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Audi SQ5 2021 review: TDI

You wouldn't know from the outside, but the SQ5 has a completely new heart.
EXPERT RATING
8.4
Audi was so keen for the diesel SQ5’s return to Australia that 240 examples of the existing model with the diesel engine have been secured for down under.

If the diesel version of the SQ5 performance SUV were a pro athlete, it’s fair to say it would have retired to the public speaking circuit rather than return to Australia for the end of the 2020 season. 

But it is back, despite being forced to sit on the bench for three years while the petrol version took its place, before a global pandemic added another five months on the sidelines. 

Its key motivation has no doubt been that the first SQ5 became a modern classic when it arrived in 2013, being one of the first performance SUVs that really made sense and taught us all a lesson in how diesel can be fast and fun. 

When the second-generation SQ5 arrived in Australia in mid-2017, this diesel USP was absent in favour of the still-potent but ironically not-as-quick petrol turbo TFSI V6 used in US-market SQ5s. Blame the Dieselgate  situation, which brought forward new WLTP fuel consumption and emissions standards and put plenty of new models in a very lengthy queue for testing. 

The diesel, or TDI in Audi-speak, version of the current SQ5 was one of these models, and it was all set to finally arrive in Australia mid-year when COVID-19 forced the Q5/SQ5 factory in Mexico to shut down between March and June, which in turn pushed its local launch back to this week.

Now the facelifted version of the Q5 and SQ5 is due within six months, but Audi was so keen for the diesel SQ5’s return to Australia that 240 examples of the existing model with the diesel engine have been secured for down under, all equipped in Special Edition guise to help it reflect the most popular options chosen for the existing petrol SQ5 TFSI.

CarsGuide was among the first to finally drive the reincarnated diesel SQ5 at its Australian media launch last week.

Audi SQ5 2021: 3.0 TDI Quattro Mhev Spec Edtn
Safety rating
Engine Type3.0L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency6.8L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$104,900

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

You can still get the petrol SQ5 TFSI for a list price of $101,136, but the popular options and specific drivetrain bring the SQ5 TDI Special Edition to $104,900. 

You can still get the petrol SQ5 TFSI for a list price of $101,136. You can still get the petrol SQ5 TFSI for a list price of $101,136.

These options include most aluminium exterior trim being changed to gloss black and the Matrix LED headlights with fancy dancing light pattern when the car is unlocked. On the inside it gets Atlas genuine carbon fibre trim inlays and a massage function for the front seats. These options would cost around $5000 otherwise, so on top of the faster engine you’re getting a pretty decent deal for your extra $3764.

This is on top of the extensive list of SQ5 standard features, which was expanded with an extra $10,000 worth of value last year.

The seats are covered with Nappa leather with diamond stitching while synthetic leather extends to the centre console and door armrests, sports padding up front with seat heaters, plus ambient lighting with choice of 30 colours and electric steering column adjustment.

The seats are covered with Nappa leather with diamond stitching. The seats are covered with Nappa leather with diamond stitching.

The sound system is by Bang & Olufsen, which spreads 755W across a total of 19 speakers, while the 8.3-inch MMI multimedia system has now been outdated by the scroll-wheel free and bigger-screened units in more recent Audis and therefore Apple CarPlay still requires a cord like Android Auto. There’s a clever adjustable wireless phone charger located in the centre console.

There's a 8.3-inch MMI multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There's a 8.3-inch MMI multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The driver is informed by the Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instruments and a head-up display.

Other features include tinted windows with acoustic glazing, a panoramic glass sunroof, roof rails that detect when the included crossmembers are fitted and adust the stability control to compensate for a roof load, and metallic paint.

The Daytona grey example pictured here I drove at the media launch is also optioned with the quattro sport rear differential ($2,990), adaptive air suspension ($2,150), and climate-controlled beverage holder ($350), bringing its total list price to $110,350.

For a decent-sized five-seat SUV with premium badges and this much equipment and performance for just over $100k, the SQ5 TDI represents pretty excellent value.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

Let us know if you can spot a single design distinction on the SQ5 TDI over its petrol sibling, because I can’t. You can’t even rely on the Special Edition details, given they reflect the most popular options people choose when buying the petrol version. 

That’s no bad thing though, as Audi is the master of subtlety with its S models, saving proper aggro for the properly aggro RS range. Even though the current SQ5 is now more than 3.5 years old, its subtlety has helped it defy the aging process.

Audi is the master of subtlety with its S models. Audi is the master of subtlety with its S models.

The SQ5 is even barely distinguished from an S-Line package-optioned regular Q5, with the only body difference being slightly more real looking fake exhaust outlets (but still fake) in the rear bumper. The actual exhausts are out of sight, and exit from beneath the bumper.

You can pick the genuine S model by its SQ5-specific 21-inch alloys, SQ5 badging, and red brake calipers over those big 375mm six-piston front rotors, which incidentally are the same spec fitted to the even faster RS5 models. Under the skin, S-specific adaptive dampers aim to bring the handling in line with its performance potential.

You can pick the genuine S model by its SQ5-specific 21-inch alloys. You can pick the genuine S model by its SQ5-specific 21-inch alloys.

One hallmark element of the original SQ5 is the TDI’s exhaust sound actuator, which is a set of speakers mounted under the car that are linked to the engine management system to augment the natural sounds of the exhaust.

This may seem the exhaust note equivalent of fake wood, but given that diesels rarely make an appealing noise natively, this is intended to mimic the experience of all petrol-powered Audi S models. It worked in the original SQ5 and subsequently in the SQ7 and even in the Skoda Kodiaq RS, and I’ll discuss how it fares in the new SQ5 TDI in the Driving section. 

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

The SQ5 TDI’s practicality is unchanged from the petrol version, or the very handy Q5 its based on really. 

This means ample seating for four generously sized adults and a good 510 litres of cargo space behind them. The 40/20/40 split-fold also slides and reclines, so you can prioritise occupant or cargo space depending on what you’re carrying. 

The SQ5 has ample seating for four generously sized adults. The SQ5 has ample seating for four generously sized adults.

There’s two ISOFIX points for the outer positions on the back seat for child seats, and a good assortment of cup holders, bottle holders and other oddment storage. There’s also ample USB-A points and the aforementioned wireless phone charger.

As I mentioned above, the SQ5’s MMI multimedia system isn’t the latest version, with a smaller screen but still has the scroll wheel on the centre console if you’re wanting to sneak in before the facelifted SQ5 goes touchscreen-only.

There's a good 510 litres of cargo space. There's a good 510 litres of cargo space.

Similarly, there’s still a DVD/CD player and two SD card slots in the glovebox.

There’s a space saver spare tyre under the boot floor, which may not be anywhere near as handy as a full-size unit, but much more useful than the puncture repair kit you’ll find aboard many new cars. 

According to Audi’s press material, the TDI adds 400kg to the petrol SQ5’s braked tow rating, pushing it to a very useful 2400kg. 

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

It’s fair to presume the new SQ5 TDI simply reinstates the engine form the previous version, but while it is still a 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6, it’s been changed significantly. 

It’s actually the first Audi model to use this 255kW/700Nm (the latter available from 2,500 - 3,100 rpm) incarnation of the engine, which shifts from the previous twin-turbo layout to a single turbo in conjunction with an Electric Powered Compressor (EPC).

This is an electric supercharger like we’ve seen on the bigger SQ7’s V8 that adds 7kW while the turbo is still building boost to improve responsiveness and flatten the power delivery - both traditional compromises with a diesel engine.

It’s actually the first Audi model to use this 255kW/700Nm incarnation of the engine. It’s actually the first Audi model to use this 255kW/700Nm incarnation of the engine.

The EPC is made possible by the SQ5 TDI adopting the 48-volt mild hybrid system from several newer Audis launched after the current Q5. This combines the starter motor and alternator into a single unit for smooth actuation of the start/stop system and also brings a coast mode that can switch the engine off when no throttle is being applied while the car is moving. All told, Audi claims the mild hybrid system can save up to 0.4L/100km in fuel consumption.

There’s nothing new beyond the engine though, with the venerable but excellent ZF eight-speed torque converter auto paired with the Quattro all-wheel drive system that can send up to 85 per cent of drive to the rear wheels. 

How much fuel does it consume?   9/10

Now, a 1980kg SUV with a 3.0-litre V6 capable of 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds shouldn’t be a recipe for good fuel consumption, but the SQ5 TDI’s official combined fuel figure is a mighty impressive 6.8L/100km, and a significant improvement on the 8.7 carried by the petrol version. Thank all the aforementioned clever diesel technology for that.

This gives the SQ5 TDI a theoretical range of around 1030km between fills of its 70-litre fuel tank. Sorry kids, you’ll be holding it for a while until ther next fuel stop.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The entire existing Q5 range scored a maximum five-star rating when it was assessed by ANCAP in 2017, which carries across to the SQ5 TDI. 

The airbag count totals eight, with dual front airbags, plus side and curtain airbags covering front and rear.

The entire existing Q5 range scored a maximum five-star rating when it was assessed by ANCAP in 2017. The entire existing Q5 range scored a maximum five-star rating when it was assessed by ANCAP in 2017.

Other safety features include front AEB that works up to 85km/h, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, active lane guidance and collision avoidance assist that can automatically swerve, a 360 degree camera system, rear cross-traffic alerts, exit warning that can prevent you opening a door into an oncoming car or cyclist, and pre sense rear that can detect an impending collision from behind and prepare the seatbelts and windows for maximum protection.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Audi continues to offer a three year, unlimited kiometre warranty, which is in line with BMW but lags behind the five years offered by Mercedes-Benz these days. This also contrasts with the five year norm among mainstream brands, which is punctuated by the seven year warranties of Kia and SsangYong.  

Service intervals are a convenient 12 months/15,000km though, and the same five year ‘Audi Genuine Care Service Plan’ offers capped price servicing for the same $2940 total over five years as the petrol SQ5. Incidentally, this is just $220 more than the plan offered for regular Q5 variants, so you’re hardly being stung for the thoroughbred version.

What's it like to drive?   9/10

Its still quite a novelty to think that such a performance car can achieve what it does with a diesel engine, and this gives the SQ5 TDI a big chunk of unique character that the petrol version has always lacked. 

The driver is informed by the Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instruments and a head-up display. The driver is informed by the Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instruments and a head-up display.

Key to this is the relaxed fashion in which the engine delivers its power. All 255kW are on hand by just 3850rpm, where the petrol version needs 5400rpm to deliver its 260kW. So it makes a lot less noise when its working hard, which should be welcomed by anyone that finds themselves travelling with nervous passengers. 

Beyond the power delivery, the SQ5 TDI’s extra 200Nm is the key measure that cuts the petrol’s 0-100km/h acceleration figure by three tenths to 5.1s, which also matches the original SQ5 diesel’s claim.  

That’s mighty fast for an SUV weighting just under two tonnes, and the whole drive experience is aligned with what you’d expect for an Audi S model. That is, fast, but very refined and comfortable with the chassis delivering its performance without any sensation of struggling for grip.

It's still quite a novelty to think that such a performance car can achieve what it does with a diesel engine. It's still quite a novelty to think that such a performance car can achieve what it does with a diesel engine.

The SQ5 has always reminded me of a bit of an upscale version of the Golf GTI, with its tall body and short overhangs giving it a chuckable feel, which is some achievement given it rides on the same wheelbase as the A4 and S4 models. It shares plenty of other elements with the S4 and S5 models, but also a lot under the skin with the Porsche Macan

The example I drove was optioned with the air suspension that can adjust the ride height through a 60mm range, and it didn’t seem to diminish the SQ5s performance character one bit. I find most air suspension systems to be bit floaty over bumps, but this one (like the RS6) is well controlled but comfortable.

Now, for that sound actuator and the ‘exhaust’ noise it generates. As before, the actual outcome is a guilty pleasure. I shouldn’t like it because it’s synthetic, but it actually sounds quite good, emphasising the engine’s genuine note and giving it a muted growl without making it sound like a Kenworth.

Verdict

We know that diesel isn’t the ultimate automotive solution, but the SQ5 TDI does a great job of accentuating the positives to create a family SUV that delivers good efficiency and great performance. 

The fact that it also brings real character and a performance advantage over the petrol version is a credit to Audi, and suggests it’s been worth the effort to bring it back.  

Should you jump on the chance to get one of these first 240 examples or wait for the updated version within six months? I’d be waiting for the update’s refreshment across the board, but if you need one now you won’t be disappointed. 

Pricing guides

$103,200
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$101,500
Highest Price
$104,900

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
3.0 TDI Quattro Mhev Spec Edtn 3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO $104,900 2021 Audi SQ5 2021 3.0 TDI Quattro Mhev Spec Edtn Pricing and Specs
3.0 Tfsi Quattro 3.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $101,500 2021 Audi SQ5 2021 3.0 Tfsi Quattro Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8.4
Price and features8
Design8
Practicality8
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption9
Safety9
Ownership7
Driving9
Malcolm Flynn
CarsGuide Editor

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