The new Audi SQ5 is slower, thirstier and costlier than before, yet it's better.
The original Audi SQ5 was a milestone model for the brand in 2013. It was Audi’s first S-badged SUV and its first S variant featuring a diesel engine.
With a quoted 0-100km/h figure of 5.1 seconds, the SQ5 also marked itself at the time as the world’s fastest-accelerating diesel. Australians swarmed to it, with the variant at one point accounting for a third of Q5 sales.
No explanation needed, then, for why the 2017 Audi SQ5 has arrived simultaneously with the regular Q5 models rather than the usual wait for a performance derivative.
While the SQ5 moves to the MLB Evo architecture, there’s bigger news under the bonnet. The former 240kW/650Nm turbo diesel has been traded for the 3.0-litre V6 petrol turbo found in the S4 and S5 sedan/coupe twins.
Petrol isn’t suffering an image problem currently like diesel, though the change is a regression in on-paper performance. The V6 petrol may produce an extra 20kW but its torque deficit is 150Nm. And it’s enough to slow its straight-line charge to three figures by three-tenths, despite 130kg being pared from its weight.
Fuel economy also increases from 6.8 litres per 100km to 8.7L/100km. And whereas the original SQ5 cost $89,400, the new version will set you back $99,611 – albeit with some extra features.
Not an auspicious start, then, though never judge a car by its spec cover sheet.
The first marked improvement over the former SQ5 is ride quality. While deeper surface blemishes can elicit minor blows to cabin serenity from the large 21-inch standard wheels, and there’s some lumpiness if you choose firmer damping via dynamic mode, the new model is far more settled at varying speeds and across bitumen of varying degradation.
The second is handling. It’s still a no-contest dynamically versus a Porsche Macan, but at least the gap is no longer night and day. With less mass to move around and a lighter engine, directional changes feel more responsive as Audi’s era of nose-heavy handling starts to become a welcome distant memory.
As is inconsistent steering. The SQ5’s steering is unerringly accurate, though it remains excessively light regardless of vehicle mode, while we noticed it can weight-up unexpectedly at slow speeds when turning a corner.
No issues with traction out of corners. In tight uphill hairpins, particularly, you can feel the quattro feeding torque to the rear wheels as the SQ5 propels you without interruption.
It’s a different all-wheel-drive system to the ‘ultra’ system found in regular Q5s. Whereas they are essentially front-drivers that can engage clutches to bring the rear wheels into play when slippage is detected or predicted, the SQ5 again borrows from the S4/S5 with its mechanical centre diff that splits torque 40/60 in normal driving, but can divert 85 per cent either way to ensure strong traction.
Our SQ5 was also fitted with the optional ($2950) sport differential that we know is effective at limiting understeer – or at least certainly delaying it. There’s an argument it should be standard on an S-badged Audi.
There’s excellent body control in dynamic mode over especially challenging bumpy country roads, with the Audi coping admirably with dips and bumps when you’re standing on the brakes or flooring the accelerator.
The initial bite from the brakes isn’t great, and mild ABS intervention can be felt under hardest braking, but modulation improves.
The SQ5’s sports seats are comfortable but they could be grippier, and there’s no adjustable side bolstering. Most importantly for buyers, the Audi is great at covering long distances in effortless comfort.
Do we miss the V6 diesel, though? There’s no doubt it packed a bigger mid-range wallop, and it sounded great – almost V8-like at times – with the help of a sound actuator.
The petrol V6 also makes an enticing noise when in dynamic, though it sounds even more synthetic (including the purposeful idle upon start-up) as it streams into the cabin via the speakers, which is a bit of a shame.
Whereas it was also pointless revving the diesel past 4000rpm, the new SQ5 strides nonchalantly towards a 6500rpm redline, while after some initial lag its 500 Newton metres are delivered along an unrelentingly straight line from 1370–4500rpm.
The zero-to-100 acceleration of 5.4 seconds, while quick in isolation, leaves it trailing behind the quotes for most rivals – including the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 and upcoming BMW X3 M40i that both dip below 5.0 seconds.
The SQ5 opts for a sporty eight-speed tiptronic auto over the regular Q5 range’s seven-speed dual-clutch autos. The shifts feel quick enough in hard driving, S mode is intelligent if left to its own devices, and the bonus is there are none of the low-speed quirks associated with DCTs.
It’s also only fair to point out that while the SQ5 is inevitably thirstier than its diesel-powered predecessor, its official 8.5L/100km is slightly more efficient than either the F-Pace 35t S (8.9L/100km) or Mercedes-AMG GLC43 (8.8L/100km).
To remind you in everyday driving that you’re not driving a standard Q5 – aside from those Nappa-leather sports seats with beautiful, Bentley-esque diamond-pattern quilting – there are S logos behind the gear lever, on the steering wheel, and door sills. The virtual instrument cluster also features ‘SQ5’.
The configurable graphic display adds a high-tech touch to a high-quality cabin. There’s little you look at or touch, twist or push that doesn’t make you go ‘Nice’.
The only true ergonomic blemish is the Drive Select button on the dash that requires a distracting look/reach. We’d like to see Audi position it on the steering wheel on all its models, as it has with the R8 and TT RS.
Standard features shared with Sport versions of the Q5 include autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, three-zone climate, digital radio, adaptive cruise, auto high-beam, rear cross-traffic alert, and sensors that help you avoid turning into oncoming traffic.
We’d be tempted to pay $5600 for the Technik Package fitted to our test car, which brings Audi’s clever Matrix LED headlight system, head-up display, and banging Bang & Olufsen 19-speaker, 755-watt audio.
A sliding rear bench is optional on Q5s but standard on the SQ5, giving owners greater interior flexibility depending on whether they need to prioritise boot space or rear legroom.
There’s certainly ample space with the bench pushed right back, and boot space isn’t compromised significantly – shrinking from 610 litres maximum to 550L. Lowering the 40-20-40 rear seats creates 1550L of cargo space – a process made simpler by release levers in the boot. The tailgate can also be opened simply by aiming a kick under the rear bumper.
Our test car’s as-tested $114,237 price also included a $1430 Titanium Black styling package, which adds black exterior trim and side mirrors. They didn’t exactly stand out on our Mythos Black SQ5, which in this colour made the vehicle look visually anonymous. (The fake exhaust exits aren’t great, either.)
In fact, we’d argue the limited-edition Q5 2.0 TFSI S Line Black – which Audi Australia says is still available – is a sportier-looking variant.
The SQ5 is unlikely to remain the range’s flagship with the first RS-badged version of the Q5 expected in the not-too-distant future. A secondary, diesel option for the SQ5 is also expected at some point.
For now, the SQ5 is neither the fastest nor most dynamic mid-sized SUV you can buy. And it’s arguable that a Q5 2.0 TFSI Sport is better value.
The S4 Avant is also worth considering for a blend of performance and practicality if you’re not committed to buying an SUV.
But if you’re after the higher-riding, taller-bodied form of wagon that maintains all the design, build, comfort and technology positives of the regular Q5 line-up while adding a strong dose of extra speed, the SQ5 makes for a great GT-style SUV.
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