The Clarkson review: Audi SQ5 3.0 BiTDI quattro (2013)

Swivel-eyed special

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EVERY lunchtime on Radio 2 Jeremy Vine hosts a topical news and discussion show in which the “motorist” is always portrayed as a swivel-eyed, testosterone-fuelled speed freak with the social conscience of a tiger and a total disregard for the wellbeing of others.

This always strikes me as odd because just about everyone over the age of 17 is a motorist. Which leads us to the conclusion that in Vineworld all adults are men, and we are all mad or murderers or a worrying mix of the two.

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 There was a debate recently on the show about pelican crossings and how elderly people are not given enough time to reach the other side of the road before the lights go green. I know, I know. It was a slow news day. Apart from the tornados in America, the typhoon in the Philippines and the floods in Sardinia.

Anyway, Vine said that when an elderly lady is marooned in the middle of the road and the lights go green for traffic, motorists start to rev their engines. Really? What motorists do this? I have been driving for 36 years and not once have I ever been tempted to rev my engine to encourage an old woman to get a bloody move on. What’s more, I’ve never heard anyone else do it either. The idea that an adult would do such a thing is preposterous.

But, of course, you can’t be bothered to telephone the show and say that, because you would be faced with someone who says it happens all the time. And then you’d be in a does/doesn’t argument until it was time for Mandy by Barry Manilow.

This meant the counter-argument was put by a lunatic from a “motoring” organisation who said that if the lights at pelicans were retuned to give old people time to cross the road, it would be bad for the economy. At that point I switched over to Radio 4.

Later in the show they were going to be discussing bicycles and why, in London alone, in the past month seven million cyclists have been killed by motorists on purpose. I couldn’t bring myself to listen to that because at no point would anyone say, “If you’re going to put thousands of bicycles on the streets of London it is inevitable that some of them are going to be squished.” That would be the voice of reason. And that isn’t allowed in Vineworld.

There are other issues, too, that are always held aloft as shining examples of the motorist’s stupidity. We all drive with our rear fog lights on, apparently, even when the weather is dry and clear. Really? I ask only because I haven’t seen anyone do that for 20 years or more.

We all hog the middle lane as well. This, of course, is true, but usually because the inside lane is crammed full of lorries. So technically we’re not hogging it. We’re just using it. We also block yellow junctions. Nope. You’re confusing us with bus drivers.

Then we have young motorists who tear about at breakneck speed. This is a given. A fact. There is no arguing with it. Even though it simply isn’t true. Most young people I know drive extremely slow cars very carefully because they can’t afford the petrol that breakneck speed requires.

Yes, in the late 1980s and early 1990s there was a problem with twockers, and kids on the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford tearing hither and thither in other people’s hot hatchbacks. But that doesn’t happen any more. So complaining about it is like complaining about BT giving people party lines. And the quality of the recordings on Dial-a-Disc. And French 101 lavatories.

There is, however, one Vine discussion topic that is worth the time of day. The new-found fondness people have for SUVs. Naturally in Vineland they’re called Chelsea tractors and they’re all driven by silly rich women and they all have bull bars. And pretty soon the producer will put a caller through from the Labour party, who will say, “They were designed to go off road but all they ever do is put a wheel on the pavement.” And then I switch over to Radio 4 again.

The fact is this. There are two types of off-road car. There’s an off-road car that is designed to go off road. A Range Rover, for instance. And then you have off-road cars that are not designed to go off road. These are called SUVs and they annoy me.

I look at everyone in their Honda CR-Vs and their BMW X3s and their Audi Q3s and I think, “Are you all mad?” An ordinary estate or hatchback costs less to buy and less to run and is nicer to drive, more comfortable and just as practical. But it doesn’t take up so much bloody space.

I parked yesterday between two of the damn things in a London square, and because they were so wide I couldn’t open my door, which meant I was stuck inside, being forced to listen to Vine’s callers phoning up to moan about secondary picketing.

Now, though, things are getting completely out of hand because Audi has decided that what the world really needs is another fast SUV. And so welcome to the car you see this morning: the SQ5, the fastest-accelerating diesel SUV of them all.

First things first: it’s not fast. If Audi had really wanted it to blister tarmac and earn its own slot on Jeremy Vine, the company would have given it a big petrol V8. But instead it has a twin-turbo diesel unit that is made to sound fast by the fitting of a speaker to the exhaust system.

Furthermore, if Audi had actually been serious about making it a high- riding modern-day take on the old quattro, it would have entrusted the suspension alterations to its in-house performance division. But it didn’t. It simply added some fat tyres and lowered the suspension and left it at that.

You read that right. It lowered the suspension. So Audi made a car that was jacked up to suit the weird new trend. And then to capitalise still further on that trend, it lowered it again.

Oh, it’s not completely horrid to drive. It zooms along with a fair degree of urgency, and I have to say the compromise between ride and handling isn’t bad at all. Even though it’s not as good as it would have been if the roof weren’t a menace to much of Europe’s air traffic.

Inside? Well, the back bench slithers backwards and forwards — a nice touch — but you don’t get sat nav as standard, which seems a bit mean. The worst thing, however, is the visibility. The pillars, the headrests and the door mirrors all seem to conspire to make everything outside disappear. You could easily run over a cyclist in this vehicle and simply not know it had happened.

Which brings us to an inevitable conclusion. No. Motorists get a bad- enough press as it is, without driving around in cars such as this. I drove it for one day. And then went to Yalta, on the Crimean peninsula, to get away from it. I’ll come back when it’s gone.


Verdict ★★☆☆☆

Dick Dastardly, your car awaits


Audi SQ5 3.0 BiTDI quattro

2967cc, V6
309bhp @ 3900rpm
479 lb ft @ 1450rpm
8-speed tiptronic
0-62mph: 5.1sec
Top speed:
41.5mpg (combined)
Road tax band:
I (£335 for first year)
L 4644mm, W 1911mm, H 1624mm



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