First Drive: 2014 Audi Q5 TDI [Review]

Audi\'s new 31 mpg Q5 TDI proves that diesels are ready for the masses.

One of upscale suburbia's default vehicles, the Audi Q5 was in need of a jolt - and not the Starbucks drive-through kind.

Just starting to show a little gray around its temples, the Q5 has been positively reinvigorated with the addition of a new 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 engine. A version of this engine wowed us a few years ago in the Q5's big brother, the Audi Q7.

Consider the effect amplified when slotted into the lighter and more compact Q5.

Diesel attack

After dabbling in the American diesel market with its A3 TDI and Q7 TDI, Audi is quickly slotting a 3.0-liter V6 powered by Herr Rudolf Diesel's favorite fuel into several of its models for 2014 - including the A6 and A7 midsize sedans.

But it's the Q5 TDI that you'll see most often as it's already the brand's second best-selling model after the workaday A4.

The new diesel engine is actually an evolution of a unit the automaker first introduced into the European market a few years ago. Lightened and upgraded for 2014, it boasts 240 horsepower and a whopping 428 lb-ft. of torque. To comply with emissions regulations in the U.S., the Q5 uses an AdBlue urea-based injection system to reduce noxious gas output from the tailpipe.

Moreover, Audi took special care to make the Q5 feel like anything but a diesel-powered vehicle. Through measures like specially-tuned piezo injectors and a reduction of camshaft chains, the Q5 TDI is indeed remarkably quiet. In fact, any sound it makes compared to the automaker's 3.0-liter supercharged gasoline V6 could be considered "different” rather than "undesirable.”

Fuel economy, naturally, is the biggest draw; at 24/31 mpg (27 mpg combined), the TDI is the most efficient Q5 around, besting even the low-volume (and high price) Q5 Hybrid.

Like the rest of the Q5 lineup, the TDI uses an eight-speed automatic gearbox to send power to all four wheels. And aside from a different tachometer to reflect the diesel engine's lower redline, plus a TDI badge on the trunk, there are no visual cues that this Q5 is different from any other.

Audi has positioned the Q5 TDI as the range-topping "volume” model (which means it still slots in below the Hybrid and the new-for-2014, performance-oriented SQ5). To that end, its $46,500 base price puts it at $2,100 over a gas-powered Q5 3.0T. That's well ahead of the roughly $40,000 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC, but it's worth noting that the Audi is larger, more powerful and a little less fuel efficient (the GLK250 slots in at 33 mpg on the highway).

Road time

Fire up the Q5 TDI and Audi's insistence that most drivers won't realize they're in a diesel is instantly validated. This is one quiet, isolated compact crossover.

Only under modest low speed acceleration does the diesel engine make its presence known with a distant rumble, but even then it speaks in a muffled, refined sort of way. Diesel fans hoping for something a bit more distinctive will be disappointed, but most buyers will likely be thrilled with the engine's silence.

Well matched to its eight-speed automatic gearbox, the Q5 TDI furnishes terrific acceleration from a stop with virtually no hint of turbo lag. Much like the engine itself, the Q5's transmission is mostly invisible thanks to its "always in the right gear” good behavior.

With a quoted 0-60 time in the mid-six second range, the Q5 TDI is a solid sprinter that never feels out of breath. No, it doesn't quite provide the rush of power you'll find in the supercharged Q5 3.0T, but the TDI shouldn't leave any driver wanting for more grunt.

Our drive from Washington, D.C., to the lush Virginia countryside took place primarily on smooth asphalt roads seemingly handed down from the driving gods. The Q5 isn't a corner carver, but its light steering is accurate and direct and its ride is composed. Around town, it proved nimble and comfortable, with its only real demerit being iffy over-the-shoulder visibility.

Leftlane's bottom line

Previously a little light on emotion, the Q5 becomes notably more compelling with its new engine.

Yes, there's a pricing premium for the TDI, but we'd gladly pay more up front to stop at gas stations less often. And, if other diesel-powered cars are any indication, the Q5 TDI should hold its value better over the long run than its gas-only siblings.

Diesel downsides? Consider them essentially eradicated.

2014 Audi Q5 TDI base price, $46,500.

Photos by Andrew Ganz

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