Audi sq2 2020 sq2, Audi 2020

2020 Audi SQ2 review: Quick drive

International first drive

It's a mistake to think of the Audi SQ2 as a slightly warmed-up Q2, because this thing is a properly potent SUV that goes, handles and rides like a high-set hot hatch.
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The exclusively Audi convoy we were driving in Germany recently included the upcoming SQ5 TDI, A6 allroad quattro, and the yet-to-be-confirmed SQ2. I can’t tell you exactly why, but the go-fast Q2 wasn’t something I was all that keen on. At least, not on this occasion that included plenty of derestricted Autobahn.

It wasn’t until later that day, when there was plenty of car swapping going on for the likes of video and stills photography, that I got my first (and thankfully not my last) drive in the 2020 Audi SQ2. Looks can be deceptive.

The problem is its appearance is a tad too tame for its own good, and far too close in appearance to any other high-spec standard Q2, which isn’t the most masculine thing on four wheels if we’re being brutally honest. But, that’s not to say I’m not a fan of Audi’s entry-level SUV. I liked the idea of it from the very moment I first drove it in Switzerland on its international launch in 2016.

Truth be told, we even short-listed it for our family daily at one stage, before deciding we needed something bigger and more punchy than those variants on offer at the time.

Whatever, there’s no denying the drainpipe-size quad exhaust tips in black chrome out back of this thing do point squarely at its performance bent. They’re a good size, and despite looking a bit out of place in terms of the rest of the design, it’s something I just might be interested in these days with one kid married and the other about to fly the coop.

It was all too clear I hadn’t done enough homework on the SQ2, because underneath this petite crossover is more or less the same drivetrain from the potent Audi S3. If you need reminding that’s a 2.0-litre turbo four with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which sends a perfectly satisfactory 221kW of power and 400Nm of torque to all four wheels via Audi’s exemplary quattro all-wheel-drive system.

Load it up and Audi claims it will scoot from standstill to 100km/h in just 4.8 seconds – three-tenths quicker than the SQ5 TDI that was well behind us by now. What’s more, this is an engine that keeps on giving – where peak torque is on tap between 2000 and 5200rpm. So, the Autobahn is indeed the perfect place to stretch the little one’s legs given top speed is a governed 250km/h – thank you very much.

And, just for the record, that engine weighs just 150 kilos in total, which not only keeps the vehicle’s weight down, but also enhances axle load distribution, according to the engineers.

It might be a jacked-up SUV, though its standard S Sport suspension lowers the ride height by 20mm. But unless you’re driving it back to back with its S3 cousin, you can go ahead and punt this thing as you would the S3 on your favourite B-roads, even though it’s around 50kg heavier than the hatch.

And don’t worry yourself if it happens to be bucketing down all day long (as it was in Germany), because the quattro all-wheel-drive system doesn’t know about it – meaning zero wheel spin at any stage of the game. Even mid-corner with the throttle pinned, there’s more grip than a Velcro factory.

Remarkable stuff, and something worth considering if you’re looking at a properly quick hot hatch, but like the idea of an elevated seating position and more convenient load height. Best of all, it’s a hoot to drive. It’s almost silly fast in terms of the category, yet also entirely practical as a daily driver for a small family or couples that want a little extra poke under the right foot.

Despite giving up 103mm in overall length to the hatch, luggage volume in the SQ2 is commensurate with its shorter stature at 355L (380L for the S3) with rear seats in place, expanding to 1000L when folded flat.

It might be small, but honestly it never feels like you’re short on space inside the cabin. There’s plenty of elbow, head and leg room, even in the second row.

Any reservations we might have had about the SQ2’s performance intent with its semi-soft bodywork, are all but quashed the moment you settle into what are seriously supportive and visually stunning quilted sports seats upholstered in a combination of leather and Alcantara.

We like the clever quattro-patterned inlays that embellish and light up the dash and centre console, as well as similarly coloured accents spread evenly around the cockpit, including vent surrounds and twin-stitch needlework.

All of it looks and feels top notch, especially the brushed-alloy brightwork and knurled knobs, though no more evident than in the sporty stainless-steel-capped pedal set inlaid with rubber strips for perfect feel and grip.

On the tech side, you get Audi’s benchmark 12.3-inch digital instrument display (dubbed Virtual Cockpit) that’s fully customisable, but automatically changes depending on which of the various drive modes you choose. It’s also a high-resolution unit that’s crystal clear and extremely legible in all light conditions.

It sits behind another standout Audi artifact – a thick leather-wrapped flat-bottom sports steering wheel with paddle shifters that suits the SQ2’s hi-po intentions perfectly. There’s also a floating 8.3-inch navigation screen that looks half a generation behind the latest Audi models, but still entirely satisfactory from both a practical and visual standpoint. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard fit, as well as a top-shelf Bang & Olufsen audio system with its 705-watt amplifier driving 14 speakers.

While the SQ2 is yet to be confirmed for Australia, so too are the specification levels including safety kit, but you can bet it will get all the latest active safety systems that larger, more exotic Audis get. Stuff like Audi pre-sense front that uses radar to look out for other vehicles and pedestrians, and initiates emergency braking if needed.

There’s an assistance package that bundles a host of systems like lane assist, side assist, adaptive cruise control with stop/go function and traffic jam assist, which also uses the front camera in addition to radar sensors. At speeds up to 65km/h on well-marked roads it can steer, brake and accelerate should the driver be distracted.

We must have caught some unseasonably winter weather in Germany a bit earlier than usual, because it rained off and on for almost 24 hours straight. But that didn’t prevent us from punting this fast and furious little Audi around on some lonely German B-roads.

It doesn’t seem to matter which Audi you’re in, but as long as it’s got quattro, grip and traction on wet roads are always off-the-clock spectacular. And, the SQ2 didn’t disappoint. In fact, it feels thoroughly planted at all times.

The steering feels sharper and more direct than the standard Q2, and that’s the result of Audi’s progressive steering. Only in the SQ2 it's sharper again, with less steering angle required for the hairpins.

Power delivery is smooth and wonderfully progressive right from the get-go, and turbo lag (if there is any it’s marginal) isn’t something you ever think about behind the wheel. While its 4.8-second sprint time isn’t exactly hanging about, the SQ2 really starts to pull with intent in the mid-range.

The biggest shout-out with this engine has got to be with its all-round versatility. Knock it up to Sport and the throttle instantly responds with noticeably more potency. You just don’t expect this kind of a rush from this go-fast SUV.

There’s more fun to be had when rifling through the gears via the paddle shifters, thanks to a very, very quick-shifting dual-clutch transmission. Manual mode is even better and leaves the shifting entirely in the hands of the driver.

And for those rumours out of the UK that said it lacked feedback – poppycock – I don’t buy it. It feels far more like a well-sorted hot hatch than it does an SUV. But surely that’s the magic of this thing. A high-riding SUV you can pretty much park anywhere, and yet jump on an Autobahn and sit on 200km/h plus or hammer around some of the world’s most picturesque mountain roads with compete immunity from the weather.

It’s so much better than you might expect from what is essentially a hotted-up Q2, but so much more involving from a driver’s standpoint. This is one compact SUV you can take by the scruff of the neck and have some genuine fun doing so.

I keep coming back to Audi’s quattro system for its ability to distribute torque continuously between both axles. But if the front wheels lose grip, the hydraulically actuated clutch is able to transfer up to 100 per cent to the rear within milliseconds – read: seamless.

Ride comfort is pretty good, too, even in Sport. Clearly, this is a great chassis despite the high-riding aspect of the SQ2. Mind you, standard specification is the S Sport suspension, which lowers the body by 20mm and thereby keeping roll well and truly in check.

I initially thought, why would anyone bother with a performance version of the diminutive Audi Q2, given there are already variants in play with a bit more poke. But I became slightly addicted to the SQ2 for its ability to put a great big smile on your face any time you let it off the leash.

Performance out of the box is simply scintillating. It’s quicker than you expect, but then it also handles almost as well as its S3 cousin. In fact, there’s very little it doesn’t do right.

We only hope Audi Australia can build a case to bring the SQ2 here, and at a sensible price. At the moment that part is up in the air, though Audi tells us it is working hard on it and definitely wants the vehicle.

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