I have to say, the unmissably bright 2020 Audi SQ5 TFSI I picked up on a grey Melbourne day, from a line-up of silver, grey and black Audis, feels like a contradiction in terms.
Audi’s sensible, reserved and tailored styling has long been a part of its appeal. As such, this generation of Q5 still looks crisp and even a little timeless three years on from its initial local launch.
To go so bold with the colour choice is in equal measure commendable and unhinged. Props to Audi for showing what’s possible if you stray from the monochrome default.
In some ways it's an act of rebellion. The SQ5 otherwise looks rather harmless. Not soft, exactly, but not quite the stroppy attention-seeking match for something like a Mercedes-AMG GLC43 or BMW X3 M40i.
That’s not the case under the bonnet, though, with a 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol V6 good for 260kW at 5400–6400rpm and 500Nm from 1370–4500rpm. Enough to whisk it to 100km/h in 5.4 seconds.
Now, that’s not quite a match for the 285kW/500Nm BMW or the 287kW/520Nm Benz and their respective 4.8- and 4.9-second sprint claims, but it’s not completely overwhelmed by either.
There’s an eight-speed torque converter automatic and all-wheel drive to get the power down, the equal of what BMW offers, but one ratio down on Mercedes’s nine-speed auto – if that’s crucial.
The SQ5’s competitor set is broader than just those two, of course. A Jaguar F-Pace S or Volvo XC60 T8 PHEV aims for a similar sporty mark with a not-dissimilar pricepoint, but for better or for worse, those two are a bit of a side-step from the German formula.
The 5.3-second Porsche Macan S, and its 260kW/480Nm turbo V6, now that’s more like it. There are some Audi-Porsche family ties under the skin, too.
Audi also has its diesel SQ5 TDI set to return from November, for buyers more interested in the traditional SQ5 torque, with a stout 255kW and 700Nm from the 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel model.
Spoiler alert – the diesel is quicker at 5.1 seconds to 100km/h. Efficiency favours the diesel, too, rated at 6.8L/100km compared to the petrol’s 8.7L/100km claim, which turned to 10.2L/100km on test.
Like the exterior, Audi’s interior is restrained. The design is modern and simple, without the omnipresent LED glow of a contemporary Mercedes.
It also serves to show how quickly Audi has advanced the infotainment game. While the horizontally orientated dash and simple switchgear forms haven’t dated, the large space set aside on the console for the MMI controller, with its rotary dial and touchpad, now looks out of place as newer Audi models go all-in on touchscreens.
Audi’s newer haptic feedback and ultra-responsive screen system, finally, makes this older clickwheel system feel a bit tired. As for the SQ5’s touch-trace pad for spelling out destinations – it’s a real test of patience and accuracy (turns out I lack both), but maybe it makes more sense if you’re left-handed.
Likewise, whereas 10.1 inches is the new screen standard in newer models, the 8.3-inch display in the SQ5 betrays its age. Still, it’s a user-friendly system and there’s no real lag or loading delays in use.
Apple and Android connectivity is supported, there’s wireless charging, integrated navigation, 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, 10GB of inbuilt media storage, and for those hanging onto their collection, a CD/DVD player.
Ahead of the driver sits a colour head-up display and 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrument display, which allows a handful of useful display options, from tacho front and centre to minimised gauges and factory maps in in the main view, though no screen mirroring for smartphone apps in the cluster.
The standard interior fit-out slides nappa leather sport seats with electric adjustment up front, an electrically adjustable steering column, heated front seats, man-made leather on the lower console and door armrests, panoramic sunroof (a no-cost delete-option, as seen here), three-zone climate control, LED ambient lighting, and of course plenty of S logos throughout the cabin.
Factor in other standard kit, too, like keyless entry and start, full-LED lighting front and rear, power-folding heated mirrors, 360-degree camera, self-parking assist, auto lights and wipers, no-cost-option metallic or pearl paint, plus adaptive dampers, and the SQ5 holds its own in the value stakes.
Front-seat accommodation lacks that sometimes lofty feel of some SUVs. The dash or window line hasn’t been scaled up to exaggerate the high-riding proportions. You sit higher, but feel much like you would in something like an A4 sedan.
The seats are firm, but the sporty edge doesn’t quite extend to plush sink-in seating The supportive backrests pass the time-test without feeling uncomfortable for long stints behind the wheel, and are easy enough to slide in and out of.
The rear seat has slide adjustment so you can free up more load space, or bring the little members of the family closer if need be.
Head and knee room are generous for adults with the seat at its rearmost point. The sculpted-in outboard seat details and high transmission tunnel make the SQ5 best suited for two, though.
Behind the second row of seats there’s a medium-SUV-typical 550L of cargo space growing to 610L with the seats slid forward. It’s also possible to drop the backrests from within the boot, and for convenience the tailgate is power-operated with a kick to operate the hands-free function.
For all of this, the price of entry is $101,136 before options and on-road costs, or around $10K less than BMW asks for something similar and $15K under Mercedes’s mark.
There are a few options on this test car, too, like the blackout exterior package for the grille, window surrounds, roof rails and mirror caps ($1430), matching piano-black interior treatments ($520), 21-inch V-spoke wheels in place of the regular 21-inch split-spoke alloys ($500), and Audi’s quattro sport differential ($2950).
For owners who might be thinking of trading out of an older SQ5 TDI, the new engine doesn’t quite have the same ultra-torquey mid-range punch, but it’s not far off. On the other hand, the petrol six spins up more quickly and steps off the line smartly with no lag or delay.
The deep burbling soundtrack is gone, too, but in its place there's a higher, faster-beating thrum. Audi loves a healthy dose of augmentation, but in this instance it works with the car’s own growl, not against it.
The eight-speed automatic is a thing of joy to live with. There’s no shunting or jerking at low speeds, but gear changes are still pointedly quick and smooth.
The SQ5 TFSI misses out on the mild-hybrid tech of newer Audis, and while efficiency may suffer as a result, smooth acceleration wins the day.
In order to keep everything in line, the suspension carries plenty of tension, but it doesn’t buck or crash. A little more suppleness in comfort mode would make for an ideal family truckster, but it’s never painful to live with.
The SQ5 can feel lively, but mostly it slinks around town respectfully. To tap into the S part of the SQ5, dynamic mode perks up the accelerator response and gives the ride a more honed feel – perfect for anything that isn’t the school run, really.
The one area that doesn’t ever really liven up is the steering. While the front wheels will accurately follow where you point them, the steering is heavily insulated and the wheel is a touch too light in the hand, which gives a disconnected video-game feel.
In a way that’s kind of the point of the SQ5, though. In something like the X3 M40i, BMW tries so hard to make a sporty-ish SUV drive like one of its full-blood M cars that the punishing ride and twitchy steering are almost comedic for trips to a B&B in the country or dropping the kids to hockey practice.
The SQ5 still accelerates with urge to squish you into its seats, still grips like a gecko on a twisty road, and still hammers out an enticing soundtrack. It also invites you to pack the boot with a shopping-spree haul, take your in-laws to lunch, or any of the other things that aren’t on the career path to being a professional race driver.
Those seem like a big part of the prestige-SUV experience, and seem to be a little overlooked by the SQ5’s prime competitors.
With a prepaid service plan, you can secure five years or 75,000km of scheduled maintenance for $2940, with services every 12 months or 15,000km (whichever comes first). For now, Audi’s standard warranty term is a short three years with no kilometre cap, which looks paltry as five-year terms become the norm.
On the safety side, the Q5 range holds a 2017-issued five-star ANCAP rating. There are eight airbags (including rear-seat side bags), a pedestrian-protecting pop-up bonnet, tyre pressure monitoring, driver-attention alert, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, front and rear pre-sense collision preparation, rear cross-traffic alert, collision-avoidance assist, and blind-spot monitoring.
In what seems to be a recurring theme for Audi’s S-badged models, the SQ5 isn’t as relentlessly focussed as some of its rivals – despite how it sounds, that’s not a criticism.
Not every family SUV needs to be plainly palatable, but without venturing too far, Audi treads a fine middle ground of point-and-shoot excitement in a subtle and sensible package – colour choice aside, that is.