Audi's new diesel-powered SQ5 feels properly powerful, sounds superb and makes total sense for anyone wanting a performance car that's subtle and roomy enough to swallow the entire family.
Road Test: 2012 Audi Q5 has one big regional hurdle to overcome
Normally I wouldn't bother writing about a car we're unlikely to see on sale in the UAE, but this time I'm going to make an exception. That's because Audi's new SQ5 really should be available here and, if it wasn't for this nation's propensity for petrol engines, it no doubt would be. Until now, there has never been an S-model Audi SUV and the company has decided that the first, its new Q5, should only be fitted with a 3.0L, twin-turbo V6, which just happens to drink from the wrong pump. Oh dear.
Diesel engine technology has come a long, long way since the early days of dirty, smoky, rattling and under-powered lumps that only made sense under the bonnets of London taxis or agricultural vehicles. Today many of them even sound nice but the real benefit they offer is lots of lovely, low-down torque for effortless and relentless acceleration. And Audi's brand new SQ5 feels properly powerful, sounds superb and makes total sense for anyone wanting a performance car that's subtle and roomy enough to swallow the entire family and its paraphernalia.
The launch event, held in Munich, Germany, enables me to get behind the wheel of the entire range, as it currently stands, which includes the 2.0 and 3.0 TFSI models, both of which will be on sale here and are fitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission. And they're both excellent in their own right, but after just five minutes driving the SQ5 my mind is made up. This is the one I'd spend my own money on.
None of the models will be on sale until next year, so that gives us plenty of time to start lobbying Audi's local offices and the nation's fuel suppliers. Get some low-sulphur diesel pumps on the forecourts, please, because this is an exceptional car.
Naturally it is four-wheel drive, with the famed quattro powertrain providing seemingly endless levels of grip and composure. It's a big, tall and heavy car but there's a deftness to its road manners that the others are missing. Fat tyres and gorgeous 21-inch alloys, combined with the lower stance of the S model make it look better than ever, and there are four promising tail pipes peeking from under its rump. It looks mean but it's not over the top - it's a desirable prestige car that reeks of good taste.
The good taste, as you might expect, continues inside the new Q5, whatever model you're looking at. Exquisite materials abound and the design and ergonomics are beyond reproach - Audi is at the top of its game when it comes to the environment on offer for drivers and passengers - but what really impresses, time and again, is the surge of seamless power it puts down whenever the throttle is floored.
Thanks to a "sound actuator" in its exhaust system, the SQ5 rumbles like the very best V8s, so it goes like stink, sounds wonderful and drinks at a parsimonious rate of 7.6L/100km. What's not to like?
Apart from a rather vague feel to the steering, not much. The brakes are more than a match for that engine's grunt, the suspension is compliant and comfortable on even rough road surfaces and the transmission shifts cogs like they aren't there. I'm not normally swayed by SUVs but this thing has got its hooks into me and it is refusing to let go.
It hits 100kph from rest in 5.1 seconds, which is more than quick enough to bother Porsche Cayenne Turbo drivers, and it'll keep on surging to an electronically limited 255kph. Did I mention the torque? There's 650Nm of twist available from just 1,450rpm, which is ridiculous, and while the diehard petrol fans moan on internet forums about a diesel S-model Audi, they're missing a trick. This is a potent road weapon that can keep up with serious exotica on tarmac, while leaving them for dust when it comes to the rough stuff.
Whatever Q5 you do choose, however, you can feel smug in the knowledge that you've bought a brilliant car that's brimming with clever technology and is built to the most exacting standards. But in this paticular region, the chances are that you won't have been able to buy the best that exists, simply because we have no hunger for diesel powered cars. And that's a real shame because, when they're this good, you wouldn't want to be driving anything else.
Prices and final specifications for the UAE are still to be announced.