By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist Photo courtesy of CARICOS
In the U.S., diesels are sold at least as much on the strength of their performance as their economy — the reverse of the usual dynamic.
Which explains why they are almost exclusively found in high-end vehicles like the 2015 Audi Q5.
It’s nice that this crossover SUV can deliver 30-something MPG on the highway. But it’s even nicer that it can accelerate to 60 in just over six seconds, too. Credit for that goes to the 428 ft.-lbs. of torque produced by its 3 liter turbo-diesel six. That’s V-8 muscle car thrust — without the V-8 muscle car’s appetite.
It’s like having six pack abs . . . even though you drink a six pack (of Chivas) every day.
WHAT IT IS
The Q5 is a slightly-larger-than-compact (but not quite mid-sized) crossover SUV. It seats five in two rows and like its premium class rivals — the Mercedes-Benz GLK (slightly smaller) and the BMW X3 (slightly larger) offers diesel power and (with the diesel engine) standard all-wheel-drive.
Unlike its two chief rivals, however, the Audi’s diesel is a six-cylinder diesel that emphasizes high-power (and high-performance) at least as much as high economy.
Both the X3 and GLK diesels are four-cylinder diesels.
Base price is $47,500 — vs. $42,950 for the X3 diesel and $39,400 for the Benz GLK diesel.
The Q5 now comes standard (all trims) with a power rear liftgate and LED Daytime Running Lights. The upgrade Multi-Media Interface (MMI) mouse-input system — formerly restricted to upper trim Q5s — is now available optionally in all trims.
Class-leading acceleration with fuel economy numbers almost as good as its four-cylinder (and not nearly as quick) competition.
Rich feeling, handsome-looking cabin.
Roomier than rivals — especially in the second row (and behind the second row).
Google Earth-style terrain-mapping GPS.
Stouter-then-most (in this class) towing capability (4,400 lbs.)
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Big price difference between it and the Benz GLK and X3 erases much of the Audi’s efficiency advantage.
MMI interface is clumsier-than-most. Multiple inputs needed when one is all that ought to be necessary.
Diesel fuel fill sometimes doesn’t match diesel nozzles at gas stations — making for slow (and messy) fill-ups.
UNDER THE HOOD
The Q5 TDI’s diesel engine is a turbo-diesel like its rivals, but it’s larger (3 liters) and six cylinders vs. 2.0 and 2.1 liters and four cylinders for the X3 and GLK, respectively.
Its power is prodigious: 240 hp and 428 ft.-lbs. of torque — the latter figure being 22 ft.-lbs. higher than the rated output of the same basic engine in the larger/heavier Q7. More directly relevant, the Q5 TDI’s hp and torque numbers wash over the puny-in-comparison outputs of both its rivals:
The X3’s 2.0 turbo-diesel musters a meager 180 hp and 280 ft.-lbs. of torque. That’s 60 fewer horses — and 148 ft.-lbs. less torque. Think of Arnold in his prime . . . vs. Pee Wee Herman in his.
Torque-wise, the Benz GLK comes closer. Its little 2.1 turbo-diesel whelps out 369 ft.-lbs. Which is solid. But its hp is merely 200 — 40 fewer than you get in the Q5 TDI.
Not surprisingly, the Audi runs like a raped ape — while its rivals pretty much accept the inevitable, relax and (try to) enjoy it.
Zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds for the Q — vs. a Corolla-esque 8.2 for the Benz and about 8 seconds flat for the X3.
Surprisingly, the Q5’s EPA stats are very close to its much-less-potent/not-nearly-as-speedy rivals: 24 city, 31 highway — vs. 24 city, 33 highway for the Benz GLK and 27 city, 34 highway for the X3.
The BMW might do better — official EPA numbers weren’t available when this review was written in late May — but the same engine in the 3 series (from which the X3 is spawned) rates 32 city, 45 highway.
Regardless, nothing that’s diesel-engined in this class can touch the Q5’s performance. And not much that’s gas-engined in this class can touch the Q5’s economy while also delivering comparable on-the-road performance.
Audi pairs the diesel V-6 with an eight-speed automatic and Quattro all-wheel-drive. The transmission features both Sport and normal Drive modes, as well as a driver-selectable manual mode.
Interestingly — weirdly — the much-more-expensive Q5 hybrid (which has a version of the regular Q5’s 2.0 liter gas four paired up with an electric motor/battery pack) is both slower and less fuel-efficient. It needs 6.8 seconds to get to 60 and carries an EPA city-highway rating of 24/30. Why anyone would spend the extra $4,400 to buy the hybrid over the diesel (base price $51,900) is a riddle for the ages.
ON THE ROAD
The Q5’s obvious merit relative to its rivals is its no-compromises performance.
It moves … but it doesn’t suck.
The Benz doesn’t suck — but it doesn’t move.
Ditto the BMW.
Their eight-seconds-to-60 times would be more palatable perhaps if the delivered much better fuel-economy. But, they don’t. And keep in mind that those eight-second-to-60 times are under ideal conditions. Just the driver on board, a straight and level road. Loaded with passengers/cargo, they’ll be slower. Put another way, the Q5 will be quicker loaded with three or four people — and going uphill — than a GLK or X3 will be on the straight and level, empty except for the driver. The Q’s extra margin of thrust means it’s quick when empty — and not slow when it’s full.
The TDI’s torque output is more than the current Dodge Ram 1500’s Hemi 5.7 liter V-8 produces (410 ft.-lbs.) and it is available from 2,000 RPM up and holds it throughout the RPM range. What this means is immediate and forceful acceleration. The Q literally lunges forward like bull trying to get at a cow on the other side of the fence.
The Benz is torquey, too — but not to the extent that the Q is. And it hasn’t got the horsepower to hang once the RPMs climb.
The BMW, meanwhile, is deficient on both counts.
All three of these vehicles handle well, being basically cars made to ride a little higher (and sit a bit taller). In fact, they probably handle better than most of the cars I grew up with in the ’80s. It helps that they’re equipped with what would have been considered race car rolling stock back in the ’80s. The Q, for instance, comes standard with 18-inch wheels (the TDI gets 19s) and you can upgrade to 20s (S-Line package).
Of the three, the Q feels lightest on its feet — not surprisingly because it is the lightest of the three: 4,079 lbs (a featherweight for a crossover SUV) as contrasted with the beefy X3 (4,230 lbs.) and GLK (4,246 lbs.). The Benz, it should be noted, is also the one of the three that’s closest on the spectrum of car-to-SUV to the SUV side of the bar. The BMW, despite its beef, feels — reacts to inputs — with more athleticism than either the Benz or the Audi. But it is let down by its lack of complementary power. The Q can power through — and out of — a corner. The X3 can’t. You mash the gas pedal and not much happens.
Because there’s just not much there.
AT THE CURB
On the lower end — even the bread and butter end — crossovers look depressingly homogenous. As though the stylists used the same basic template for the side panels, then added “branding” cues such as a waterfall vs. horizontal slats grille to manifest their “brand language” (car company PR people sometimes talk like this).
In the Q5’s class — the entry-premium class — it’s not difficult to tell who’s who. The Audi looks like, well, an Audi — and not just because of the big auto union olympic circles logo in the grille, either. It’s an impressive — but not obstreperous looking — rig.
Classy — but not overly flashy. That’s the Audi aura.
And ironically, it looks the hunkiest — despite being the lightest. This may be due to its width being greatest (74.7 inches vs.74.3 for the GLK and 74.1 for the X3) a probably higher beltine (it looks like it), and much wider track, both front (63.7 inches) and rear (63.5 inches) as contrasted with the narrower-through-the-hips Benz (60.7 inches of track front and 60.8 inches in the rear).
This — plus a generous wheelbase (110.5 inches) and close to mid-sized overall length (182.6 inches) also adds up to the most spacious interior of the three: 41 inches of front seat legroom, 37.4 inches of second row legroom and 29.1 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row.
As contrasted with: 39.9 inches of front seat legroom, 36.8 inches of back seat legroom and 27.6 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row for the BMW.
The Benz gives you a bit more front seat legroom, but the second row is (and this is typically Benz) the tightest of the three: just 35.1 inches (about 2.5 inches less than in the Audi). The GLK’s other notable deficit is its worst-in-class (or at least, worst of these three) 23.3 cubic feet behind the second row. None of this should be surprising given the GLK is very much a compact crossover. At just 178.3 inches long overall, it is 4.3 inches stubbier than the nearly mid-sized Audi. Or, to make another comparison, the Q5 is only about 5 inches behind the most definitely mid-sized Lexus RX350 in overall length — and the Audi has a significantly longer wheelbase (110.5 inches vs. 107.9) than the “mid-sized” Lexus.
The Q’s rear seats also slide forte and aft — which you’ll discover to be a rare feature in this segment.
At $47,500 to start, the Q5 is priced $8,100 higher than the GLK BlueTec and $4,550 higher than the X3 diesel. The cost gap gnaws away some at the economic arguments in favor of the Audi. But it does have power/performance in its favor. It’s also literally more car for the money, as noted above.
If size matters to you, that will be a mitigating factor.
As is true generally of diesel-powered vehicles sold in the U.S., the Q5 TDI comes dressed in premium duds — with everything you’d get standard in the gas-burning, supercharged V-6 Premium Plus Q5 except headlight washers and a few exterior trim bits (which you can always add, if you like). That means: 19 inch wheels instead of the base 2.0 Q5’s eighteens, xenon HID headlights, LED running lights, heated seats and a panorama sunroof with full-length retractable sunshade.
You also get standard satellite radio — with a 10 speaker premium audio rig. Satellite radio is extra-cost in the GLK and X3.
Interesting options include an available heated/cooled cupholder — and the GPS system features a cool but also slightly creepy Google Earth View map that shows not merely the road you’re on but the actual road you’re on. And the houses off to your left or right. And the cars parked there. The level of detail is amazing — and it’s not a computer generated representation or icon. You are literally viewing everything within your radius — up to several miles — as it actually is. Continuously updated. If this level of technology is available to us on the consumer market, imagine the level of technology that’s available to them. The creeps in the NSA and other such hives of the nascent American staatspolizei.
The Multi-Media Interface (MMI) requires multiple inputs from you to find what you want — and to turn it on or off. You scroll through menus using a center mounted dial, then depress that dial to select. But there are also secondary input buttons on all four quadrants surrounding the main dial — plus a smaller knob for radio volume off to its right. It’s not Hulk Smash awful, but it does take some getting used to as well as time and attention to use it once you know how to use it. Same goes for HVAC controls, which are also multi-function. To increase or decrease the fan speed, for instance, you must first click on the little “fan” button. Then you can rotate the knob and dial it up — or down. Otherwise, you’ll be dialing the temperature up — or down. Again, it’s not Hulk Smash awful. But I prefer separate (and one-function) buttons.
You may too.
One other thing: The Q5 TDI will periodically need to be topped off with urea (Diesel Exhaust Fluid, or DEF). That’s what the extra filler neck adjacent to the fuel fill is for. The interval will vary depending on the miles you rack up — and how you rack up those miles. But in general, figure once every couple of months.
And figure about $20 or so to do it — if you do it yourself. It will cost more (of course) if you have the Audi store do it for you.
It’s not a huge big deal, but it’s part of the diesel ownership experience. All diesel powered passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. now require urea/DEF in order to be “50 state” emissions compliant.
Finally — and this is not Audi’s fault — some diesel stations still have nozzles that don’t fit the Q5’s filler neck. Be careful — and take note. I had to deal with one such nozzle that had a flared end far too large to mate with the Audi’s filler neck. I had to dribble the fuel in — or else it would have dribbled (or sprayed) all over me.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s speedy — but it’s not greedy.
It does cost more than its rivals — but this is definitely a case of getting more for your money.