Audi SQ5 2020 3.0 tfsi quattro

2020 Audi SQ5 TDI review: Quick drive

Audi's popular high-performance SQ5 TDI is back after a two-year absence, only this time it has plenty more grunt under the bonnet and sounds even better.
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The last time I had a proper go in Audi’s SQ5 TDI was back in 2014, when we stupidly decided to drag-race it against its diesel-powered Macan cousin from sister brand Porsche at a private test facility.

And guess what? The Audi reigned supreme, at least in a straight line, though it was a different story through the bendy bits, which is where the Porsche claimed the upper hand.

But that didn’t really matter, because back then when the SQ5 was sold exclusively as a diesel, it was the battle tank-like burble from its 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 that mattered most to buyers. This was an intoxicating tune for enthusiasts, and a fully loaded luxury SUV with the right dose of cachet for anyone else.

And, just for the record, it also trumped the Macan’s single-turbo diesel’s 190kW and 580Nm output, with a power-crushing 230kW and 650Nm, though it’s only fair to say the Porsche held a significant 115kg weight advantage at the time.

But, the last of that previous-generation SQ5 ran out in 2017, the same time that Audi stunned buyers by launching the second-generation version with a 3.0-litre petrol engine exclusively, which proved to be significantly slower and less visceral than the version it replaced.

Thankfully that’s now changed, with Audi Australia all but confirming the latest-generation SQ5 TDI for 2020. Better late than never, I guess, because this is a cracking SUV that more than fills the shoes of its popular predecessor.

Our solitary test vehicle in Germany was an exquisite-looking example, too, dressed in the colour combination of Azores Green paintjob with beautiful tan leather upholstery (quilted) that nailed it for sheer presentation. If I ordered one, and I just might, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Not that it looks a whole lot different to the previous-generation version on the outside, except for the new-fangled LED lighting up front and down back, as well as the single-frame grille with aluminium slats.

However, there is one glaring omission that, along with the blissful song of a tuned V6 diesel, equally defined the old SQ5 TDI – at least from a visual standpoint. The quad-tipped exhaust system. They did the same thing with the petrol version – even worse when you consider the exposed pipes have been hidden completely on the latest TDI, using an integrated look that simply isn’t in sync with its heavy-duty engine note.

Bring back the four pipes, I say, or at least give buyers the option of doing so, because it was part of the successful package that was the first-gen SQ5. And let’s be perfectly honest, it wasn’t broke.

There are bigger changes inside, as you might expect, with the latest and greatest Audi fit-out using state-of-the-art electronics including Virtual Cockpit and typically luxurious materials all round. Especially tasty is the quilted tan leather upholstery – heavily cushioned and heavily bolstered for sublime comfort during high-speed, long-distance travel like our five-hour blast from Munich to Frankfurt.

Actually, the infotainment system isn’t completely up-to-date; it’s a half-generation behind the likes of the latest Q8 in terms of the software platform, as well as making do with a tablet-style screen instead of the newer, fully integrated touchscreen.

But, honestly, don’t stress because this Autobahn-crushing family hauler is as much (or more) about the thrill it delivers for those lucky enough to be behind the wheel, as it is about comfort, space and luxury. Incidentally, space is aplenty for both passengers and luggage. Make that lots of luggage for three people.

Under the bonnet once again is a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, but this time with way more grunt and 48-volt mild-hybrid technology to boot. Power and torque have been bumped to 255kW and 700Nm respectively, though outright performance (i.e. the numbers) hasn’t really changed – on paper, at least.

Audi claims the SQ5 TDI will go from standstill to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds, and is electronically limited to a top speed of 250km/h, which feels about right to me. If anything it feels noticeably more eager right from the get-go than the previous model.

No surprise, really, because the electric-powered compressor means that maximum pulling power is available from just above idle, and that’s clearly noticeable from the very instant you give it some real curry on the Autobahn over here in Germany.

Throttle response is immediate and nicely progressive right through the rev range. The boost comes on relatively evenly, too, but there’s some serious punch in the midrange and max velocity comes up in no time in those unrestricted speed zones.

But, here’s the thing. Along with what sounds like even more of that delicious diesel burble (or at least it’s deeper and more rewarding) comes less vibration and even more refinement. I’m liking this, a lot, because for now it’s the SQ5 TDI that’s doing all the passing on this Autobahn stretch.

Much of this newfound improvement is also down to the SQ5’s svelte eight-speed auto transmission. Shift speed seems as quick as a dual-clutch gearbox, yet again it’s the refinement that registers most here, even in the most aggressive drive mode via Audi’s DriveSelect system.

Thanks to the mild-hybrid system, the stop/start is both super-fast and seamless in its operation, which means there’s probably no need to ever switch it off.

Lower fuel consumption is another benefit, with Audi stating it can lower its thirst for diesel by as much as 0.4 litres per 100km depending on which drive setting you choose. But, either way, we saw just over 9.8L/100km, and that’s travelling at well over 150km/h plus much of the time.

And, while it might sound like I’m guzzling a bit too much of the Kool-Aid, the quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system is simply prodigious in its ability to stabilise the vehicle in what ended up as a 24-hour torrential downpour. Grip levels at high speed in these conditions are off the clock, and that’s running on summer tyres.

In standard conditions, the SQ5’s self-locking centre diff distributes torque between the front and rear axle in a 40:60 ratio, but if slip is detected, most of the power is sent to the axle with the most grip. That’s up to 70 per cent flow to the front and 80 per cent to the rear.

Not only does it feel rock solid on the Autobahn, but ride comfort is significantly better than the previous model, offering more bump-silencing compliance even though our Azores Green tester was shod with low-profile 22-inch tyres all round.

That’s commendable given standard fitment on the SQ5 TDI are adaptive dampers, which lower the vehicle by 30mm compared with the Q5 with its fixed suspension. Moreover, the spread between a comfortable ride and stiffer sport set-up is wider than ever.

In the latter, there’s very little chassis twist, even when pushing in the more challenging back-road bends. So much so, as to make it feel like a much smaller vehicle. It’s truly confidence-inspiring, as were the brakes – all six-piston front calipers and 375mm rotors of them with linear pedal progression for more of that big-speed poise.

As much as the latest Audi SQ5 TDI impressed us, Germany offers some of the best driving conditions on the planet, where potholes and even slightly damaged tarmac are as rare as hen’s teeth. So, a more complete and thorough test regimen will be employed once we get the vehicle through the CarAdvice garage, if and when it arrives here.

With prices starting from $99,500 plus on-roads for the 3.0-litre V6 TFSI, expect the SQ5 TDI to command a premium, but official packaging and pricing will be announced much closer to its 2020 arrival.

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