2014 Audi Q5 TDI review:

Audi Q5 shows TDI efficiency, electronic excellence

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And 428 pound-feet of torque, the amount of force the engine makes over a foot of rotation, is a huge amount for a passenger car. By all rights, that kind of torque should rip the rubber from the wheels every time you push the accelerator. That amount of force should plant you flat against the seatback and make the Q5 slam forward like a dragster.

But, probably for the best, it doesn't.

Instead, pushing the pedal started a gentle pull forward, an easily modulated acceleration with no twitchiness, and no sudden turbo thrust. When I got into it, the exhaust made a nice growl, and the Q5 kept its speed moving up and a steady rate, long after many cars would have hit a power plateau. Audi cites a zero to 60 mph figure of 6.5 seconds for the Q5 TDI, half a second slower than the equivalent gasoline version.

The Q5 TDI's diesel hounds of hell get reined in by electronics intended to make the car drivable for the masses: a combination of traction control, Quattro all-wheel-drive systems, and the eight-speed automatic transmission. Not only do these systems promote control, but they also helped it hit the 28.6 mpg average I achieved while driving the car on freeways, in the city, and on twisty mountain roads.

Maybe not too surprisingly considering previous Audi and Volkswagen TDI models, the Q5 didn't betray its diesel-ness much beyond a faint scent in the cabin. Whether on the freeway or poking along in traffic, it was boring and easy to drive.

2014 Audi Q5 TDI
The Q5 handles very well, even without the adaptive suspension option. Josh Miller/CNET

I wasn't crazy about the electrically boosted power steering, something that seems endemic to Audi vehicles. The wheel turns too easily, and I could feel the electric boost from a slightly whirring sensation. Other carmakers have done a better job of masking that electric feel.

On the flip side, I liked how responsive the steering felt. At speed on the freeway, wheel input caused a reaction, but the steering wasn't twitchy, and did not need constant, close monitoring. The Q5's steering wouldn't prove exhausting on a road trip.

Taking the Q5 up to more interesting roads, I was struck by another contradiction: it handled very well as I pounded it through a set of turns. The fixed suspension was screwed down tight, preventing wallow and giving the Q5 a very stable feeling. There was some lean and a bit of understeer, but it offered a good feeling of control throughout. Getting the tires to actually squeal would have taken some seriously reckless speed.

More impressive, this Q5 TDI lacked the available adaptive suspension, which would have made for even better cornering. Audi's Drive Select feature serves as an all-in-one control, letting you choose Comfort or Dynamic settings that cover parameters such as suspension, steering, and throttle response.

The only Sport setting in this Q5 TDI was through the transmission, pulling it back a notch from the Drive position to toggle more-aggressive shifting. One quirk of diesels is a lower redline, shown on the Q5 TDI's tachometer at 4,500rpm. Even with that lower engine speed, Audi uses the exact same gear ratios in the eight-speed transmission as in the gasoline version.

The Sport setting proved a little more satisfying when it came to tapping power at speed, but given the lower redline there wasn't much of an rpm range to work with. The Q5 TDI felt more like a cruiser and suburban errand-runner than sports vehicle.

Contradictory crossover
Given the nature of the crossover segment, contradictions come with the territory. So of course the 2014 Audi Q5 TDI will cover a lot of ground in its features, suiting it for a variety of uses. Its fuel economy may swing wildly depending on where it's being driven, but my average of 28.6 mpg proves diesel's efficiency.

The Q5 TDI proved comfortable and easy to drive, and exhibited nice driving dynamics when pushed. However, hard-core speed demons will want to look at the SQ5, Audi's new version of the Q5 designed for serious sport driving. Or, those who want their efficiency with a high-tech touch might consider the new Q5 Hybrid, which offers fuel economy almost as good as the TDI version.

In the cabin, high-tech is Audi's signature, starting with the data connection powering Google Earth and other location-based services tied into navigation. The audio system boasts an array of sources that should satisfy any driver, although the proprietary port in the glove box could be more convenient. It certainly made me explore other audio options.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Audi Q5
Trim TDI Premium Plus
Power train Turbocharged 3-liter V-6 diesel engine, eight-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 24 mpg city/31 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 28.6 mpg
Navigation Optional hard-drive-based system with traffic and satellite imagery
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Onboard hard drive, Wi-Fi streaming, Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, SD card, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system 180-watt 10-speaker system
Driver aids Blind-spot monitor, rearview camera
Base price $46,500
Price as tested $51,445

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