You don’t have to be a weatherman to know it’s been a heavier and extraordinarily longer monsoon this year. Even the last week of October saw lashing rain with a cyclone hitting India's west coast – not great news when you’re planning a family holiday in Goa. Friends who had driven from Mumbai to Goa said the roads were in bad shape, including the normally good Chorla Ghat section. So while rummaging through the key box of our long-term fleet, my eyes were trained on the SUVs. Luckily for me, though, we had the Audi Q5 for a few days. A luxury SUV would do nicely – large tyres and good ground clearance, along with all the creature comforts on offer, would take some of the sting out from the trip.
So the Audi it was; the only problem – this was the petrol. In the past, I’ve often taken a diesel vehicle down to Goa. With mileage figures in the high teens, these family trips have been very wallet-friendly. This time around it wouldn’t be so. Besides the petrol engine, as always we would be fully loaded too, with the usual personal luggage plus camera gear, laptops (yes we still work – sigh!) and 5kg of Quaker Oats (don’t ask), along with fishing gear and an inflatable boat, oars and pump too. And then, of course, the bad roads would take a heavy toll on efficiency. A low double-digit mileage figure would perhaps be possible, leave aside high teens.
The route we were taking was via Pune, Kolhapur and Belgaum, entering Goa via the Chorla Ghat. The roads weren’t all that bad. We did encounter a few terribly potholed stretches, as well as some random broken tarmac sections; but what was really terrible were three diversions for under-construction flyovers. Thanks to the rains, these loosely paved sections were completely washed away and reduced to mere mud, slush and rock. While we did go off-road to the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary on this trip (more on this later), what was weird was the Q5’s Quattro four-wheel-drive system was actually put to good work on these ‘road’ sections – more than in the forest. Cars were slithering and struggling in the mud, taking time to navigate the huge potholes and trenches. Thankfully, we had no such problems but thanks to 20min jams at each of these sections, the very slow drive through the bad Chorla Ghat, plus driving in hard rain, we eventually covered the 628km trip to my home in Goa in 12 and a half hours.
We didn't make very good time, even less so, considering we had a very short lunch stop. As I had anticipated, we averaged 10.8kpl according to the trip computer and our standard testing method also showed a figure very close to this, at 10.3kpl. In terms of car setup, I had the powertrain in Auto mode; that way I could maximise efficiency while having quick access to the 252hp when I needed it. I also had the steering and dampers set to dynamic mode, which is how I like the handling and it also helped contain body roll to an extent – important on road trips, as my daughter tends to feel car sick.
Also as anticipated, the Q5 did take the sting out of the drive. Even with the dampers in dynamic, the suspension is quite adept at absorbing bumps and potholes; the tyre's large sidewall undoubtedly helping. The seats are comfy and with the three-zone climate control system, I was able to keep a lower temperature while I drove, without freezing my wife while she napped. Even the sunroof (something that I rarely use) was quite a neat thing to have, with my kids enjoying watching the rain pelting down on the glass. The only bit that I didn’t enjoy was using Android Auto; the Q5 doesn’t have a touchscreen and using the click wheel to navigate what is primarily a touch interface can be quite a pain. It does have its benefits, of course – like not having to accurately aim your finger at the screen – but you still have the take your eyes of the road to know where you’ve scrolled. Plus, it’s not the just rotating; you also have to push to click or tilt the wheel forward and back to access functions. Having the wheel as an add-on to the touchscreen would have been perfect.
The Q5 came in handy with our inflatable boat. We used the boot power outlet to plug-in an air compressor; and the roof was just about long enough to carry the entire boat when inflated. The Q5 does have fully functioning roof rails. However, without a carrier, we simply tied the boat through the open windows. If you do this, remember to use a slip knot, or you won’t be able to open the doors – and of course, drive slow. Yes, it’s easier to carry the boat deflated; but even with an air compressor it still takes some time to fill it up, eventually drawing a small crowd. So carrying it inflated and setting sail as soon as you arrive is much better. Plus, this way, when some ill-informed ‘official’ finally arrives to tell you that boating isn’t allowed (or fishing, or even photography) you’re already in the water. As my colleague Shapur says – do first, and ask later. Seriously, though: always check with the proper authorities before setting sail anywhere.
Coming to the Mhadei wildlife sanctuary, if you’re driving through Chorla Ghat, I’d recommend a small detour into the sanctuary to have a look at the Surla waterfall. Sadly, you don’t drive up to the actual waterfall. Instead, you make your way to a point called the ‘Surla waterfall view point’ where you can see the water falling straight into the valley, surrounded by majestic green mountains and (at least in the rains) the view is really something. To get there, at the Goa-Karnataka border you take a small village road about 2km to the Sateri Shantadurga Kelbai Temple, after which you enter the sanctuary and drive through the forest trail for about 1km. As I said before, the Q5 didn’t break a sweat here at all, the ground was fairly level, and the Q5’s tyres and clearance easily managed to handle the odd rocks strewn about.
This detour to the sanctuary was on our return trip, during which we averaged a slightly better mileage of 10.9kpl. All in all, a pricier trip than usual; but would I take the Q5 again? For sure. It was an excellent holiday car and I’m pretty sure that with better road conditions, I could have upped the mileage figure to about 12kpl. Christmas is right around the corner.
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