With five variants in the mid-size Audi Q5 SUV range, who would have guessed the best-selling version would be the range-topping, high-performance, diesel-powered SQ5?
That strategy has led to the creation of the car you see here, the Audi SQ5 Plus, which will be sold alongside the ‘not-so-standard’ SQ5.
Why the 'Plus'? Well, this SUV gets even more grunt than before, as well as more kit - not that the SQ5 has ever been short on either.
Under the bonnet is the same twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, packing solid punch in the form of 250kW of power and a whopping 700Nm of torque (up from 240kW and 650Nm in the SQ5). Odd then, that it’s no faster than the 'regular' SQ5 - both claiming 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds.
What it does get is more equipment, both inside and underneath. And it is still a very quick SUV, capable of blasting from a standstill to 100km/h two-tenths quicker than the triple-turbo BMW X5 M50d, one-tenth better than Audi’s own RS Q3, and nine-tenths faster than the SQ5's direct cousin, the Porsche Macan S Diesel.
New to the SQ5 is an active rear differential that’s able to shift torque between the two back wheels, which should give it more traction when you get back on the throttle and power out of a corner.
More obvious features benefitting the SQ5 Plus include special 20-inch alloys (though our tester had optional 21s), red brake calipers, more high-gloss black accents, and a unique tailpipe design.
Inside, the seats are upholstered in supple Nappa leather with contrast stitching in a premium diamond pattern, which certainly looks luxurious. You also get carbon-fibre inlays that suit this high-performance Audi down to a tee (though our tester had optional aluminium/black oak instead).
The SQ5 Plus gets additional safety kit too, with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, along with autonomous emergency braking (AEB) as standard.
Fire up the V6 diesel and there’s none of the usual tractor-like clatter we’re all so used to these days. Select the 'Dynamic' drive mode, and the engine note morphs into a proper deep burble – it’s the go-to setting for that sound effect alone.
After some momentary lag, the SQ5 Plus starts piling on the pace with solid determination. Mind, it’s no rocket ship like the RS6, just 'satisfyingly rapid' is how I would describe it. Push into the midrange though, and there’s heaps of shove on tap for effortless overtaking.
It’s also one diesel engine that likes to rev – right up to its 5000rpm-plus redline. The tempo of the V6’s burble rises and it gets even louder. Even though it’s a manufactured exhaust note - heard both inside and out, courtesy of a speaker in the exhaust - it’s still utterly addictive.
And it pairs up well with the SQ5’s eight-speed automatic, which is surprisingly quick-shifting for a single-clutch transmission. You can use the feel-good aluminium paddle shifters when you want to have some fun on a lonely country road, but if you don’t want the hassle, simply knock the shifter down to 'Sport', and it does a pretty good job of auto-shifting – complete with the accompanying sound effect of throttle blipping on downshifts. Importantly, it’s also a refined and smooth-shifting transmission, as you should expect of an SUV wearing a $108,900 price tag (before on-road costs).
So, while it’s no quicker than the standard model, what about the handling and ride? Is that any better than the standard SQ5?
Not really, but that’s hardly a bad thing, because bump absorption is very well controlled. It’s more comfortable than many of its rivals, even on storm-ravaged Sydney roads. No jarring or crashing, and that’s riding on the ($1500) optional bigger wheel and tyre package. It’s pretty impressive given the SQ5 also rides 30mm lower than the rest of the Q5 range.
There’s no adaptive suspension to tighten things up for some properly enthusiastic cornering, but that’s not really an issue, as the springs and dampers have been tuned accordingly to limit roll through the bends. Push on, and you’ll surely find the SQ5’s lateral limits. But overall, it’s capable of good speed through the bends, with a good deal of balance and composure to feel surefooted from behind the wheel.
What lets the SQ5 Plus down is the complete lack of feedback through the steering wheel - much like the racing simulator in our office. It feels light for a performance SUV, and not overly quick either. That said, others might find it comfortably light and easy, and a blessing when it comes to negotiating tight parking spots.
Inside, it looks dated compared with newer Audi models, such as the TT, and new A4 and Q7, all of which are available with the ‘Virtual Cockpit’ digital instrument display, along with a slick new console design. The small 7-inch infotainment screen is perhaps the biggest giveaway to the model’s age, but the cabin itself still feels premium, with Audi’s trademark aluminium switchgear and knurled knobs looking as good as ever.
Importantly, though, the Audi SQ5 is still loads of fun behind the wheel and comfortably fulfils its role as a practical and relatively spacious SUV in the luxury mid-size segment. However, I’m just not sure the 'Plus' variant delivers enough bang for buck over the standard SQ5 to warrant the additional spend. But, if you’ve got the spare cash and want the best SQ5 available, the 2016 Audi SQ5 Plus won’t disappoint.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Audi SQ5 Plus images by Christian Barbeitos.