2021 Audi SQ5 TDI review
Our independent 2020 Audi SQ5 TDI review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
Back by popular demand but for a limited time only.
That’s the tagline for the return of one of Audi’s most popular models in the last decade – the Audi SQ5 TDI. Something of a surprise hit, this diesel-powered, performance SUV once accounted for roughly 30 per cent of all Q5 models sold locally.
That was before the Volkswagen emissions scandal saw the four-ring brand divert its focus to the petrol-powered SQ5 TFSI instead. Now though, the diesel version is back but there are only 240 Special Editions headed our way because the updated Q5 range is due to arrive in 2021 and will bring the SQ5 TDI back as a fixture of the range.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
The SQ5 TDI Special Edition is priced from $104,900 (plus ORCs), which is a small premium over the SQ5 TFSI that starts at $101,136.
That’s in part because the Special Edition includes Audi’s Matrix LED headlights, black exterior package, massage front seats and carbon atlas inlays, which are optional on the petrol model. But there are no options for Special Edition, so aside from a few local accessories, what you see is what you get. That’s because Audi Australia has only secured 240 examples of the SQ5 TDI before the facelifted model arrives.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO OWN?
After offering a five-year/unlimited-kilometer warranty earlier this year, when COVID-19 was hitting car sales hard, Audi has reverted back to its typical three-year/unlimited kays coverage.
Audi offers a five-year servicing plan for the SQ5 TDI though, which will cost you $2940. That works out at $588 per year, pricey for a mainstream model but a reasonable amount for a premium SUV.
WHAT’S THE EXTERIOR LIKE?
This new SQ5 TDI arrives at the end of the current model’s first three years on sale – with the mid-life update to the entire Q5 range coming in 2021 – so there’s nothing newsworthy about the design per se.
There’s also not a lot to differentiate the SQ5 TDI from its petrol-powered sibling beyond the Matrix LED lights and black package. However, it does come with some worthy Audi Sport changes to give it some kerb appeal, including the 21-inch alloy wheels and red brake calipers.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
The Q5 is aging gracefully, still looking both premium and up-to-date in terms of technology. Obviously it misses out on the newer touchscreen air-conditioning controls found in the bigger SQ7 and SQ8, but that’s a change that will have to wait a few more years for the next generation Q5.
Instead we’re left with a plush cabin, there’s Nappa leather with diamond-stitch pattern on the seats and carbon atlas inlays for a sporty touch, as well as a 12.2-inch digital instrument panel and a large infotainment screen on the top of the centre facisa.
The sports seats are excellent too, offering electronic adjustment as well as heating and the massage function.
HOW SAFE IS THE SQ5 TDI?
The SQ5 comes with a full suite of active and passive safety features. For starters there’s eight airbags (although no centre head airbag that is effectively needed to ensure a five-star ANCAP safety rating in 2020) as well as the usual acronyms – ESC, ABS, etc.
It also comes with active cruise control with stop and go, active lane assist, Park Assist, autonomous emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and exit warning (so you don’t open your door into a pedestrian or cyclist).
Audi also includes what it calls ‘Traffic Jam Assist’ which is mild autonomous functionality that allows the car to take over the car’s speed and keeps it in its lane without the driver’s input; albeit for limited periods for obvious safety reasons.
WHAT’S THE INFOTAINMENT LIKE?
It’s Audi’s premium set-up, which includes an 8.3-inch touchscreen that can also be controlled via the MMI touch system. The latter allows you to write letters and numbers with your finger on a pad on the centre console; a system that many of Audi’s rivals have now followed.
The infotainment set-up includes navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming and digital radio. There’s also a smartphone charging pad in the centre console too.
But the highlight of the package is a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system that provides both power and clarity; but that’s to be expected in a $100k luxury SUV.
WHAT IS THE STORAGE LIKE?
The SQ5 TDI may be sporty but it’s also a practical SUV – which is part of the appeal. To that end the boot offers up 510-litres of space. The rear seats allow for a 40:20:40 split and can slide forward to create more luggage room if needed.
WHAT ENGINES ARE AVAILABLE?
There’s only one, but it’s a goodie. This new-generation SQ5 TDI gets a new engine, with a 3.0-litre V6 single turbo diesel replacing the old model’s twin-turbo unit of the same size. Although, technically speaking it’s only a single conventional turbocharger, this new TDI uses the electric powered compressor (EPC), aka the ‘electric turbo’, that works to help spin up the regular turbo from a low revs to ensure good response off the mark. This is the same technology used on the bigger SQ7 TDI.
The EPC is powered by a 48-volt electric system that also provides mild-hybrid functionality to the powertrain. For example, it can switch off the engine at low road speeds and coasts to save petrol, which Audi claims saves up to 0.4-litres per 100km.
But it isn’t just fuel economy reasons that buyers flock to the SQ5 TDI. The 3.0-litre V6 pumps out 255kW of power and 700Nm of torque. By comparison, the 3.0-litre V6 turbo petrol in the SQ5 TFSI makes 260kW but ‘only’ 500Nm – so the diesel has a major advantage when it comes to pulling power.
You can feel that on the road, and the impact of the EPC. The SQ5 TDI pulls hard off the mark – managing to sprint 0-100km/h in just 5.1 seconds – and feels strong through the middle of the rev range. Peak torque is available between just 2500-3100rpm, so it offers up easy, effortless performance without the high-revving drama of a petrol engine; which is arguably another part of its appeal.
Not to suggest the TDI is a muted and uninspired experience. It uses a sound actuator in the exhaust to enhance the meaty diesel rumble (as opposed to an old-fashioned diesel chug) in the cabin. It may be an manipulated soundtrack, but it does the job and suits the sporty nature of the SQ5.
WHAT ABOUT FUEL ECONOMY?
As mentioned above the SQ5 TDI used the 48V mild-hybrid system to save fuel, which takes its overall rating down to 6.8L/100km, on the combined highway/urban cycle. That’s an impressive claim but requires good self-control to achieve it; because the urge to experience all the torque can be too tempting at times.
It’s also a significant improvement over the SQ5 TFSI, which uses a claimed 8.7L/100km. Which is yet another reason why Audi Australia’s desire to bring back the TDI is so understandable.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
More fun than your average SUV. After all, it may be a diesel SUV but it’s still an Audi Sport product and that means it gets a full overhaul from the designers and engineers to ensure it’s suitably dynamic to wear the S badge.
It rides on adaptive dampers as standard, which allow you to dial up the firmness when required, and also lower the car by 30mm compared to the Q5. Also included as part of the quattro all-wheel drive system is a self-locking centre differential, which is capable of sending up to 85 per cent of the power to the rear wheels for a sportier feeling on-road.
Braking is largely managed by the 375mm front brake discs clamped by six-piston calipers.
It adds up to a dynamically capable SUV that corners with confidence and feels comfortable when pushed to its limits. And despite riding on 21-inch alloys the ride never feels harsh, and is surprisingly plush when the dampers in their Comfort setting.
The steering is a slight letdown, largely because this is a former problem area from Audi that the company has improved significantly in recent years. It could do with more feel and feedback to the driver to improve the driving experience even more.
Overall, though, this is an SUV that not only takes the family in comfort but will keep the driver happy on whatever road you take.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Another reason for Audi’s decision to bring the SQ5 TDI back is there’s only one direct rival – a diesel performance SUV. That is the BMW X3-based Alpina XD3, which starts at $109,900 (plus ORCs) so it’s more expensive and is built by a third-party – although Alpina has very close ties to BMW.
However, there are plenty of petrol-powered performance SUVs to choose from if that’s what you’re after. BMW has the X3 M40i and the X3 M Competition if you want something even faster (because Audi has opted against building an RSQ5). Mercedes-AMG has its own pair of options too, the GLC 43 and the GLC 63S.
The Porsche Macan GTS is another option, and uses the same 2.9-litre V6 turbo petrol that’s found in the Audi RS4/RS5; so it offers plenty of bang for your buck.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Audi Australia’s decision to bring back the SQ5 TDI makes plenty of sense, but the timing is a little odd. There’s only 240 examples of the Special Edition available so they should have little trouble selling them to buyers who’ve anticipated its return. However, with the facelifted Q5 range – which will include an updated SQ5 – due to arrive in 2021, there’s good reason to be patient a little while longer and grab the newer model.
AUDI SQ5 TDI price and spec
Price From $104,900 plus ORCs Warranty 3 years/unlimited km Engine 3.0L V6 turbo diesel Power 255kW at 3850rpm Torque 700Nm at 2500-3100rpm Transmission 8-speed auto Drive all-wheel-drive Body 4671mm (l); 1893mm (w); 1635mm (h) Kerb weight 2055kg Seats 5 Fuel use 6.8L/100km Fuel tank 70 litres Spare Space saver