Identifiable thanks to revised styling and an upgraded interior, the 2021 Audi SQ5 TDI continues Audi’s fine S-badged SUV tradition with the model that is perhaps the best example in its model range.
You know you’re starting to get old when you remember the launch of the original version of a vehicle you’re testing, but that’s certainly the case with the Audi SQ5. Launched in Tasmania in 2013, the SQ5 has, in the time since, become a tremendous success story for Audi. Back in 2013, it was the first diesel S model, and I recall coming away from the drive thinking it was the best-sounding and best-performing diesel engine I’d ever tested in a road car.
It was also one of the first medium SUVs with such a direct performance focus, and it was good for it too; the performance wasn’t just numbers on a spreadsheet. From the get-go, the SQ5 was genuinely fast in the real world. Being a medium SUV, it was also practical, and that combination struck an intoxicating chord with Australian buyers.
Read our pricing and specification guide for the full breakdown, but I’ll also cover some of the highlights below. Pricing for the SQ5 starts from $104,900 before on-road costs, and Audi told us at launch that it worked hard to maintain a solid, competitive pricing position for the SQ5 in the local market. Add in the digital OLED tail-lights and the Quattro Sport differential like one of the models we drove at launch, and you’re looking at $110,390 also before on-road costs.
According to Audi, the SQ5 has been the biggest seller in its segment since launch, and backing that popularity claim up with sales figures. Audi is also keen to note that it sits in the sweet spot where Australian buyers are shopping, and it represents everything that the manufacturer from Ingolstadt is about – high quality, luxury, and the performance that comes with the S badge. Since its release, and through a shift from diesel to petrol and now back to diesel, Audi has continued to refine and enhance the SQ5 to keep it right at the top of buyers’ lists.
As such, the updated 2021 variant is subtly – but obviously – different to the previous model. There’s a new grille and revised design elements across the front bumper. There are new side skirts, new tailpipe trims and design changes to the tailgate. Digital OLED tail-lights are available as an option, and Audi says they are called ‘digital’ because they are configurable.
Inside, there’s a new 10.1-inch touchscreen, upgraded software to run the infotainment system, enhanced interior trim and finishes, new black trim, and full integration with Audi Connect. The short of it is a premium cabin that looks and feels high quality, and has that solid insulated feel we like from Audi.
|2020 Audi SQ5 TDI|
|Engine||3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||251kW @ 3800–3950rpm, 700Nm @ 1750–3250rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed torque-converter automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||7.0L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up / down)||510L/1510L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars (tested 2017)|
|Warranty||Three years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mercedes-Benz GLC, BMW X3, Volvo XC60|
|Price (MSRP)||$104,900 plus on-road costs|
The numbers from the 3.0-litre TDI are impressive too – 251kW between 3800–3950rpm, 700Nm between 1750–3250rpm, 0–100km/h in 5.1 seconds, and an ADR fuel-use claim of 7.0L/100km. I suspect, given it’s a diesel, that you’ll be able to get a pretty frugal return around town, and we’ll test that in more detail when we spend a week with the new SQ5. On the highway, the possibility of getting over 1000km out of a tank is there too.
Audi claims it’s also one of the cleanest diesel engines in the world. Meeting the strictest Euro emissions standards, it runs two catalytic converters and features two places in the system where AdBlue is injected.
With maximum torque just off idle, and maximum power not needing mountainous revs, you’d expect the SQ5 to feel punchy and strong off the mark, and that’s exactly how it translates to the road. There is beautiful throttle response right into the meat of the rev range, and the SQ5 doesn’t feel breathless like some diesels can. The eight-speed automatic is seamlessly matched to the engine as well, making for both rapid and smooth progress no matter how hard you’re making the driveline work.
Audi has used its 48-volt ‘mild hybrid’ system, which isn’t hybrid as you know it, but rather a sophisticated electrical system that utilises a starter/alternator to run the engine in coasting mode, and turn the engine off below 22km/h. It brings small efficiency gains without detracting from the driving experience, which – the way we see it – is a good thing regardless of the name you give it.
The stop/start system is as good as, if not better than, any I’ve tested. It’s so smooth, you will get to the point where you don’t even notice it. There’s no vibration or hesitation in through the cabin, which sits neatly alongside Audi’s premium execution of this platform. Stop/start is deactivated in S mode, of course.
Audi has chosen to use an electric compressor to augment the conventional variable-geometry turbo, and when you look at the specs you can see why. The electric huffer spins to an eye-watering 65,000rpm within 300 milliseconds, meaning there is effectively no lag. Not that you’ll feel it when you’re working behind the wheel anyway. It’s an ingenious way that manufacturers have uncovered to get the engine working quickly, without suffering while they wait for the turbo to spool up.
Part of our launch drive takes us through heavy rain on country roads, and it’s here where the Quattro system and optional Quattro Sport differential come into their own. Few vehicles of any kind feel more stable, more confidence-inspiring and more capable on a wet road than those with a Quattro badge. 2WD SUVs are justifiable around town, but if you enjoy having a crack occasionally, the SQ5 is up there with the best SUVs from any manufacturer.
The SQ5 sits 30mm lower than the rest of the Q5 range, on adaptive dampers, and with the self-locking rear diff in play, plus up to 85 per cent of the drive sent to the rear wheels, it’s a rapid SUV on any road. The system can also send up to 70 per cent of the drive to the front too if needed. Big 375mm rotors up front with six-piston callipers ensure you can pull up just as securely as you can pile on speed, too, and the SQ5 positions itself as a family hauler that wouldn’t be out of place on a track day if you felt the urge.
The sound actuator delivers a nice burble through a speaker that sits underneath the body, and augments the exhaust system so that the sound actually comes through the pipes. It sounds like a proper note, too, not synthesised fakery, so it’s something you won’t mind listening to.
I don’t want to sound flippant in that 100 grand is absolutely a lot of money, but whichever way you run the numbers, the SQ5 is a hell of a lot of SUV for the money too. No doubt. It’s sharp, it’s fast, it’s capable on any road (wet or dry), and it’s as practical as a medium SUV should be. It really is one of those ‘do everything’ SUVs that quite obviously ticks plenty of boxes for buyers.
You can use it sedately day-to-day around town, you can take it on a family road trip, you can have a riot behind the wheel on a twisty road, and the efficiency of the diesel engine means it’s easily justifiable as the family truckster.