What is it?
The new Audi SQ5. Which, if we’re honest, isn’t the obvious place to start one Audi S-brand performance revolution, let alone two. Because, while it’s a classy, practical and desirable family 4x4, which has comfortably been dominating rivals such as the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 on both European and global sales, the Q5 has also always been a slightly soulless car to drive. Competent, refined and secure, but just a bit dynamically ordinary.
Nevertheless, the SQ5 has become not only the firm’s first S-badged SUV, but also its first S-brand diesel. Powered by the 309bhp, 479lb ft twin-turbo V6 diesel recently introduced to the A6 and A6 Allroad, it’s going on sale in the UK alongside the rest of the facelifted Q5 range this autumn.
What is it like?
That mighty multi-cylinder diesel certainly makes the Q5 quick. Audi’s claim is for 0-62mph in a smidge over five seconds, in a class where the fastest BMW X3 only just squeezes in under six seconds, and most other rivals struggle to beat seven. But in reality, the SQ5’s performance doesn’t feel quite that outstanding. This is a brisk drive, but the car’s short-shifting, occasionally slipping eight-speed automatic gearbox and very linear power delivery do kill the performance drama a little.
Audi’s chassis modifications are just as important as the contents of the engine bay. And what’s notable in this department is that Quattro GmbH — Audi’s usual go-faster department — hasn’t been involved. Audi AG’s own chassis development team has taken 30mm out of the regular Q5’s ride height, stiffened its springs and anti-roll bars and specified new, stiffer fixed-rate dampers. The kinematics of the suspension — camber, castor and toe angles, in other words — haven’t been altered.
Our test car, equipped with Audi’s optional variable-ratio Dynamic Steering system, had plenty of purpose and grip about it but lacked a little simple coherence and progressiveness in its handling responses, and both feedback and consistency from its controls. Although fast and stable, it was barely any more involving than its lesser range-mates on a really testing road. It bamboozled the driver, instead, in a never-ending search for the best Drive Select settings, and confused slightly with unpredictable steering weight and directness.
The SQ5’s ride, too, leaves a little to be desired. The car’s chassis isolates you from noise well enough and reins in roll quite well. The ride quickly becomes restless as the road’s surface begins to rise and fall, though, as those new dampers attempt — and often fail — to keep vertical body movements in check with any subtlety.
While a BMW X3 xDrive35d is a less mechanically refined machine than this, it’s also a much more compelling one through a fast bend. And a Range Rover Evoque SD4 may not be able to compete on sheer urge, but its blend of compliance, responsiveness and control is also much more impressive.
Should I buy one?
Depends if you’re really looking for a driver’s car — because, according to Audi’s own figures, most Q5 owners aren’t. And considered as a less specialised range-topping option for the Q5 range, the SQ5 makes a strong enough case for itself. It mixes class-leading costs of ownership with serious ground-covering performance, understated Germanic design appeal and a cabin that can be considered outstanding in its quality, richness and space. But those looking for a really great-handling SUV should probably either stick with plan A — buy a Range Rover Evoque — or gamble on plan B, which is to wait for Audi’s Q3 RS. Which, incidentally, is being developed by Quattro GmbH. ‘Nuff said.
Price: £43,015; 0-62mph: 5.1sec; Top speed: 155mph (limited); Economy: 39.2mpg; CO2: 187g/km; Kerb weight: tbc; Engine: V6, 2967cc, twin-turbodiesel; Installation: Front, longitudinal, 4WD; Power: 309bhp at 3900-4500rpm; Torque: 479lb ft at 1450-2800rpm; Gearbox: 8-spd automatic