► New Audi, new diesel engine
► £55k and just 7bhp off the old model
► Good, but there's better across the range
It seems, oh, only two years since I last wrote about a new Audi SQ5, and how it was switching from turbodiesel to 3.0-litre V6 petrol power. Something about a diesel scandal? Anyway, now there’s a new one, and it’s switching back to turbodiesel again. SQ5 order books open in June, with prices expected to start from – a provisional – £55,035.
Unless you particularly dislike the idea of diesels, the stats have this down as a win-win: 344bhp is just 7bhp off the old petrol model, while 516lb ft is a near 150lb ft up-tick in torque. The new diesely one is three tenths quicker to 62mph, it’s still limited to 155mph, and though new tougher fuel economy standards mean the old SQ5’s efficiency figures can’t be directly compared, diesel will clearly have the edge – officially it returns 34.4mpg with 172g/km CO2.
What’s under the bonnet?
The base is the same 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 as in Audi’s large 50 TDI models, and it gets the same mild hybrid system too. It can recuperate and redeploy 12kW of energy, helps the SQ5 coast for up to 40 seconds, and lets the stop-start system kick in at speeds as high as 13mph. But engine hardware is uprated for a big increase in performance of 58bhp and 59lb ft versus a 50 TDI, which includes crankshaft, pistons, con-rods and oil temperature management.
There’s also a new electrically powered compressor (EPC), as fitted to the V8 turbodiesel SQ7 SUV. It employs a 7kW electric motor, which accelerates the compressor wheel to 65,000rpm in 300 milliseconds for 1.4 bar boost pressure. So instead of the old bi-turbo set-up, the EPC is designed to spool up instantly, like flicking a light switch. With no lag to contend with, the theory goes that the one remaining turbocharger can be larger. It runs 2.4 bar, and gives a huge whump of torque in the mid-range.
An eight-speed tiptronic auto is standard, as is quattro all-wheel drive. The latter typically splits torque 40/60 front to rear, but can dynamically adjust on the fly, putting up to 70 per cent to the front, and 85 per cent to the rear as conditions and driving style demand.
What’s it like?
We jumped straight into the SQ5 after a test drive in the new S6 and S7, both of which use the same beefy TDI V6. But it wasn’t a particularly flattering comparison for the SQ5’s interior. To be fair, this is a nice cockpit, with neatly laid out controls, Audi Virtual Cockpit with its slick 12.3-inch display, plenty of space in the rear seats, and lovely Nappa leather seats on our test car.
But the wow factor and quality isn’t quite so high – the door casings are made from cheaper plastics, and you don’t get the same slick dual touchscreens and capacitive buttons that make the very latest generation Audis such an event. So it looks older, but the old-school controls are easier to navigate – it’s more intuitive to feel out rotary controls to change the temperature than to prod vaguely at a screen near the gear stick.
How does it drive?
It’s impressive, if shaded again by those S6 and S7 models. The SQ5 is only 2bhp down on an S6 and just 25kg heavier, but somehow our test car didn’t have the same mid-range thump. This was back-to-back on the same roads, and based on straight line performance, rather than any deficit through corners, but that kick in the back simply wasn’t as emphatic.
Nor did the SQ5 have the same deliciously engaging burble, but more of a familiar turbodiesel thrum. Fundamentally, though, the characteristics are understandably similar. That means you do feel a little lag despite the EPC, the sweet spot comes in the mid-range, and there’s little point straying anywhere near the redline. And, look, it is perfectly quick enough. The eight-speed auto, too, is smooth and slick, if best controlled on the paddles if you’re on a cross-country mission.
Our car got optional air suspension, which was surprisingly bobbly and firm at low speeds on German roads, if far from terrible. But with the spurs out down a challenging, twisty road, the SQ5 steps up to the plate, and not only for an SUV – it bites hard from the front, progressively cushions the limited body roll and powers out with a strong rear bias, although our car did get the optional sport differential. The low-speed restlessness eases into a more compliant feel with speed, too.
New Audi SQ5: verdict
There’s much to recommend the SQ5, from its sharp design to its roomy interior, from its surprisingly dynamic handling to its frugal V6 TDI powertrain. But having a direct comparison with the S6 on the press launch did the SQ5 no favours, with the power delivery in particular feeling weedier.
So, this is a good car, but we’d be tempted to go for those other Audi S models or, more relevantly, a BMW X3 M40d or M40i instead – with the bonus you can decide if turbodiesel suits you best.