Australian first drive: Audi's updated SQ5

Diesel makes a permanent comeback under the bonnet of Audi's updated SQ5 performance SUV but can it rise above petrol-powered rivals?

2021 Audi SQ5 review for Australia
Gallery63
8.0/10Score

Things we like

  • Thrusting performance
  • Respectable fuel economy
  • Expanded list of standard features

Not so much

  • Handling not as entertaining as engine
  • Question mark against low-speed ride
  • Styling a bit subdued for a sporty SUV

Turbo-diesel power is officially back with the Audi SQ5, returning the popular mid-sized performance SUV to its original concept.

The SQ5 TDI became the world’s fastest-accelerating production diesel SUV in 2013, even if Audi was somewhat alone at the time in trying to convince keen drivers that an oil-burner could be exciting.

Switching to a slower but still-popular V6 turbo-petrol engine in 2017, the second-generation model eventually a gained limited-run TDI in 2020.

The 2021 SQ5 TDI adopts the same drivetrain – and $104,500 plus on-roads price tag – but becomes a full-time member again, sitting atop the facelifted Q5 range.

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Pricing has come further than acceleration, as the latest SQ5 TDI has an identical 0-100km/h quote of 5.1 seconds as the $89,400 original. It has since been surpassed by several diesel SUVs for speed.

The lack of progress is unlikely to deter buyers, with Audi Australia expecting the SQ5 to again account for up to 30 per cent of Q5 sales.

There are certainly few direct diesel rivals locally to sway them away. Porsche has dropped the diesel Macan, while BMW Australia doesn’t offer the X3 M40d (0-100 in 4.9sec). This leaves the left-field, X3-based Alpina XD3 ($109,900) as a German alternative.

The appeal of the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel is obvious for its ability to deliver no-nonsense grunt without draining the fuel tank at the kind of alarming rate a V8 petrol with similar torque would. (The V6 petrol SQ5 was down 150Nm.)

Although a lab-derived 7.0L/100km is a slight regression from the 6.8L/100km of the first SQ5 TDI, bigger dimensions, stronger construction and significantly increased kit have seen the SQ5’s kerb weight balloon from 1920kg to 2210kg.

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The kind of mid-range thrust that makes remarkably short work of overtaking opportunities and has the SQ5 barrelling between country-road corners at great pace.

Emissions are also cleaner, as the latest SQ5 TDI features a 24-litre AdBlue tank feeding two SCR catalytic converters. These work in unison, though in different locations within the exhaust system (the first is close to the engine, playing the particulate filter role) and are effective at different exhaust gas temperatures.

The 48-volt mild-hybrid system has the potential to save up to 0.7L/100km, says Audi, using a belt alternator-starter for the stop/start function and capable of switching off the engine for up to 40 seconds when the SQ5 is cruising in Efficiency mode.

A secondary component of the system is an electric compressor, which spins up to 65,000rpm in just 300 milliseconds to improve throttle response before the main turbocharger becomes effective.

Engine response is decent in the vehicle’s Comfort mode, though a switch to the Dynamic setting brings greater enthusiasm more in keeping with an S variant.

Make that switch, via the Drive Select dash button, and you get to savour the true bullying performance of the V6 diesel that produces 700Nm between 1750 and 3250rpm.

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It’s the kind of mid-range thrust that makes remarkably short work of overtaking opportunities and has the SQ5 barrelling between country-road corners at great pace.

A sound actuator helps deliver an engrossingly bassy soundtrack that’s not a million miles away from imitating a petrol V8; it’s an external speaker enhancement of genuine exhaust notes rather than the more artificial, cabin-speakers-based actuator employed in the former petrol SQ5 TFSI.

Our test car was fitted with the $2990 rear sports differential that can apportion more torque to an outside rear wheel to help push the SQ5 around corners.

A relatively small take-up for this option (about 15 per cent) perhaps reveals much about the average SQ5 buyer’s realistic appetite for twisty-road blasts.

For those happy to trade diesel for dynamics, a Porsche Macan is significantly more adept through bends.

The SQ5’s weight and height are hard to ignore when pushing on quickly, with some body roll mid-corner and plenty of brake-pedal effort needed to shed speed before corner entry.

Its steering’s weighting is also still too light in Dynamic.

There’s terrific traction out of corners via the all-wheel-drive system, however, and that sport diff can be felt pushing the SQ5’s nose in the desirable direction. The four 255/40 Pirelli Zero tyres provide plenty of grip, too, at least in the dry.

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The Audi’s accurate and effortless steering works better at a more relaxed pace.

Indeed, pop the SQ5 into its Auto or Comfort modes and its combination of supple high-speed ride and big-bicepped engine – not to mention excellent, multi-adjustable front seats – makes covering hundreds of freeway or open-road kilometres a thoroughly tireless experience.

Adaptive dampers are standard on the SQ5, and it sits 30mm lower than a regular Q5. We noticed some jiggliness from the suspension over some bumpy roads in the single rural town we visited during the launch, so we’ll reserve more detailed judgement for a full garage review.

Until then, we are informed by our experience of the SQ5 TFSI and late-2020 SQ5 TDI that had both demonstrated improved ride comfort over the original model, while adaptive suspension forms part of an improved equipment level for the SQ5 (over the TFSI but matching the late-2020 TDI).

Standard kit highlights include Matrix LED headlights, metallic paint, 21-inch Audi Sport wheels, auto tailgate with gesture open/close, head-up display, full keyless entry, panoramic sunroof, heated front sports seats with electric adjustment and lumbar control, three-zone climate control, diamond-stitched Nappa leather upholstery, and Bang & Olufsen audio system.

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Air suspension is among the options and, with its five ride-height levels, a good pick for owners expecting to occasionally take in some light off-roading.

LED tail-lights can also be exchanged for $2500 OLEDs that introduce sportier lighting in Dynamic mode as well as other exclusive graphics.

Options are otherwise refreshingly minimal.

The SQ5’s cabin naturally adds a sportier twist to the Q5’s luxury vibe – with the diamond-patterned, S-embossed leather seats a particular highlight – and follows the regular model with Audi’s new 10.1-inch infotainment unit, the larger touchscreen becoming the sole interaction point.

As we’ve said with other new Audi models, the pure touchscreen approach looks more contemporary, though we miss the console controller that made selecting functions easier when trying to concentrate on the road.

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Good space continues to be found in the rear, as is a sliding bench that’s a cost option for other Q5s. Outer seats, which include recline adjustment, remain the pick for adults (as well as ISOFIX child seats).

With the rear bench in its rearmost position, the boot provides a 550-litre capacity – expandable to 1550 litres by folding down the 40-20-40 seatbacks.

A 2000kg braked towing capacity is unchanged from the original SQ5.

Later in 2021, customers will have the option of sacrificing some boot space (40 litres) for a more coupe-like roofline with the SQ5 Sportback.

The Sportback is only likely to further increase the appeal of a mid-sized SUV that, while not the sportiest of drives, fills its performance niche very well indeed.

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63
8.0/10Score

Things we like

  • Thrusting performance
  • Respectable fuel economy
  • Expanded list of standard features

Not so much

  • Handling not as entertaining as engine
  • Question mark against low-speed ride
  • Styling a bit subdued for a sporty SUV

 

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Jez Spinks
Journalist

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