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Once upon a time, the big three Germans fought their fiercest battles in the medium-sedan segment, fighting for the hearts and wallets of aspirational customers everywhere.
Those days are long gone, with the juggernaut that is the medium luxury SUV easily accounting for their three-box brothers and sisters. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Merc C-Class. But if it’s German badging you’re after and your needs for space extend beyond what a mid-size sedan can offer, then the medium-SUV segment is your playground.
Ingolstadt’s weapon in this civil war is the Audi Q5 – that venerable volume-seller accounting for just over 24 per cent of Audi’s sales in Australia. Only the A3 sells in bigger numbers for the four-ring German, and then only just.
When it comes to choices for prospective Q5 buyers, the range extends to five – two petrol and three diesel. That’s not counting the manic and raucous SQ5, which is in a league of its own in this line-up, both in terms of price and performance. That (SQ5-less) five-car range starts with the entry-level Audi Q5 40 TDI at $66,700 and tops out with this, the car we have on test, the Audi Q5 50 TDI quattro at $84,700 plus on-road costs.
That sticker price sees the 50 TDI fight in the premium segment against the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC. The Bimmer, in 3.0-litre diesel trim, is a couple of grand cheaper than the Audi, but the Merc, also in 3.0-litre diesel guise, is a not inconsiderable $7000 or so more than the Q5. It’s worth noting the Q5 50 TDI is more powerful than both its German rivals.
Of course, no German car manufacturer worth its salt would let one of its creations out into the wild without a few options. The Q5 has plenty, almost $13,000 worth, to bring the as-tested price to $97,540 plus on-road costs, meaning your sub-$100K premium SUV is suddenly a six-figure proposition once parked in your garage.
Those options include $1950 for that lovely Navarra blue metallic paint (if you don’t want to pay for paint, then your choice of Q5 is limited to black or white… The other nine hues in the 11-colour palette commanding a premium). Inside, $1300 will score you the Seat Comfort Package, which adds massage function for the front seats and sliding and reclining rear seats. You could comfortably skip this package.
Outside, the Technik pack ($5600) adds matrix LED headlights including LED daytime running lights, dynamic front and rear indicators, all-weather lights, a motorway light function and LED rear lights. Additional features of the Technik pack include a premium 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system and a colour head-up display. Finally, under the skin, $3990 adds adaptive air suspension that you’ll really come to appreciate on Australia’s crappy roads. It’s a peach.
So, too, is the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel sitting under the bonnet. It’s surprisingly quiet and refined, especially inside the cabin where only the merest hint of a murmur can be heard under idle. It’s also a powerful unit, with 210kW (between 3750–4000rpm) and a stonking 620Nm of torque available at a very friendly 1500–3000rpm. That, combined with Audi’s eight-speed tiptronic auto transmission sending drive to all four wheels (hello, quattro), is good enough for a 0–100km/h sprint time in a claimed 5.8 seconds. Feels about on the money, too, by the seat of the pants.
In traffic, the Q5 is effortless to drive, both in the tight confines of inner-urban landscapes and the wide expanse of motorway running. There’s certainly enough urgency from that torque-laden 3.0-litre V6 to get you moving away from standstill pretty rapidly, although the merest hint of turbo lag does rear its annoying head. But that can be eliminated by switching drive modes to Dynamic, which adds some sharpness to throttle response, some revs to gear shifts, and some dollars to your fuel bill.
On that, Audi claims a miserly 6.3L/100km consumption figure on the combined cycle. We didn’t match it, naturally, but a return of 7.6L/100km after a week of mainly urban, with a smattering of highway, driving isn’t a bad return.
The eight-speed tiptronic conventional auto transmission is a gem, shuffling through its ratios smoothly and imperceptibly. There’s a hint of diesel clatter at traffic-snarl, but once on the move the turbo-diesel settles into a quiet hum. On the highway at 110km/h, you barely notice the V6 working away, such is the refined nature of the drivetrain. Ask more of it, say, for an overtake on the move, and the Q5 responds happily with a linear burst of acceleration that gets the job done. Effortlessly.
Navigating tight inner-city confines is a breeze, the steering light without being ‘twirly’. Parking, too, is a cinch thanks to the 360-degree camera and the crisp rear-view camera. A kerb-to-kerb turning circle of 11.7m is about par for the segment.
The adaptive air suspension is at its best around town, those roads scarred by the acne of millions of daily road users offering little resistance to the refined suppleness of the Q5’s damping. And that’s despite sitting on 20-inch standard alloys with low-profile rubber (255/45R20) all ’round.
There’s a trade-off in dynamic feel, though, for those who like a bit of spirited driving, the Q5 not offering the same levels of feel and feedback as conventionally damped Q5s. Still, we’d wager Q5 buyers in this grade and trim level are unlikely to throw it at some corners with any kind of menace. Leave that to the raucous SQ5 brigade.
What the Q5 buyer most craves, arguably, is a motoring experience at once quiet, comfortable, refined and premium. And that craving manifests itself inside, where the Q5 delivers on that refinement.
The cabin is, as we’ve come to describe, ‘typically’ Audi. It’s not as ostentatious as some of its rivals, instead offering a mature ambience. The fit and finish are excellent, the use of materials likewise… It feels just, well, right. The leather-appointed trim finished in Rock Grey wouldn’t be our first choice of colour, but that aside, the seats are comfortable, supportive and electrically adjustable up front. Heated too. The driver’s seat also has a memory function, meaning you’ll never get frustrated when someone else plays around with the settings.
As befitting a range-topper, the Q5 scores Audi’s 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit driver display, an 8.3-inch screen (not touch) with MMI Navigation Plus, and an MMI touch controller down in the centre console. An array of buttons and toggles controls the infotainment functions, or you can use the touchpad on top of the rotary dialler. It’s gimmicky, but pleasingly quite adept at deciphering the hieroglyphics I typically scribble onto the touchpad.
Frustratingly, though, that same rotary dialler also navigates smartphone mirroring (there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard), which seems a bit counterintuitive. Clunky.
The back row is spacious enough for two adults with decent toe, knee and leg room, while head room is adequate. Those rear seats slide fore and aft, too, which frees up boot space from 550L to 610L with the back row in play. Fold those seats down in a 40:20:40 fashion and there’s 1550L to play around with.
The electric tailgate features gesture-control opening, although like many such systems it’s a bit hit-and-miss. Still, once open, the Q5 has another party trick up in its rear thanks to its optional air suspension. Flick a switch located in the cargo space, and the rear of the Q5 drops around 30mm to make loading the boot a whole lot easier. A cargo net stops those goodies from sliding around, while a couple of hooks are handy for securing bags.
A space-saver spare hides under the boot floor. Not enough space in the boot? Audi claims a braked towing capacity of 2000kg for the Q5 (750kg unbraked), but really, when was the last time you saw a Q5 hauling a load of any kind?
Safety features abound in the Q5, which wears a five-star ANCAP rating awarded in 2017. A full complement of eight airbags protect front and rear occupants. There’s autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection (up to 85km/h), blind-spot monitoring, active lane-keeping assist, rear-cross traffic alert, Audi’s exit warning system that detects cars and cyclists when opening doors and alerts occupants, a tyre pressure monitor, driver-attention monitor, as well as adaptive cruise control with stop&go function – the last a definite boon in Australia’s highly regulated traffic climate.
Owner surety is provided by Audi’s three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is increasingly below par in Australia where five years is rapidly becoming the norm. Still, Audi isn’t the lone luxury German flag-bearer for three-year terms.
Servicing intervals are listed at 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first, and can be pre-purchased via Audi’s Genuine Care Service Plan available as either a three- ($2040) or five-year plan ($3070).
The Audi Q5 has always been at the forefront of the premium mid-size SUV segment, and a blend of practicality, luxury and performance few can match. And this, the range-topping 50 TDI quattro, brimming with standard equipment while offering spirited performance and refined road manners, sits atop the family tree.
If you like more noise and a bit of playful fun, then the brawnier SQ5 is for you. But if your tastes run to a more refined driving experience, without sacrificing too much in the performance stakes, then the Audi Q5 50 TDI quattro neatly fits the bill.