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. Although with the emergence of the Audi Sport division, you can't help feeling this won't be the case when the second generation SQ5 rolls around.
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. While Alpina's XD3 has the oomph and driveability to make it a compelling option - albeit an exclusive and expensive one.
As for the interior, well its typical Audi - which means it is simple, ergonomical and stunningly well put together. As for the standard equipment, expect the SQ5 to be very well equipped as it is the range-topper and as the Q5 is nearing the end of its lifecycle, with the second generation SUV having already made its media appearance.
There are two trims to choose from - SQ5 Plus and SQ5 Plus Special Edition. The 'entry-level' as much as you can describe it that, comes with a wealth of equipment, with the outside being adorned with 21in alloy wheels, a sports-tuned suspension, active sounding twin exhaust, parking sensors and xenon headlights as standard. Inside there is tri-zone climate control, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, a Nappa leather upholstery and Audi's MMI infotainment system complete with a 7.0in display, DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, sat nav and a 40GB hard drive.
Upgrade to the SQ5 Plus Special Edition model and you'll find a Bang & Olufsen audio system, a reversing camera, keyless entry and go, and a panoramic sunroof included in the package.
So should you buy one? Well, it depends if you’re really looking for a driver’s car — because, according to Audi’s own figures, most Q5 owners aren’t.
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 the Alpina XD3 — or gamble on plan B, which is to go for the less powerful and practical Audi’s RS Q3. Which, incidentally, was developed by Quattro GmbH (now known as Audi Sport). ‘Nuff said.