Alpine escape with the Audi Q5 Sportback hybrid

    After a week behind the wheel of the Audi Q5 Sportback hybrid, we discover the many benefits and relevance of plug-in hybrid vehicles as we transition to fully electric vehicles.

    Published On Nov 06, 2021 09:00:00 AM


    I just got ‘ICE’d’ in Switzerland! You would imagine that’s a common experience in the land of the icy alps, but it’s not what you think. In fact, in a well-mannered and considerate society like Switzerland, it’s a rare thing to happen. Not making sense? Let me explain.

    Getting ICE’d means turning up at a EV charging station and finding the dedicated (for EVs) parking space occupied by an Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car. Imagine arriving at a charging point in your electric car with its low battery light flashing, only to find some gas-guzzling SUV that shouldn’t be there, hogging your spot. There’s not much you can do except fret and fume and waste time looking for another charging spot. And if you were depending on that charging point to give you crucial extra volts to complete your journey, what could have been a relaxed few hours of downtime becomes a stressful hunt for another plug. It’s situations like these that makes living with an EV more of a miss than a hit. And it’s situations like these that make the case for a plug-in hybrid even stronger. 

    Got ‘ICEd’ by a gas guzzling SUV that hogged my charging spot.

    So when I rolled into the basement of the Zurich Sheraton in my Audi Q5 Sportback plug-in hybrid with the small 14.1 KwH battery completely depleted, yes, I was pretty miffed to find a Ford Explorer marked in my spot, but not panicked. Because even with a completely discharged battery, I could fall back on the Q5 Sportback’s conventional 2-litre petrol engine. That’s the beauty of a hybrid. When you run out of charge, you don’t get stranded.

    Living with the Q5 Sportback 55 TFSi-e for a week in Switzerland opened my eyes to the world of plug-in hybrids, or rather, the best of both worlds this technology offers.

    Rhine Falls, an hour outside Zurich, is a popular tourist attraction; but COVID-19 meant most of them stayed away.

    It can run in pure electric mode for around 55km noiselessly and emission-free, which is just perfect for short runs within Zurich and to nearby destinations, like the touristy Rhine Falls, less than 50km away. On longer drives, the petrol motor takes over; so you never have to worry about running out of charge.

    Whilst the environmental benefits of running in pure electric mode are quite obvious, what isn’t quite obvious, until you actually use a plug-in hybrid, is the amount you save on fuel, especially in Switzerland.

    The cost of petrol in Switzerl Like in India, petrol is heavily taxed in Switzerland.and is 1.8 Swiss Francs or Rs 145 per litre!

    If you think the cost of petrol has gone through the roof in India, in Switzerland prices are higher than the Alps. Petrol here is 1.8 Swiss francs, or Rs 145 per litre! Like in India, petrol is heavily taxed in Switzerland, but unlike India, all the tax on fuel goes back into road infrastructure. It pays for the phenomenal roads I’ve been enjoying for the past few days, which is some consolation, but what really softened the blow is the hybrid tech. It genuinely helped me dodge the wallet-busting petrol prices.

    Charging is free at the Zurich Sheraton which meant short runs were almost free too. The plug-in hybrid system worked like a charm seamlessly switching from petrol to electric drive depending on the conditions. On the last day, I bid goodbye to the Q5 in fine style by hitting 300. Not kilometres per hour, but kilometres per litre, which in today’s context of global warming is a bigger achievement. The engine was hardly used on the 40km run to the drop off point, which explains this unbelievable figure.

    Yes, that is 300kpl! Short runs in full EV mode ensured engine (and petrol) were hardly used; good way to beat Switzerland’s fuel prices.

    Serene Views

    Before I get too obsessed with range, battery charging and things electric, let’s get to what the Q5 Sportback is like to drive. The 265hp, 2.0-litre- turbo-petrol is carried over from the standard Q5 (which is yet to come to India) and supplemented by a 143hp electric motor, which work in tandem to develop a strong 367hp. But it’s not power output that defines the plug-in Q5 Sportback, but the utterly seamless way in which the power is delivered. Put your right foot down hard and the petrol motor takes over and reminds you that it’s a four-cylinder unit. The buzzy engine note at max revs feels starkly unrefined in contrast to the quietness of the electric motor when in EV mode. In case you’re wondering, yes, there are plans to bring the Q5 Sportback to India, but not the hybrid version. In fact, plug-in hybrids are off the Indian agenda and going forward Audi will launch only full EVs as part of its electrification strategy.

    Switzerland is a driver’s paradise because a breathtaking alpine road is never far away. This mountainous country is known for its passes, and my favourite is the Susten pass just an hour and a half from Zurich.

    Susten Pass is one of the best driving roads in Europe.

    What I love about Susten is that it’s not a typical pass with never-ending hairpin bends which can get a bit tedious. It’s nice and wide, has fast, flowing corners and some flat sections too. This road is so, so smooth, there’s not even the minutest of bumps on this flawlessly paved piece of tarmac. Tourists still worried about COVID-19 are staying away, but I wasn’t complaining. I had the pass all to myself.

    Audi Q5 Sportback is the perfect size for a twisty mountain road.

    It was an absolute blast gunning the Q5 which obediently and smoothly surged from corner to corner. The Sportback’s steering is marvellously lucid for an Audi SUV, which typically has a wooden feel. But, up here in the Alps, I was rewarded with a car that masked its 2,075kg kerb weight and gracefully flowed through corners with minimal steering inputs.

    The only gripe I had was the inconsistent feel of the brake pedal which tended to bite sharply whilst recouping energy for the battery. Also, the transmission doesn’t downshift in tandem with the brakes and, hence, slowing down isn’t as progressive as I would have liked.

    The snow-capped peaks and drive up to the summit of the pass is so spectacular that you tend to gaze at the peaks while driving, so it’s safer to pullover into one of the many lay-bys and soak in the fabulous vistas.

    Sustenance at the top of a cold and wet Susten Pass is a delicious hot soup.

    Sustenance at the top of Susten where the weather changed dramatically from sunshine to mist and rain, arrived in the form of a hot soup at one of the quaint restaurants. After 18 months in India, this Swiss sojourn felt truly liberating.

    What was unbelievable was how the Q5, in this rather unique shade of military green, stayed so clean after a week’s driving in occasional rain. There’s no dust, grime or muck in this pristine environment to dirty your car. Imagine how good that must be for your lungs.

    Also See:

    0-300kph in a Mercedes AMG GT R

    Skoda Kushaq: Himalayan Epiphany

    Special Feature: The Road To A Green Future Starts Here

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