Audi Q5 range covers all bases

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Dynamic modes take some of the bounce and body-roll out of the Comfort setting, but without adding harshness. Photo: Audi

Good news for the strong Kiwi fan base of the outgoing Audi SQ5: the world's most potent turbo-diesel medium sports utility is set to be reissued about a year from now.

Good news, too, for performance crossover fans who like the concept of a racey Q5, but prefer petrol power: the latest SQ5 that is going to be released as a turbo-diesel in 2018 is already here in V6 turbo-petrol guise.

Does having two SQ5 performance models in the new Q5 range seem one too many? Not to Audi New Zealand boss Dean Sheed. He sees it as a brilliant cover-all-bases opportunity.

Those who prefer to stick with diesel-centric convention might wait; others who want the latest Q5 in super-pepped form can have it petrol-powered now.
For sure, we're talking about different beasts. The previous diesel SQ5 built up its following, an impressive 400 sold over three years, on the strength of its 700Nm torque.

Petrols do things differently; the SQ5 follows the orthodox trend of being more about power, thus the maximum torque is 200Nm shy of the outgoing SQ5, with the 0-100kmh time taking 0.2sec longer.

Naturally, that diesel attraction of reasonable thrift is also dented: after a day of spirited driving _ and some off-road activity _ the petrol SQ5 was showing an average return well above the factory-cited optimum. But it does have more power than any diesel and an excellent high-timbre, snap-crackle exhaust note.

Also, it's well-timed. Although most medium to large SUVs are sold in diesel format, there's a growing preference in New Zealand to take this kind of product in petrol, if available.

In any event, Sheed also expects greater influence from the other Q5 family members to have arrived: a pair of 2.0 litre four-cylinders, one petrol and a diesel.

Their outgoing equivalents were starting to lose ground to rivals such as the Mercedes GLC, but the replacements are much smarter.

They are also part of a wider Audi high-tech roll-out: A virtual cockpit display with its many options in place of conventional dials is a smart move; likewise provision of wireless phone charging and 20-plus driver assists, against eight before.

In addition, on the 2.0 litre cars there's the new ``quattro with ultra'' system that reverts to front-wheel drive _ to benefit economy and emissions _ whenever possible but snaps back, in milliseconds, to four-wheel drive the moment it senses a loss of traction.

Styling-wise, Audi hasn't gone to town with a radical overhaul. The new shell is something of a lookalike in general, but more angular around the edges and sporting smart new headlamps and an angular grille.

The new underpinning means it is larger in every way, and although the styling disguises this at the kerbside, the enhancements to interior room are obvious as soon as you get in, with obvious benefits to comfort.

Audi doesn't do cheap cars, but neither does it provide cheap interiors. The cabin environment is beautifully finished and effortlessly operable.

That it seems quieter and more refined reflects not just on the more exacting design techniques but also on it being an epitome of German design excellence and craftsmanship ... except, of course, it isn't quite that, being built in Mexico at a plant expected to meet global demand.

In the hotshot edition, I also got to drive the other four-cylinder products at launch. The pick of those two has to be the diesel; it's all about the seamlessness of the shove. Also, this engine is especially smooth and quiet once moving, whereas the 2.0-litre TFSi is the opposite.

The four-cylinder models have conventional springs with variable damping, with a Drive Select control to select the comfort level, while the SQ5 has air suspension with a rotary controller.

Dynamic modes take some of the bounce and body-roll out of the Comfort setting, but without adding harshness. The mainstream Q5s cornered with assured ability, though the SQ5 does so with a little more verve.

The car's roll-out completes a period of extensive launch activity for Audi in New Zealand; last month it released a plug-in hybrid version the Q7 SUV flagship and recently the new A5 coupe, RS3, TT RS have been released.

And more is to come. Before the end of the year sellers will have to find showroom space for an A5 cabrio, R8 Spyder, the new RS5 coupe and revised RS3 Sportback.

Oh yes, there's also talk of an RS Q3 using the RS3 hatchback's all-new aluminium five-cylinder turbo engine _ the most powerful in the class with 294kW _ and, in 2018, the Q8 and an all-electric SUV.

Audi Q5 range covers all bases
At a Glance

Audi Q5 and SQ5
$92,900, TDi Design; $99,900, TFSI Sport; $121,900, SQ5
Engines: 1968cc four-cylinder turbo-diesel, maximum power 140kW@3800rpm, maximum torque 400Nm@1750-3000rpm; 1984cc turbo-petrol, maximum power 185kW@5000rpm, maximum torque, 370Nm@1600-4000rpm; 2995cc six-cylinder turbo-petrol, maximum power 260kW@5400rpm, maximum torque, 500Nm@1370-4500rpm
Transmission: Seven-speed S-Tronic (2 litres); eight-speed tiptronic, SQ5
Brakes and stability systems: Front and rear disc brakes, ABS, EBD, ESP
Safety rating: Five-star Euro NCAP
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 235/55 R19 (TDi), 255/45 R20 (TFSI, SQ5) tyres
Fuel and economy: 5.1/7.1/8.3 litres per 100km, tank capacity 65 litres (TDi), 70 litres (TFSI, SQ5)
Emissions: CO2 132/157/189 g/km on combined cycle
Dimensions: Length 4663mm, width 1893mm, height 1659mm