The 2017 Audi SQ5 is a singularly important variant in the all-new second-generation Q5 line up, not least of all because it’s the halo version, but it’s also the first time we’ve seen a petrol engine under the bonnet, at least in this market.
At its highpoint, the go-fast model represented a sizeable 33 per cent of all Q5s sold. Back then it was armed with a potent 3.0-litre biturbo-diesel, which made a solid 230kW of power and a bullish 650Nm of torque in regular guise, and 250kW/700Nm in the uprated Sport Plus version.
It was quick, too, able to dispatch with the 0-100km/h sprint in just 5.1 seconds. By way of comparison, its slightly smaller cousin, the Porsche Macan S Diesel could only manage 6.3 seconds from the same 3.0-litre displacement.
Mid-range punch was particularly strong in the SQ5, intoxicating even, while even a light to medium throttle prod was all but sufficient for rounding up right-lane hogs as well as safe high-speed overtakes on long-haul family jaunts.
And it wasn’t just the sheer go that offered excitement either; that was only half the fun. It sounded tough, too, with a deep V8-style rorty burble present at almost any revs, even when crawling along in peak hour.
So why has Audi ditched the biturbo TDI in favour of a petrol engine with less performance than the model it replaces? After all, high-performance models are generally quicker as each new generation comes along.
It’s a fair question, and the answer lies in the fact that Audi is clearly focused on its largest single market, the United States – where diesels are almost non-existent in SUVs, particularly within the mid-size segment.
The SQ5 is also built south of the border in Mexico, significantly reducing transport costs and freight time to US distribution centres. Easier to shift bigger volumes right from the factory to dealers.
It also means Audi’s power-hungry customers Down Under can have an SQ5 from day one of launch, rather than waiting for a new-generation diesel that’s still to be officially confirmed by Audi. Worse still, buyers might decide to shop elsewhere.
However, the petrol-only option remains a cause for concern, especially for those buyers entirely satisfied with their diesel-powered SQ5s and simply wishing to swap into a new-generation model.
The good news is, you need not worry, unless of course, you were hoping to outrun the latest cargo-carrying speed demon from Mercedes-AMG – the $164,900 GLC63 S. There’s also Alfa Romeo’s upcoming Stelvio QV, but these sprint-crushing SUVs are on another level entirely.
The 2017 $99,611 SQ5 still offers plenty of capability for those wanting more excitement than a regular powered family hauler.
Audi’s new 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 develops 260kW and 500Nm of torque, and it does so from 1370-4500rpm through an eight-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.
The SQ5 gets to keep its full-strength quattro system, rather than the clutch-based ‘Ultra’ system adopted by regular versions. Wet weather traction is where Audi’s all-paw drive is worth its weight in gold. You simply can’t trick this system – traction, regardless of how reckless you are with the throttle, is 100 per cent guaranteed.
It’s good enough to propel this 1870kg SUV from standstill to 100km/h in 5.4 seconds – not exactly hanging about, and yet, surprisingly entertaining at the same time.
While it might be a few tenths slower out of the gate, initial throttle response actually feels sharper than the old diesel, even though it lacks any real shove in the back as the turbo kicks in.
The lower gears aren’t as torquey as they were in the diesel (that’s to be expected) but the moment this auto box shifts into fourth, you’ve got some serious thrust on tap. And it keeps on pulling, too, all the way to redline. Fifth and sixth are more of the same, while the two top gears have been calibrated for long-range efficiency.
Granted, it’s not quite as thrilling as its diesel-powered predecessor, but part of that’s down to the silky-smooth refinement of the eight-speed auto, and of course, the new V6 itself. Mind, it’s still quick shifting, but also noticeably less manic than any dual-clutch gearbox, particularly at low speeds or in stop/start traffic.
Drivers can also scroll through several drive modes, though we’d suggest leaving Comfort alone, unless you’re driving ‘Miss Daisy’, as it simply numbs throttle response and shift action to cotton wool levels.
There’s none of that delicious exhaust burble either, just a whisper of an engine note and not much else, despite wearing 21-inch wheels with low profile tyres. Wind and road noise are almost completely suppressed. It’s like having a genuine stealth mode.
Scroll through to Dynamic, though, and the SQ5 suddenly comes alive, making all the right noises along with effortless acceleration. It’s almost predictive in the speed with which it adapts to a more eager driving style.
After a few hundred kays behind the wheel, we’re also starting to wonder if there’s really very much in it when comes to that exhaust note. We’re not so sure now. Certainly, it’s satisfying, particularly those precision-timed throttle blips on the downshifts.
While some lag is unavoidable, even with a twin-scroll turbo, it’s not something you ever give a second thought to with the SQ5. The turbo is located within the hot vee of the cylinder banks, which improves turbine response, and only on rare occasions do you ever catch it napping.
While Audi claims the new SQ5 is more efficient than the model it replaces, we couldn’t match the company’s claim of 8.7 litres per 100km, even with substantial long distance travel; though we did get close. In fact, the best we could get was 10.8L/100km.
Luxury SUVs in this price bracket should be comfortable, so standard on the SQ5 are adaptive dampers, which provide a small but discernible spread between comfort and dynamic ride settings.
Bump absorption is reasonably good in both modes, though there’s an underlying firmness to the suspension system, though the latter also keeps body roll in check during harder cornering.
Our tester was also equipped with adaptive air suspension ($2150) – an infinitely variable damping system that we’d highly recommend given its extra breadth including variable ride height advantages for off-road adventures or easy loading.
Both testers we drove were also fitted with the optional sport differential ($2950), which actively distributes torque between the rear wheels and keeps the car in-check as you accelerate out of tighter turns.
Less obvious are the styling updates on the new Q5. Audi has chosen not to meddle with a winning formula, though look closely and you’ll notice the front bumper and grille are sharper, in line with the company’s new corporate face.
There are more defined creases, as well as more advanced LED lighting for a fresher look all round.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment, though, are the removal of the SQ5’s trademark quad exhaust pipes. In a somewhat bewildering move, they’ve been replaced by what looks like integrated versions, but are no more than plastic lookalikes.
It’s bigger, too, but not by much. Not that the old Q5 could ever be accused of insufficient load space. However, the new version is slightly longer and taller, providing an extra 10 litres of carrying capacity along with it.
Cabin-wise, it’s not overly flashy, but a superb blend of Alcantara, leather, carbon-fibre trim and beautifully finished metal work mean it feels expensive. The quilted sports seats are a standout, as are the flat-bottom leather steering wheel and aluminium sports pedals.
Audi’s stunning 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit is standard, likewise the 8.3-inch MMI Navigation Plus system, which is mounted as a floating screen, rather than the neater fold-away solution we’ve seen on other Audis.
If you want the best audio though, you’ll need to pay for it. For $5600 you’ll get the high-end 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen system, delivering 755 watts through a 16-channel amplifier.
Also, included in the Technik package are Audi Matrix LED headlamps and a head-up display, as well as accent lighting of the front door speakers.
The new-generation SQ5 isn’t without character or pace. It’s got plenty of both, yet it just doesn’t thrill in the same entertaining manner as it’s extroverted diesel-fueled predecessor did.