 performed faultlessly, I might add), we emerged back onto the tarmac without incident, but two sweeping corners later and the power steering failed. After pulling over, a quick check confirmed the power steering's oil reservoir was completely empty, with the fluid pooled inside the wheel arch. After being collected by the support vehicle, five minutes down the road and another white Q5 (driven by a different media outlet) stood stranded by the roadside, bonnet up with power steering failure.

Audi's initial reaction was cautious, pointing to either a weird coincidence or perhaps over-enthusiastic driving.

Neither proved to be the case.

The two vehicles were sent back to Sydney for investigation, with Audi Australia boss Joerg Hoffman telling journalists: "I can tell you 100 per cent that our cars have best-in-class quality. The Q5 has undergone hundreds of thousands of kilometres of testing, in South Africa, everywhere. We tested the Q5 over 20,000 kilometres in Australia before releasing it to market, with 30 per cent of that off road. If there had been any product issue, it would have been rectified 10 times before coming to market. We believe it is a hydraulic leak, but we are still investigating. I don't know, maybe it was just an unlucky coincidence."

Fast forward five days and Wheels staff journalist James Whitbourn is driving another Q5 for cornering photography when the power steering fails again. A call to Audi and a flatbed truck is dispatched to collect the Q5. Ingolstadt, we have a problem...

Following investigation by Audi's local technicians and feedback from the factory in Germany, it's discovered a potential fault with the power steering's return hose had been previously flagged by Audi HQ in Germany. The failure was caused by pressure build-up within the power steering system as a result of certain high-load driving conditions.

This fault had been identified and apparently corrected back in Germany, but a mix-up at the factory resulted in an unspecified number of early build cars being fitted with the faulty hose. According to Audi, the fault was only present on 3.0-litre TDI models fitted with the Active Steer option, of which 64 had been delivered to Australia. It's not yet clear how many of those 64 cars were fitted with the failure-prone hose, but Audi Australia is in the process of checking every car and replacing the hose with the new part as required.

It's also important to point out that no customer cars had been delivered yet, and Audi Australia say no cars will be delivered with the faulty hose.