My test 2014 Audi Q5 came with "clean diesel" written on both front doors in big letters. Those who noticed probably thought I was very responsible. Most probably didn't understand the preceding letters, TDI.
They stand for Turbo Direct Induction, which is the turbocharger and direct injection fuel system that produces an astonishing 428 pound feet of torque out of the environmentally friendly 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine enough to turn the luxury compact crossover into a serious street racer.
By way of comparison, that's the same amount of torque as last year's base Corvette engine. But the Q5 TDI averages an EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon, all without ever belching the black smoke that characterizes earlier generations of automotive diesel engines.
The Q5 TDI has a lot more going for it than just the appealing combination of tremendous power and good mileage, however. Simply put, it is one of the best luxury compact crossover on the market solid and quiet, with ample interior room and a sport sedan-like ride that encourages spirited driving.
Boosting the performance of the Q5 are Audi's excellent Tiptronic transmission and standard quattro all-wheel-drive system. Although frequently referred to as an eight-speed automatic, the Tiptronic is closer to an automated manual, meaning the shifts are quick and sure. It delivers power to all four wheels as needed, increasing traction in bad weather.
By coincidence, I had the Q5 during the first severe storm of the year and it never felt the least bit out of control, no matter how hard I pushed it.
And no matter how bad the storm got, the interior of the Q5 was always quiet and comfortable. Wind noises never intruded, and the only time I heard much else outside was when I fearlessly charged through flooded intersections. The leather driver's seat always held me firmly in place, and of course took the chill off in the morning with three heat settings.
Although Audi's have always had austere interiors, the Q5 was a warmer than most. Not plush or pretentious, of course, but almost acknowledging the occupants might care about more than just the precision of the fit and finish, which was as competent as ever.
My test Q5 was loaded up with the usually array of climate, entertainment and safety features, including outside sensor that warned of nearby objects at low speeds and showed which corners were at risk on the display screen. Owners will appreciate that feature in tight parking garages.
The exterior styling is mostly distinguished by the large front grill, a corporate trademark that might not appeal to everyone. The lines are otherwise clean but somewhat generic. Apart from the grills, it's getting hard to tell most crossovers apart these days. At least Audi's grill stands out.
The Q5 was first introduced in 2008 and refreshed in 2012. It is now offered with a wide range of engines, including the base turbocharged 2.0 four, an optional supercharged 3.0 V6, a hybrid that mates the base engine to an electric motor, and a more powerful 3.0 V6 in the high-performance SQ5.
And, of course, the 3.0 V6 TDI, which is new for the Q5 this year but not for Audi. Although other manufacturers have offered diesels for years, Audi has publicly pushed their potential farther than anyone else. The company shocked the racing world by entering a diesel-powered prototype in the FIA World Endurance Championship series that includes the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999. The cars have dominated the competition by virtue of their torque, mileage and reliability, the very reason people buy diesels for their personal cars.
Maintaining that reputation is important for Audi as more and more manufacturers offer clean diesel engines. Volkswagen is making big moves into the market, and Chevy just started offering a diesel engine in its popular Cruze compact become the first American manufacturer to do so since GM's disastrous gasoline V8 conversions in the early 1980s.
Fortunately, most potential buyers have forgotten (or never heard of) that mistake and will consider the current generation of diesels on their own merit. When they do, they'll find the Audi Q5 TDI has a lot to offer.
Facts and figures (all models)
Model tested: 2014 Q5 TDI quattro.
Class: Luxury compact crossover.
Layout: Front engine, all-wheel-drive.
Style: Five-door hatchback.
Engines: Turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four (220 hp, 258 ft-lbs); Supercharged 3.0-liter V6 (272 hp, 295 lbs); Turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V6 (240 hp, 428 lb-ft - as tested); 2.0T and electric motor hybrid (245 hp, 354 lb-ft).
Transmissions: Five-speed manual; Continuously Variable Transmission with optional manual shift mode.
Fuel Economy: 20/28/23 (2.0T); 18/26/21 (3.0); 24/31/27 (TDI); 24/30/26 (Hybrid).
Price: Starting at around $37,000 ($51,000 as tested).