words/photos: Todd Bliwise
Editor’s Note: This article originally ran in the Q2_2023 issue of quattro Magazine. If you would like to subscribe to quattro Magazine, please join Audi Club here.
Sometimes a brand comes along that defines us, inspires us and drives us. These can be literal or figurative aspirations, but the root connection to the brand is that it propels us forward to be something more. For me, that brand has always been the four rings of Audi. Ever since high school when I got my first A4 and interned at Jim Ellis Audi Atlanta, I have felt a connection to the vehicles and the brand. Since those early days I have owned eight four-ringers including three R8s, and I love all of them equally.
Throughout the years, as I have built a NYC-based luxury travel business and traveled to nearly 100 countries around the world, I have taken this Audi passion with me. I take every chance to explore a country by road, and often I will find an Audi to be the wheels of my exploration. I have driven every inch of New Zealand ten times over, across the U.S. from coast to coast eight separate times, South Africa, Iceland, and more.
Nothing however came close to the goal I laid out in 2021, setting out to accomplish a dream of mine – to traverse the entirety of the Australian outback. This was no easy task, considering a full circle of Australia covers some 20,000 kms or 12,000 miles. Such a journey required ample planning and time. Over the course of two months, I carefully put together a roadmap to accomplish this goal in two separate drives. The fundamental tool, the root of its very success, was the Audi SQ5 I would use to accomplish this.
Writing this story in retrospect having completed the drives gives me great ability to reflect not just on the journey itself, but on all the challenges, accomplishments and lifetime memories I encountered and created along the way. When I departed Melbourne on a rainy early fall day (Australian fall, of course) in March of 2022, I did so behind the wheel of a 2022 SQ5 TDI (diesel is the chosen engine for SQ5 in Australia – ed.) . I owned an SQ5 back in the U.S. and consequently I was quite familiar with everything it offered. Even still, enjoying it with diesel engine, right-hand drive and on a different continent, revealed a whole new perspective on Audi’s top-selling S-crossover.
While the SQ5 handled well on the roads of southern Victoria, its true colors didn’t show until I reached the Australian outback. Greeting you like a red devil with his arms spread wide, the outback hits you with absolute isolation; no wi-fi, hours with no mobile service, and fewer towns that can be counted on one hand.
The Outback’s red dirt finds its way into and onto everything; otherwise the SQ5 handled whatever obstacle was thrown its way, from 120-degree temperatures to rough roads to the frequent need to dodge animals. As a reality of being somewhere so isolated, it’s typically imperative to fill up on fuel every chance you get because the gaps between fuel can be hundreds of miles. The beauty of the diesel SQ5 was the incredible fuel mileage that it afforded, allowing me to accomplish nearly 1,000 kms on a tank. This lessened the stress and necessity to fill up at every single small outback post I came across.
Once you cross into the Northern Territory, the speed “limit” increases to 130km/h and you can really open up. I use quotations here to speak of the speed limit since there really is little to nothing to enforce that. Within reason, you can travel as fast as the wheels will take you. Flat nothingness expands further than the eye can see to the horizon in all directions without even a turn sometimes for what seemed like an hour. The SQ5’s power was appreciated when passing massive elongated “road trains”, three to five trucks strung together for efficiency purposes, hauling the much-needed goods from the busy metropolises of the East to the towns of the North and West. Even with no visible onward traffic, passing them can be hair-raising, a consequence of closing at a speed of more than 260km/h, which can quickly change from no cars present to just the opposite in a matter of seconds.
Despite being constantly aware, the other challenge came when dodging road debris and the odd curious kangaroo at that speed, where I needed to rely on the car’s all-wheel drive capabilities symbiotically paired with the perfect balance of power and agility to ensure no harm came to the ‘roo or to myself. I am happy to report no kangaroos were harmed in the making of this story, though some hair may have been grayed.
After each day’s challenges, the magic of the Outback would reveal itself at night when pulling into the small outposts. These served as much-needed rest for the car and the driver, both a little tired and weary from the road. Often lit by little more than a few streetlamps, the setting sun would backlight distant rolling thunderstorms alleviating the heavy equatorial air of the days warmth, refreshing the dry barren earth with a brief reprieve from the sun’s torment. Under the long shadows I would wander exhausted into these small pubs and saloons to eat the day’s catch, usually fish or beef. Dinner would signal the end of another day traversing some of the most isolated landscape on the planet and beckon, at least for the moment, that I was one day closer to achieving a life-long dream.
From Darwin to Perth, from Brisbane to Alice Springs, I covered every inch of the country over the four-week, 12,000-mile trek. I used two nearly identical 2022 SQ5s for this drive (they were even the same color!). The drive was split in two legs, covering the entire continent in 2022 in the spring and fall. On November 15th, 2022, I pulled into Perth, having completed my dream. A beautiful early summer day greeted me with blue skies, calm winds and open arms as if to let me know that I had made it. I had accomplished a dream that few will ever attempt.
At times on this journey, I was more alone than I had ever been in my life, which provided ample time for reflection. At the end of the drive, the one thought I couldn’t shake was how all things in my life inevitably led to this moment. Included in that progression was my never-faltering love for Audi. The brand and the cars will forever hold a special place in my heart as the tools that allowed me to accomplish such a dream.
For the rest of my life, I will look back at these drives as a pivotal part of my foundation and making me who I am. More than the circle of life, the four circles of Audi are just as much a part of mine as I am of theirs.