Diesel Comes To Town: A5 3.0TDI Quattro

By James Wong

06.30.2009

2009-audi-a5-blackFor the past week or two, Audi has been advertising its new A5 model over the radio here in Singapore where I live.. It illustrates a conversation between a petrol kiosk attendant and a driver of the all-new A5 turbo-diesel. The advertisement pretty much covered all the benefits of the car over a petrol equivalent; exceptional fuel consumption (combined figure of 6.9L/100km) and monumental torque (500Nm) combined with the undisputed great looks of the A5, work of Walter de’Silvia who considers the A5 the ‘most beautiful car he has ever designed in his career’.

For me, one who has long pondered when diesel cars will ever be introduced mass-market locally, this got me heartened. I thought that finally some sense has been knocked into the dealerships. The mainstay of petrol cars is all well and good until you consider that the numerous instances of start-stop traffic and short traveling distances really make a diesel a worthwhile alternative. And who else better than the European manufacturers to introduce a highly frugal and efficient diesel car into the market? Diesel has been a mainstream product in Europe for several decades now, perhaps even more popular than its petrol counterparts, and for the cleanest and most technologically-advanced diesels we need not look further. Luckily for us, Volkswagen and Audi have both taken the first steps into what might potentially be the next big thing in Singapore’s car industry.

Audi launched the A5 here first with a 1.8TFSI engine that came with a multitronic gearbox (Audi-speak for a continuously variable transmission). This car had the underpinnings of a brilliant car only let down by its forward-wheel drive (FWD) configuration and the gearbox which stifled the sporty potential of the car. It had the ‘rubber-band’ effect that induced drivers to enjoy the car leisurely rather than as a highly-strung sports car. The S5 was also launched concurrently, this time with a better-responding 6-speed Tiptronic gearbox and a good amount of power and torque. Quattro permanent all-wheel drive (AWD) also ensured power is put down on the road efficiently. However, its 4.2L engine meant that road tax made it accessible only to extremely moneyed individuals. Until then, only the S5 offered a good combination of engine, gearbox and drivetrain, but at a premium. There is a saying that good things come to those who wait, and in the A5’s case this cannot be any truer.

So how is this diesel like to drive? First impressions of a diesel may throw up images of greasy engine bays and noisy clattering idles, but discard your preconceptions for a moment and listen to what I have to say. Because despite diesel being used for heavy-duty vehicles and public transportation, this 3.0TDI V6 is no pedestrian engine.

The car moves at an admirable pace just a tick above 1,000rpm, and for town driving you will never need to go above 2,000rpm. That means despite hardly using the turbocharger present, the engine already has a good spread of torque at the low-end. Give it a bit more revs and the engine willingly obliges, at which point above 2,000rpm comes a surge of torque that you would never expect once the turbocharger kicks in. This shove in your back is an extremely satisfying thing, especially for overtaking maneuvers which are rendered truly effortless. Up to 3,500rpm or thereabouts, the torque of 500Nm is well and truly felt, but then it starts to taper off as it reaches its premature redline of about 5,000rpm. This sensation is rather awkward, as I am used to a higher rev limiter for petrol cars, but it definitely isn’t a bad thing. For once the next gear comes, you are yet again in the torque band and another surge repeats.

To those who have not experienced a modern diesel, it might come as a surprise but you will never notice it is a diesel engine in terms of noise levels. The car is supremely refined in any conditions, and in particular the engine never feels like its pushing itself hard or is struggling. In fact, driving it around spiritedly is as a cinch for the car as a walk in the park. It offers a rather sporty exhaust note too, something like that of a petrol V6, and is something you wouldn’t mind winding down the windows for.

Driving the car longer however, I started to realize that the weight of the car can really be felt. Although it is a fast car, no doubt, there is a certain lag when the torque overcomes inertia to push the car forward. I cannot say for sure if it is the turbo lag that is the culprit either, although it can be felt below 2,000rpm. I suspect that the Triptronic gearbox does have quite a substantial drivetrain loss, hence the feeling that the car isn’t as powerful as it should be. Perhaps, down the road in the future, Audi can release this car with the highly-acclaimed S-tronic gearbox, which promises better performance and fuel consumption.

Becoming the passenger for a moment, I had the time to savour the interior. Together with the dark blue exterior, the brown interior complements the look of the car perfectly. Elegant piano black accent trims blend in seamlessly with the dark wooden trim lining the dashboard and the doors (though I would have preferred brushed aluminium). The seats feel snug and cabin space is comfortable for the front two passengers and acceptable for the rear two (for short trips). The cockpit faces the driver (remember the E46 3 Series?) and everything is within easy reach. One thing I noticed which could have been improved are the feel of the knobs – they feel quite plastic and I wished they had more tactile feel. When driving, your left leg also rests at an awkward spot at the left of the pedals, and I couldn’t find a comfortable position to place it.

The Multimedia Interface (MMI) of the car, however, is very easy to use and in the 3.0TDI many things come as standard. That includes Bluetooth connectivity, Satellite Navigation, SD card slots, a DVD player, Audi Parking System and many more. A nice feature is also an automatic releasing parking brake – good for those highway crawls where you want to rest both your legs for an extended period. Once you apply throttle, the parking brake will automatically release but when you are at standstill, it will automatically engage. Brilliant!

After the test drive, I considered the A5 3.0TDI for a moment. It’s almost everything you want from a sports coupe – stunning looks, a refined and powerful engine, and a rather good price too – at SGD206,800, it undercuts the 335i by SGD42,000, it’s closest competitor. And its fuel economy will be better than even the most economical A5 on sale, the 1.8TFSI.

But then comes the Archilles’ heel of the A5 3.0TDI. With road tax close to SGD6,000 per year, you are paying almost SGD3,300 more per year than a A5 3.2 Quattro and a staggering SGD4,800 more than a A5 2.0T Quattro. Can you ever make the money back by the amount you save at the pumps? Sure, if you travel at least 35,000km per year or more. Which, in Singapore’s context, would be a challenge considering a trip across the island from the west to the east would not exceed 100km.

This brings into the question the A5 2.0T Quattro. It will do 7.4L/100km, complete the century sprint in 6.7 seconds, is 60kg lighter and best of all, comes with Audi’s S-tronic 7-speed dual clutch gearbox. Do a simple ECU re-map and you might even be able to match the performance of the 3.0TDI. And the price? Expect to pay at least SGD30,000 less than the 3.0TDI model. It is just the more sensible choice here, due to the unfriendly diesel taxes.

This is a rare case whereby lesser is actually better. I’m not saying that the A5 3.0TDI is a lousy car. It definitely isn’t. In fact, it’s an astounding car that I will recommend anyone considering an A5 to buy. But the 2.0TFSI A5 is a hard act to beat, its brilliance made even more obvious when placed next to a V6 diesel engine that barely makes any relevance next to it. Remove the extra diesel taxes however, and it will be a different ending here. But until then, diesel rules in Europe but petrol still reigns here.

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Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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5 Comments

  1. I’m sure the 3.0 liter pulls like a train, but as you yourself say, it’s tough to beat the smaller engine which is extremely capable.

  2. It would hav a tuff time paying for itself here in America.

  3. I’d love to see that V6 TDI offered in a Jetta or Passat.

  4. It’s really a high time that LTA review their basis of charging road tax simply by the size of the engine, also this special tax on diesel engine, which I think is not logical and out of time.

  5. I agree. They should charge based on emission levels or at least have it in part of the equation.

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