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2013 Audi Q5 (Audi)
2013 Audi Q5 (Audi)

First Drive

Audi Q5: Worth the wait Add to ...

Let’s get this out of the way: yes, Audi Canada does plan to sell a diesel version of its Q5 crossover wagon. When? Probably next year, though company types won’t be pinned down to an exact date.

So which of the three diesel Q5s is coming? The 2.0-litre four-cylinder? The 3.0-litre V-6? Or the supercharged V-6? Cross your fingers for the latter. It’s the silky and oh-so-fast Q5 S TDI, all 313 horsepower of it, and it boasts a 0-100 km/h time of 5.1 seconds. The raciest Q5 of them all is not only fast, it’s borderline thrifty, too: average combined fuel economy of 7.2 litres/100 km.

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The Q5 S TDI is a reminder of all the diesel victories Audi has enjoyed at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This year, Audi won its 11th Le Mans with a hybrid. A hybrid? Yes, and not just any hybrid, but a diesel hybrid.

The four-car Audi team finished the June race in first, second, third and fifth using a diesel hybrid race car for the first time. The turbocharged V-6 diesel in Audi’s R18 e-tron quattro stomped the competition with a car that combines electric drive with a turbo-diesel V-6.

We’re not going to see a diesel hybrid from Audi in a showroom, not today, not tomorrow, but I’d bet we will eventually. In the meantime, we’re getting a hybrid version of the Q5 this fall. It has combined horsepower of 245 and can do 0-100 km/h in 7.1 seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 6.9 litres/100 km and this new hybrid has the capability of traveling three kilometres at 60 km/h on battery power alone. Impressive.

The other two engine choices coming this fall for the 2013 Q5 are less exotic. The starter model has a 225-hp turbocharged four-cylinder and then there’s a new 3.0-litre supercharged gasoline V-6 (replacing 2012’s 3.2-litre) with output rated at 272 hp and a 0-100 km/h time of 5.9 seconds. Combined fuel economy comes in at 8.5 litres/100 km.

Truly, though, how far away can an everyday diesel hybrid possibly be? Consider the history here. Audi started racing diesels at Le Mans to burnish diesel’s sooty image. The sexy racing machines have since enjoyed endless victories.

That helped Audi push its diesels into showrooms where buyers found them to be modern and smooth and powerful and 25 per cent more fuel-efficient than a comparable gasoline-powered model.

Believe me, Audi surely has a diesel hybrid in the product pipeline and not so very far away into the future. My best guess is perhaps three, four, maybe five years at most.

In the meantime, the technology flagship of the updated Q5 lineup – Audi globally launched the Q5 in 2008 and has since sold 430,000 of them – is the Q5 hybrid. This one is a wake-up call.

Hybrids have come light years in the last decade and a half. Toyota, of course, pioneered the technology for the mainstream with the original Prius back in the late 1990s. The first Prius was a homely little four-door if ever there were one. But the latest hybrids from Japan, the United States and now Germany are anything but raw. This Q5 hybrid, in fact, is autobahn ready, willing and able.

The basics of the Q5 hybrid include a 2.0-litre, direct-injected four-banger (211 hp) combined with a 54-hp electric motor. The total output is 245 hp and a whopping 354 lb-ft of torque. Not only is this package quick off the line, but the top speed is 225 km/h. You can’t do that legally on any road in Canada, but I managed all of that on the free-for-all highways in Germany.

The parallel hybrid system allows the Q5 to move in electric drive only, or by the gas engine, or by some combination of both – all managed seamlessly by electronic controls. You won’t even know you’re in a hybrid, unless you’re paying attention to the fancy electronic readout embedded in the centre console display screen.

Audi has also done a number of other upgrades to the Q5, its second-best selling vehicle in Canada. The engineers played with the suspension, tweaking the springs and shocks and even the stabilizers. The new electric power steering has better feel and Audi says it also saves fuel – 0.2 litres/100 km.

As for other electronic trickery, Audi’s drive select system allows you to choose from four driving modes, each delivering different characteristics in the accelerator, power steering, shifting and the automatic air conditioning. On top of that, drive select let’s you to dial in the adaptive cruise control, chassis damping and steering in any of three modes. That is, you can choose how this Audi intervenes to keep you in line as you drive through curvy roads.

The look of the Q5 has been updated, too, both inside and out. The stylists haven’t done anything overly dramatic, but you’ll notice changes in the headlights and taillights and little refinements to the cabin, too.

Pricing? That won’t be announced until closer to the fall when the 2013s arrive, but the base Q5 now – with quattro all-wheel drive – starts at $41,200. Don’t expect dramatic price increases, not in this market. I do wonder, though, what Canadians would be willing to pay for that Q5 S TDI if ever we get it here in Canada.

jcato@globeandmail.com

Tech specs: 2013 Audi Q5 hybrid quattro

Type: Compact luxury crossover

Price (estimated): $60,000 ($1,995 freight)

Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 211 hp/258 lb-ft; Electric motor rated at 54 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.9 combined city/highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Lexus RX 450h

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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