Mountain Wheels: Respect the torque: Eat up the winter in Audi’s diesel Q5 | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Respect the torque: Eat up the winter in Audi’s diesel Q5

Andy Stonehouse
Special to the Daily

Note: Andy Stonehouse is off this week. While he's out we're rerunning this review from October. The Audi Q5 was, after all, "possibly the best car" he'd ever driven in snow, he said.

Does torque make all the difference? In the case of automatic-transmission-equipped, all-wheel-drive Audi Q5 diesel (or, the TDI Quattro Tiptronic, in Audi lingo) — possibly the best car I've ever driven in the snow — torque is pretty darned important. And it's part of an experience that will also get you more than 31 mpg on the highway and a 600-mile range between fill-ups, unlike other luxury compact SUVs of a similar size and stature.

Like an automotive palindrome, the Q5's clean diesel 3.0-liter V6 might only generate 240 horsepower, but it's the 420 foot-pounds of delicious, responsive, engaging, hill-blasting torque that changes the situation entirely. And turns this already sprightly and responsive all-season cruiser into a snow-consuming monster.

Yes, it's a diesel, and you will notice a little clatter at start-up and idle. Not a Duramax-style clatter, mind you, but it's not completely quiet. It is ridiculously clean and entirely devoid of old-style diesel fumes; the long-term math you can subject yourself to in order to help justify the price differential between regular gas and diesel, compounded with the increased mileage, is the kind of computation most people don't want to do. Those people can go buy a Tahoe. You are going to be much happier in your Q5 TDI, mark my words.

For you will find that the Q5, especially if it is outfitted with good snow tires, will plow through a half a foot of snow — even disgusting Sierra cement, or East Coast crud, if you are not simply enjoying local powder — and act like there's nothing in its way.

The Q5 sticks where everyone else slides, it clings to hills and it dashes along — all while puttering away at 1,200 or so rpm, as a diesel engine ought to do.

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Your uphill pull is almost magical, and the steadfast and grounded nature of the Quattro permanent all-wheel-drive system is fantastic, especially in adverse conditions.

Sure, the ride is pretty sporty for a small SUV, but consider the family you're buying into. The TDI version is just one of a cavalcade of Q5 variants for sale this year: You can consider the 220-HP 2.0-liter turbo or the 272-HP 3.0-liter turbo, or even a sophisticated hybrid version with 245 horsepower and 30 highway mpg. Even better, there's also a crazily racy option, the 354-horsepower SQ5, hauling to 60 in 5.1 seconds and careening around the track like a banshee.

Sure. Look at all of those, if you'd like. But buy the diesel, which is only $2,100 more than the 3.0-liter standard model. I mean it — go get one. The 31 mpg, the lack of hybrid doodaddery, and the torque — oh, sweet blessed torque — will transform your motoring life.

And that's because the TDI system just helps to perfect what is already a beautifully styled machine, in and out. It's got easy utility, with fold-almost-flat rear seats and a powered liftgate helping you access 57.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Or, get three passengers quite pleasantly situated in the rear seat, and you won't hear much complaining about room.

That red-lit envelope of black that is the stylishly laid-out suite of controls is also pretty stunning. Your brain and fingers will very quickly figure out that centralized controls handling the temperature, fan speed and air-flow direction on the same knob totally makes sense.

The solid feel of the wheel, armrest and seats also speaks to all that Audi sportiness, and the high-up seating position makes the Q5 quite comfortable for the long hauls you'll be doing between gas stations.

Very large A-pillars and gigantic side mirrors do eat up a considerable amount of the forward view; that's an aspect you'll have to deal with. I also found that my test model's full-cabin sunroof and its opaque cover made it a challenge to see the electronic navigation screen in blasting sunlight.

2014 Audi Q5 TDI Quattro Tiptronic

MSRP: $46,500; as tested, $51,445

Powertrain: 240-HP turbodiesel direct-injection 3.0-liter V-6 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission

EPA MPG figures: 27 combined; 24 city, 31 highway