Audi Q5 TDI Review: Why would you drive anything else?

Our impression of the Audi Q5 was always that of the red-headed stepchild – the platform was old, and the rear tail light situation was odd.  When Audi put the 3.0L TDI in it we largely wondered why anyone would choose the Q5 over a Touareg or a Q7.  We finally got a chance to spend some time behind the wheel and we’re surprised to say that we couldn’t have been more wrong.

A ‘Mature’ Platform

The Audi Q5 was initially introduced in 2008. Once Audi put the TDI in the Q5 in 2014, this platform was already SIX years old. In the age of three or four year refreshes, a six year old platform is approaching dinosaur status. The VW group has always been slow to update their vehicles, especially their SUVs (see first gen VW Tiguan). This ‘old’ Q5 was also in a strange spot – not quite a full size SUV like a Touareg or X5, but also larger than compact SUVs like the BMW X3. 2014 also saw the release of all-new competing models, like the 2015 BMW X3 that was complete with the latest technology and features. On paper, this made the Q5 appear to be a hard sell.


The dating of the platform never held the Q5 back, however. In fact, Q5 sales INCREASED year over year until peaking in 2015. This is reverse of most new releases where the first one-two years of sales are the real breadwinner for the manufacturer. This is why Japanese manufactures like Toyota and Honda are refreshing their models on an almost 3-year cycle. This type of sales pattern reflects the reality that the Q5 was a really, really great SUV.


The Q5 reflected the late ’00s styling mantra of Audi that consisted of rounded shapes accentuated by sharp lines. Overall, the Q5 styling is fairly conservative, perhaps even bland in certain colors. If we are being generous, we’d describe it as simple and stylish.


When the Q5 was refreshed in 2012, it gained newly designed front headlights and rear tail lights. Q5s came standard with a lighting package that included bi-xenon HID projectors, LED trim rings up front and LED powered running and turn signals in the rear.


The rear tail lights in particular are often a conversation-starter. Unlike most vehicles, the tail lights are fully built into the tailgate and do not exist if the rear hatch is opened.  This results in a somewhat strange look when the rear hatch is up.


This decision allows Audi to use wide tail lights that are a one piece design and more attractive than lights that are trying to marry two halves together.

Size wise, the larger-than-compact but small-than-full-size Q5 hits the perfect sweet spot in our eyes. We were very surprised when we pulled it into our (fairly tight) garage and had plenty of leftover space front and rear. This compact size also made the Q5 extremely easy to park, especially during parallel, on-street parking. This model was equipped with 360 degree parking sensors that display their data on an on-screen model of the Q5, a system which we found intuitive and accurate.


Why is this mirror so high?

One complaint popped up regarding the side view mirrors. Initially we applauded their large size and visibility.  However, as we drove we increasingly found the mirrors to be right in the way of where we wanted to look when turning. Examine further, the Q5 mirrors are mounted much higher up on the door than most other vehicles – the mirror is roughly at eye level rather than below. It is a curious choice, and we wonder if this is something that a driver gets used to or just frustrated with.


Audi has developed a reputation for high quality, comfortable yet somewhat spartan interiors. The Q5 matches this reputation perfectly. There aren’t unnecessary expanses of wood or chrome, just a simple uncomplicated layout that is headlined by the color screen in the middle that handles all the in-car features. The screen is clear and easy to read.  For 2008 standards it is quite large, though now in 2018 most luxury brands have much larger screens.


The climate control system is simple and easy to use, though somewhat blocked by the shifter as you can see in the photo. Simple dials outlined with red/blue lighting control the temperature for the dual-zone climate control. Buttons for other functions behave like a typical Audi button with a premium feeling push-and-click action. Above the climate control are buttons for the parking sensors, auto start-stop and hill descent control (this is one feature that ALL premium SUVs seem to have, even though a tiny percentage of these vehicles would ever be in a situation to need it). Being somewhat Euro-diehards, we were very happy that Audi continues to equip their vehicles with rear fog lights.


Seats are undeniably Audi. Not especially styled, but firm and very supportive. Being leather and fairly flat they do well on long highway trips but aren’t as suited to tossing around curves. The leather is supple and thick and, based on our testing vehicle, has held up very well to thousands of miles of driving.


Unfortunately, systems outside of the climate control, like the radio, navigation and Bluetooth, are controlled through the Audi MMI interface. German car manufacturers – Audi with MMI, Mercedes with COMMAND, BMW with iDrive – seem to be on a mission to create hard-to-learn systems with multiple layered menus and controls operated through strange dials/touchpads and buttons. This MMI system is pretty terrible, needing way too much attention to do simple things like find a radio station. After spending a few hours you learn all the ‘shortcuts” that make the system much easier to use, but, we still think the learning curve on these systems is needlessly steep.


Once we got things figured out, though, the Bang & Olufsen branded sound system did NOT disappoint. We’d certainly put it above Harmon Kardon systems in late-model Mercedes that we’ve experienced.

The biggest surprise to us came from the rear seat cupholders that are built into the middle armrest.  Anyone recognize these… 😉


Yes, that is a cupholder from a Mk4 Jetta/Golf…maybe they had a lot of leftovers?


Full disclosure – we are biased towards how vehicles from the VWAG group are tuned.  We find BMWs too harsh and Mercedes too lumbering. To us, the Q5 has a perfectly tuned ride for its purposes. Handling is firm but the ride is never harsh. This vehicle has a fairly conservative 18″ tire and wheel package, so the extra rubber really keeps broken pavement and potholes from knocking your teeth out. We wouldn’t call the Q5 athletic, but, it doesn’t have that boat, floaty feeling typical of full-size SUVs and it keeps its composure during spirited driving on windy country roads. The electric steering is a love-hate thing – it is over boosted but very easy to steer and surprisingly precise.

TDI Power

This is what we came for….


The Q5 TDI was available only for a short time between late 2014 and early 2016 before the ‘Dieselgate‘ scandal hit and the EPA pulled the approvals for all VW/Audi diesel models. The V6 TDI engine is nearly identical to the engine introduced in the 2009 Touareg V6 TDI and uses common-rail injection, a single variable-vane turbocharger along with some power improvements that pushes total output to 240 horsepower, along with a stout 428 lbs/ft of torque. The engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission from ZF.

We’re more familiar with torquey 4-cylinder diesels, so we’re always impressed with the smooth, fairly linear power delivery from V6 diesels. Combined with the Quattro all-wheel drive system, the tires have large amounts of grip and can launch this truck from a stop at a very impressive pace. Power delivery is nearly immediate too, resulting in (over?) confidence when merging into fast moving traffic. The engine keeps pulling all the way up the RPM range too. Impressively, engine noise does not substantially increase when pushing the pedal down – it seems to do all of this effortlessly.


The DPF is located easily at the top of the engine bay.

The EPA rated the Q5 TDI at 24 city/31 highway. EPA numbers typically under-estimate diesel fuel economy, and the Q5 is no exception. Owners on Fuelly report on average just over 29 mpg across the three model years. Keep your foot out of it and some are reporting 35 mpg or higher on longer highway trips. This is impressive considering the weight of the Q5 and the large V6 engine.


Screen capture of numbers for Audi Q5 TDIs.

Emissions & Dieselgate

Being a 2014 model, this Q5 is equipped with advanced DPF & SCR exhaust systems. It uses DEF (aka AdBlue) to treat the exhaust and remove NOx. This means that the vehicle emits no smoke and very little odor. The AdBlue tank will need to be refilled, typically ever 10,000 miles. Since it is now used widely in the industry, DEF is readily available at most auto parts stores and truck stops. The fill port for AdBlue is located next to the diesel filler under the fuel fill door. Grab an AdBlue/DEF Fill hose to make refilling your AdBlue tank a mess-free experience.


The Q5 TDI is subject to the Dieselgate Emissions Settlement for 3.0L TDIs.  Read more here…

Wrap Up

We came away really impressed with the overall package. We’ve driven competitors like the BMW X5 and X3 along with the Mercedes ML and GLK and while we liked those vehicles, none felt as balanced as this Q5 did. Driving it around we had VERY little to complain about outside of the MMI system. Power delivery, steering, ride, interior build quality, roominess, ease of maneuverability and fuel economy all met our expectations.  At one point during our high-speed highway jaunt we commented, “Why would you want to drive anything else?”  This is all bitter-sweet of course since Audi seems unlikely to reintroduce diesels to the US at this time, so we are fairly jealous of those who grabbed a Q5 TDI while they could.


  1. Hi, great article…I’ve got a 2009 VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI that I’m selling back later this year. Its been a fantastic vehicle in terms of reliability. I think in repair parts in 9 years I’ve spent less than $800..truly amazing…based upon your Audi Q5 article I’ve got my eye on a 2014 Q5 TDI with 46,000 miles…what are the real issues to look out for with buying a used Q5 TDI?


    1. Did you end up getting that Q5? Im in the market for one now.


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