Motoring

TEST DRIVE

The updated Q5 flies the Audi flag high, despite a global drought in computer chips

The refreshed Audi Q5 Sportback (Credit: Audi SA)

The luxury premium compact SUV segment has a new boost with Audi’s refreshed Q5, while the global motoring industry struggles through the semiconductor famine.

Besides mandatory masks, usually branded with a manufacturer’s logo, copious amounts of hand sanitisers and Covid antigen tests — conducted at the launch venue or just before boarding a plane — what has most characterised local vehicle launches throughout the pandemic are lengthy discussions on the global shortage of semiconductors — it’s caused an unprecedented new vehicle stock decline in the motoring industry.  

Hidden in almost every area of a car — from backup cameras, power steering and emergency braking systems to keyless entry remote controls — these minuscule computer chips weren’t given much thought by me until they became unavailable.

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The Peugeot 2008 — South Africa’s 2021 Car of the Year. (Credit: Peugeot SA)

Suddenly they were top-of-mind as increasing details of vehicle shortages or non-availability of product flooded in. When Peugeot SA, now part of the Stellantis group, launched its 2008 last year — a compact SUV which would go on to win the 2021 South African Car of the Year — a dire lack of stock literally scuppered what should have been a shining moment for the local arm of the French manufacturer. At an informal discussion at its recently launched Landtrek bakkie, head of sales and marketing Brian Smith and I estimated that, if not for the damn chip drought, the 2008 would be selling 10 times its current figures.

Toyota’s much anticipated Land Cruiser launched a few months back with a serious stock shortage due to the chip famine and a fire at its Japanese plant, which created a local customer waiting list of almost a year in back orders. In Australia, Land Cruiser customers have been told to hold on for up to four years because of the backlog.

Around the world, there has been a serious scaling back in new vehicle production by companies such as Ford, Nissan and VW. In April this year it was estimated that at least $60-billion would be lost in potential revenue for 2021 due to computer chip shortages. By September the figure had almost quadrupled to $210-billion. 

It’s estimated there’s been a loss of 7.7 million vehicle units this year, obviously also exacerbated by the rise of the Covid-19 variants, ongoing lockdowns and Covid breakouts in Southeast Asian countries, where the world’s two main semiconductor manufacturing plant factories are based in Taiwan and South Korea. 

The reasons for this global chip shortage are manifold. With millions of people suddenly being forced to work from home last year, the demand for tech shot through the roof. Added to that, many motoring manufacturers cancelled orders as the world went into lockdown and factories and plants shut down. On top of that, most countries, especially in Europe and the Americas, solely rely on the two main semiconductor sources based in Taiwan and Korea. 

Demand has superseded supply in a spectacular manner. And then there’s the increase in the electrification of vehicles. What many don’t realise, but which of course makes perfect sense, is that where a “normal” low-spec car like the Ford Figo takes, say, 300 chips, an electric vehicle needs eight to 10 times that number. 

Like its German counterparts Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW, Audi has been severely affected. When Audi South Africa launched its 15-strong lineup of a new high-performance RS fleet earlier this year, the dreaded semiconductor shortage dominated much of the discussion at the media briefing. 

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The refreshed Audi Q5 and new Q5 Sportback. (Photo: Audi SA)

At the launch of the updated Audi Q5 a fortnight ago, like Groundhog Day, the subject hadn’t changed much, but the semiconductor shortage situation had clearly grown even more serious. During the briefing, it emerged that, like many other car manufacturers, Audi is being forced to handpick which new models to put on the back burner, so that the now as-precious-as-gold computer chips can rather be earmarked for sure sellers while the shortage continues to hold the industry hostage.

The Q5 is one that’s been prioritised to “live another day”. First launched in 2008, it has been one of the German brand’s most successful products, with the first generation selling more than 1.6 million units. This year, the Q5 has already sold in excess of 250,000 units. 

“Where there’s demand, there will be production” has become the unofficial mantra of the beleaguered motoring industry. 

The refreshed Q5 is based on the second-generation iteration which launched locally in 2017. It’s grown in length by 19mm, it flashes an updated grille and there are a number of exterior, interior and technology updates. The top of the range SQ5, with its turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine offering 260kW and 500Nm and a 0-100km/h sprint of 5.4 seconds. The big news is that there is now a Sportback design option with its characteristic roof-tapering rear, on all five models.

The full engine lineup consists of two petrols and one diesel, starting with the “entry” level Q5 40 TDI Quattro 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine, which offers 140kW and 400Nm and can be found in Advanced and S-line trim lines. 

Along with the new V6 SQ5, the second petrol engine is the Q5 45 TFSI’s 2.0-litre, producing 183kW and 370Nm of torque. (This one’s mated to a mild hybrid (MHEV) system, allowing the SUV to operate with the engine off at speeds below 22km/h.

This premium compact SUV segment is hotly contested with rivals including the BMW X3 and X4 M40d, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Jaguar F-Pace and the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupe and SUV.

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There are several design and tech updates in the refreshed Q5. (Photo: Audi SA)

It is hard to find fault with the updated Q5. It’s one of those compact SUVs that epitomises wunderbar German engineering, ticking all the boxes when it comes to premium comfort, good looks, a great gearbox, reliable drive and impressive tech (although you might find the new touchscreen full of your fingermarks and a tad distracting). 

On the launch route out of Cape Town, the new V6 SQ5 belted it up on open roads, emitting a pleasant growl when pushed, clinging like a barnacle to twisty hairpin bends on various mountain passes. Although fuel consumption was not its best party trick, veering into the 13/14 litres/100km at high speed, the more cost-friendly diesel was, of course, far more frugal and is definitely the sensible engine option if one drives around town a lot. 

If there’s any criticism, it’s that overall the Q5 might be considered to be a bit too smooth, predictable and underwhelming, but then very few in this market are looking for hellbenders. For those who are, there’s always the (somewhat smaller) brilliant RSQ3, offering 294kW/480Nm and an exhaust that reverberates and growls like an old-school V10 boss. 

Pricing: 

Audi Q5 40 TDI quattro                                 R852,000

Audi Q5 40 TDI quattro Advanced          R871,000

Audi Q5 40 TDI quattro S line                     R897,000

Audi Q5 45 TFSI quattro S line                   R947,000

Audi SQ5 TFSI quattro                                    R1,208,000

Audi RSQ3                                                             R1,094,000

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  • “What many don’t realise, but which of course makes perfect sense, is that where a “normal” low-spec car like the Ford Figo takes, say, 300 chips, an electric vehicle needs eight to 10 times that number.” – good grief Melinda, where are you getting your numbers from? Perfect sense it does not make. My guess would be less than double. Things that will gobble up chips faster than kids at an 8th birthday party are driver aids like blind-spot detection, lane management, automatic parking, peripheral cameras, and ultimately full driverless autonomy, none of which has anything to do with the source of automotive power.

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