2018 Audi Q5 3.0 TDI review

Competitively priced with more power than its competitors, the new top-spec diesel Q5 should definitely make your shopping list.

It’s a rare treat to drive a car in the country for which it was intended, but in the case of the new Audi Q5 3.0-litre TDI, it was something unique to be able to coast the autobahns at close to 250km/h in total comfort.

The new variant in the Q5 range is headed to Australia from September with a starting price of $83,900, and for that you get the bigger 3.0-litre engine normally found in the Q7, but instead of the standard 200kW configuration, Audi has gone all-out with 210kW and 620Nm of torque, and that’s a hell of a lot for a car in this class.

Speaking of which, this top-spec diesel Q5 goes up against the BMW X3 xDrive30d ($1000 more with 195kW and 620Nm) and the $7200 more expensive Mercedes-Benz GLC350d (190kW and 620Nm). It’s a super-competitive segment this one, and Audi is trying to offer not only more performance in terms of power, but also more bang for your buck.

From the outside, it might be a little hard to tell this apart from the 2.0 TDI, bar the badging. It carries over the 20-inch alloys and adaptive LED headlights, but does get quattro all-wheel drive as standard. It’s a good-looking car, sharp and subtle, typical of Audi’s progressive styling, making it a very familiar design to those that have previously owned a Q5.

Perhaps the only things that piqued our interest in a negative way were the fake exhaust vents on the rear. Sure, they are not exactly trying to be exhaust vents per se, but they certainly look like it, and much like the new Audi A6, it’s just unnecessary. Either put the exhausts in there or just come up with something new.

Jump inside and it’s a familiar place, and very much Audi in terms of presentation and build quality. There’s that usual sense of precision and finesse to how the instruments and even the dials operate. It feels nice to move the air-conditioning dials, for example. In this regard, we feel that Audi surpasses the ultra-modern but perhaps not as well-built interior of the other two Germans.

The rear seats can easily accommodate two giant child seats, plus have enough room to fit an average-sized adult in the middle. You probably won’t hear too many complaints having three kids in the back frequently, but if that’s your requirement, we would still recommend the Q7. Nonetheless, this car is certainly wider inside than, say, a GLC. With 610L of boot space (up to 1550L), it can also swallow just about anything.

Standard on this car is Audi's 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit driver's display, an 8.3-inch MMI Navigation Plus system with MMI touch controller, DVD player, five included map updates, live traffic information, 4G LTE hotspot, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, gesture-controlled electric tailgate, 360-degree camera system, park assist, driver's seat memory, and heated front seats.

The dual screens add a nice touch to the cabin, and although they are nowhere near as refined or fast as what is available in the new Audi A8, A7 and A6, they are still very much on par with what else is available in this medium luxury SUV segment.

Press the start button and the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel comes to life. It’s not what we would call quiet, and you’ll definitely hear the diesel clatter as it comes to life. Certainly, the Q5 doesn’t have the refinement of the Q7 when it comes to sound insulation, but after a few minutes you won’t even notice it.

The eight-speed automatic transmission does a great job of extracting that power and torque from the oil-burner. So much so that it will go from 0–100km/h in 5.8 seconds – which is blisteringly fast, and far faster than you’ll ever need your SUV to be in Australia. To put it in perspective, it's only 0.7 of a second slower than the range-topping Audi SQ5, and given you’re saving $16,000, that’s roughly $2280 per 100ms to go up to the SQ5. If it were my money, I’d stick with this and call it a day.

Once it gets going, the enormous torque on hand makes driving the big diesel Q5 a true pleasure. It has oodles of pulling force, and never does it feel like it’s in the wrong gear or struggling to get up a hill or overtake a lesser car. It’s the ideal highway cruiser, and if you’re planning on doing lots of long distance and highway driving, it couldn’t be more ideal.

Plus, Audi has thrown in adaptive cruise control with stop&go and traffic jam assist, so the car can basically come to a full stop and restart itself again without you having to touch the brake or accelerator. That’s a pretty good system for Sydney or Melbourne traffic. It’s also fantastic for highway driving, because you simply set it to the speed limit and it will take care of the rest, including maintaining a safe distance to the car in front and helping you stay in your lane if you get distracted.

Additional active safety features include autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection (up to 85km/h), high-beam assist, exit warning system, cross-traffic assist, blind-spot assist, and collision warning up to 250km/h. All of these extremely useful safety systems should be standard across the entire Q5 range, but at least in the case of this variant, that is so.

We drove our Q5 over 1000km across Germany at speeds close to 250km/h, and never in that time did it feel overworked or under strain. The German luxury SUV cruised at speeds well above 200km/h for hours, and felt as though it was going 60km/h in terms of smoothness and capacity. The engine, the brakes, the transmission, the whole car is entirely overengineered for our draconian speed-limited roads, but it’s a nice feeling knowing the SUV you’ve bought to take the kids to school in stop-start traffic can casually cruise at those speeds – for it’s designed to do so.

It was hard to judge the ride quality given Germany's amazingly smooth roads, but for what it's worth, our test car rode beautifully and also handled like a sports SUV. There is no doubt this Q5 feels far more inspiring to drive than its smaller-capacity models, but whether you'll actually get to use that capability anywhere in Australia is a harder question to answer.

Our test cars were heavily optioned. To give you an idea, the same car without any options costs 57,150 Euros in Germany (about AUD$87,500), and doesn’t even get all the standard features that we get here (think of that the next time you complain about cars being too expensive here).

Our particular car had dozens of options, including sports seats, better wheels, and other exterior and interior enhancements, bringing the price to 88,000 Euros – an impressive $136,000 in our money – which is actually insane.

Ignoring the price, you really don’t need the bigger diesel engine in the Q5 in Australia. The 2.0-litre TFSI and TDI are both more than adequate for our market, but unless you intend to do big highway miles, or just love the idea of having a heap of torque (perhaps for towing) and like humiliating fast-looking cars off the line, the extra $13,200 for an extra litre of capacity and more standard kit is perhaps hard to justify.

Overall, the Audi Q5 3.0 TDI is priced very competitively and comes packed full of features. Whether you need that extra power and torque is entirely up to you, because if you end up buying a small diesel or petrol version of the Q5, you won’t go amiss.

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