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Take the typically impressive Audi cabin and build quality out of the equation and the Audi SQ5 is about as subtle as a sledgehammer – a sledgehammer that’s been used for a good few years savaging fence posts into the ground. Ever looked at the face on one of them? Yep, it’s an angry-looking implement.
The SQ5 was a serious performance SUV before there was any such thing. It was fast, it’s acceleration was beyond what most thought an SUV would (or should) be capable of, but it was every bit as real-world usable as any other Q5. The question is whether you really need that much grunt in an SUV?
Fast forward to the present day though and the performance SUV waters have been considerably muddied by ‘pretenders’ to the throne. I use the word pretenders loosely, because those pretenders come from manufacturers like BMW and Porsche, so there’s nothing fake about them. Both the Porsche Macan and BMW X4 with diesel engines are cheaper than the SQ5.
How, then, does the SQ5 stack up in late 2014?
There’s little doubt that the Audi Q5 itself is an enticing, classy and beautifully put together SUV for the small family buyer. The sheer number of these family-friendly haulers on Australian roads illustrates just how much the public has fallen in love with this mid-size SUV. It’s due for a styling revision certainly, but it has aged rather gracefully. It never looked avant-garde in the first place, so it hasn’t had anywhere near as far to fall as it’s aged.
Before the release of the SQ5, though, the Q5 wasn’t a model range that lent itself obviously to the tuning and fettling required by the addition of an S badge to the flank – not in my mind anyway.
The SQ5 brought with it a number of firsts for Audi as well – first S-badged SUV, and first diesel powered S model. No pressure then…
Despite its SUV underpinnings, the headline of any SQ5 discussion should be performance. The SQ5 accelerates from 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds, and at the time of launch, was the fastest production diesel SUV in the world. As part of our recent three-way comparo, Jez managed to crank the SQ5 from 0-100km/h in a Vbox verified 5.4-seconds, so while it isn’t cheap at $90,600, the Audi SQ5 is still mightily fast.
Standard equipment is extensive enough to justify the asking price though with leather trim, powered front seats, xenon head lights with LED daytime running lights, satellite navigation, a sports steering wheel, parking sensors front and rear and a rear view camera. SQ5 gets 20-inch wheels standard. A five-star ANCAP rating is de rigeur.
I spent plenty of time on the open road for the comparison test, so for my week in the SQ5 specifically I spent much of it trundling round town – where I see most other SQ5s incidentally. I covered in excess of 200km, and the SQ5 returned a measured 9.9L/100km, which stacks up pretty well against the ADR claim of 6.8L/100km. In my mind, anything under 10L/100km for an SUV capable of such performance is impressive and you need to take into account the propensity you have to mash the throttle just to hear the exhaust note. That kind of driving flippancy doesn’t aid and abet fuel efficiency.
The SQ5 might have landed on Australian roads back in 2013, but its numbers still add up to a seriously impressive all-round package. The bi-turbo diesel V6 engine develops 230kW and 650Nm, which combine so beautifully that the SQ5 piles on speed without ever feeling urgent. Such is the composure and silky-smooth shifting of the conventional automatic eight-speed gearbox that you never feel like you’re traveling as rapidly as you are. Another tick for the ‘old’ torque converter gearboxes then.
The engine note (or should that be exhaust note) is sensational despite being artificially enhanced. The SQ5 remains the best example of a diesel engine that doesn’t sound remotely like a diesel engine at all. The sound resonator fitted to the exhaust system generates a thump under load that’s more petrol V8, than diesel V6 – it’s reason enough to flatten your right foot when you get a stretch of road and a speed limit high enough to warrant it. Another plus, the SQ5 is quiet at idle and city speeds, meaning there is no annoying drone to get on your nerves.
Around town or on-song, the SQ5 is snappy and fast, and there’s barely any hint of turbo lag at any speed. The torque starts to build from just off idle, as you’d expect of a modern turbo diesel engine, which is perfect for daily driving boredom.
Speed is piled on smoothly and you’ll be up to 110km/h off the freeway on-ramp before you know it. Roll on acceleration and overtaking is dispatched with ridiculous ease and the same can be said for country touring. The engine and gearbox combination is so effortless at any speed that the SQ5 feels born to eat up long distances without ever being bothered.
Our test SQ5 is fitted with the optional 21-inch wheels and tyres, which look fantastic, but contribute to what can be a stiff ride. Around town, there’s nothing major to whine about unless you find a really poor road surface. Out on the open road though, in the country, the SQ5 starts to get both a little uncomfortable and fidgety.
The SQ5 is 30mm lower than a standard Q5 for starters, the springs are stiffer, as are the anti roll bars, and there are stiffer, fixed rate (rather than variable rate) dampers. The performance-oriented suspension then, is a double-edged sword to a degree. It combines with a taut chassis to minimise body roll when you start to speed up through the corners, but it also contributes to some banging and crashing over nastier surfaces.
The ride – which I would classify as harsh at times – is not a deal breaker by any means, but it is a point worth noting for anyone who values comfort over handling and performance in their SUV. Then again, if you’re of that persuasion, chances are you won’t be buying an SQ5 will you? Its worth noting, though, that the chassis dynamics offered up by the SQ5 would have been unheard of from an SUV not that long ago.
If you were to get the SQ5 onto a track, as we’ve done in the past, the engine will ultimately overpower the chassis – the front-end grip in particular. We found the SQ5 was more likely to understeer than the Macan especially, when pushed hard, but by that point,you’re pushing the SQ5 well beyond its intended parameters.
The seating position is something I feel deserves special mention, and if you’re around the 187cm mark you’re going to love it. The SQ5 manages to deliver both excellent visibility and the feeling that you’re sitting down into it, rather than on top of it like many SUVs. Almost like a high-riding hatchback. There’s plenty of adjustment in both the seat and the steering wheel though, so shorter drivers won’t have any issues.
From the driver’s seat, all the major controls are perfectly positioned, and I really like the Audi MMI system. It’s intuitive, simple to use and works seamlessly. The Bluetooth connection – both phone and audio – was reliable and clear, never dropping out after it was first connected. People on the other end of a phone call commented on how clear the system was as well.
The second row seating is also comfortable even for six-footers to sit behind a driver of the same height, and there’s plenty of headroom on offer too. Squeezing three adults across the second row isn’t something you’d want to do often, but it’s bearable for shorter trips. Three younger children will fit across the back row easily for the family buyer though.
Where some buyers will struggle for space when the family grows is in the luggage area. The 540 litres is decent, but not massive even though the SQ5 had more luggage space than the X4 and Macan on our recent test. Fold the seats forward and the SQ5 luggage space expands out to 1560 litres. Buyers with two young children will struggle to fit the related paraphernalia such as strollers and toys into the luggage space without stacking it right up to the roof.
The SQ5 is still, in isolation, as impressive as it ever was. Ultimately it’s not as sporty as you expect going in. That said, it has a delectable engine note, bucket loads of power and torque and the street cred that comes with an Audi S badge.
It’s tempting to say that the SQ5 isn’t ultimately as sportscar-like as I’d hoped, but the reality is it’s more capable than just about any other SUV in outright performance terms. The competition has definitely stepped up a notch, making things more difficult for the SQ5 but there’s life in the – slightly older – dog yet.