Audi SQ5 Sportback review: move over EVs, there's a new diesel in town
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Audi SQ5 Sportback
- Instant, brutal acceleration
- Clean and frugal
- Polished performance/luxury package
- Diesel's still a hard sell in 2021
- Exterior sound generator a bit gimmicky
- Average rear seat (even with a proper roof)
The Audi SQ5 is all about confounding expectations. And I’m not talking about the weird “fastback” shape of our SQ5 Sportback test vehicle: SUV-coupes are a real thing now and it’d be surprising if Audi didn’t offer one (you can have a conventional SQ5 SUV for $3k less).
I’m talking about what’s under the bonnet. Audi is creating headlines at the moment with its e-tron range of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) and it’s now a matter of record that the company will stop developing Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) technology from 2026, dropping it completely in 2032.
Enter the very latest high-performance SQ5, with power from a 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 engine. More than that, it’s a brand new turbo diesel V6 engine. The SQ5 marks the engine’s debut in NZ, although it’s also offered in S6 and S7 models in Europe.
It’s a reminder that while we’re definitely on the way towards a world of Electric Vehicles (EVs), it’s a journey with many stops still to come. And Audi reckons turbo diesel power still really works for a fast SUV in 2021.
We’d have to agree. The SQ5 is astonishingly fast and truly thrifty, with 0-100km/h in just over five seconds and average economy of 7.1l/100km. There’s 700Nm at just 1750rpm! It’s hard to think of many ICE vehicles that combine such overwhelming speed with sippingly good fuel economy.
In fact, the way the SQ5 leaps off the line is almost reminiscent of a BEV. And that’s with good reason, because the new TDI powertrain features a 48-volt mild hybrid system that drives an electric turbocharger. Yep, you knew the e-word would have to come into the SQ5 somewhere, right?
The Electric Powered Compressor (EPC) fills in the gap at low engine speeds before the turbo proper kicks in. Because it’s powered by its own electric motor, not exhaust gas, there’s no discernible lag. Ask the question and the EPC responds: 65,000rpm in 300 milliseconds. The acceleration ranges from very exciting to alarming.
The mild hybrid system (MHEV) also includes a Belt Alternator Starter (BAS) and small lithium battery for buffer storage, which can be used to recover up to 8kW during deceleration or braking. The MHEV system will allow the car to coast, engine off, for up to 40 seconds before the BAS seamlessly restarts it.
The turbo diesel engine is also smooth and refined when you want it to be, meaning this SUV has the combination of silly-fast acceleration and very long legs, with a real-world range of 1000km to boot. Can’t manage that in a BEV, right?
The party tricks continue with the exhaust note. As with previous SQ5 TDI models, stand at the front and you’ll hear the familiar tick-tick of a diesel. Around the back though, it’s the deep-throated rumble of a petrol V8, thanks to a sound generator in the exhaust system. True, noise actuators are nothing new in cars. But this is on the outside, remember: turning a diesel soundtrack into a thumping petrol V8 for passers-by is still quite a novelty.
It’s one of the world’s cleanest diesels (while still being a diesel), with twin SCR catalytic convertors to cover all operating temperatures and a 24-litre AdBlue tank. It easily meets the tough new Euro 6d emissions test, which requires a substantial reduction in NOx during a real-world driving test. Based on current figures it’ll be in the NZ Clean Car “zero band” (no fee) come 2022.
The SQ5 rides on enormous 21-inch wheels (complete with snazzy “Audi Sport” stickers on the spokes), but the adaptive suspension gives plenty of scope to choose between firm ride and something a bit more sporty.
It’s pretty decent in the corners for an SUV and that quattro system gives you the ability to really punch out of turns (up to 85 per cent of power can go rearward). Spend another $3800 and you can also have the “quattro sports differential” to really liven up the chassis. But you’d have to be pretty keen to do that for your diesel SUV.
Overall, the SQ5 is typically Audi-blingy (which is good or bad depending on your personal taste) and boasting exquisite attention to detail inside. The bank of instruments is entirely virtual and the SQ5 is “live” with the Audi Connect system – Google navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot and remote access to the car including geofencing and speed alert.
The SQ5 is a lot of money over the 45 2.0-litre petrol TFSI (another $28,000), but then it’s a whole lot more car. Almost worth it for that powertrain alone, which includes a conventional eight-speed automatic, which is needed for the SQ5's high torque. It has a broader range of talents than the 45’s seven-speed S tronic (DSG in Volkswagen Group world) and it's still blindingly quick on the shifts.
If you really like the somewhat indulgent Sportback styling, don’t feel bad about eschewing the superior headroom of the traditional SQ5 SUV body shape: rear-seat space is fine but not brilliant in the SQ5 and the boot is only 10 litres smaller in the "coupe" (still 500l), so you're not giving up much in terms of practicality.
AUDI SQ5 SPORTBACK
ENGINE: 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 with 48-volt mild hybrid system (including EPC)
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, AWD
0-100KM/H: 5.1 seconds