I recently had an opportunity to drive both the Audi SQ5 and the RSQ3. I enjoyed my time with these SUVs immensely, largely because, as testers of 4x4s and SUVs, we don’t often have a chance to drive vehicles that are so focused on performance.
When I told a friend how much fun I was having with Audi’s sporty little SUVs, he said: “Yes, any S or RS Audi is fun, but the SQ5 and RSQ3 are so pointless.”
It is, of course, a statement often aimed at sporty SUVs. And the reason is obvious: because of their size, weight and high ride height, SUVs are always compromised when it comes to handling and performance. You can install any engine you want under the bonnet of an SUV, and you can fit the latest and greatest sports suspension, but there is little that can be done about an SUV’s weight and ride height. And nothing, the argument goes, can truly be “sporty” if it is big, fat and walking around on stilts.
I can understand this view. Certainly, no SUV will ever be able to outperform a low-slung sports car when it comes to speed and agility. But does this mean they are “pointless”?
I don’t think so. In fact, I’d argue that there is much more to them than your average cabrio or coupe. Sure, they aren’t as fast and agile as a sports car, but they make far more sense to the average buyer.
How so? Well, let me use my colleague Gerhard Horn as an example. I know he has his eye on a Toyota 86. But, like many men in their 30s and 40s, he is a family man with a newborn son. And because of this, it’s tough to justify the purchase of an 86.
It’s just not practical. It is very low slung, it doesn’t have an awful lot baggage space, and it has only two doors. However, as Gerhard points out, the 86 does have ISOfix mounting points and the rear seats can easily accommodate a baby. But still, no one can convincingly argue that the 86 is a practical family car, regardless of how small your baby is.
And this is why the sporty SUV is the greatest invention ever! No other vehicle hides its sporty intentions as successfully. So what better vehicle to pass off to your wife as a “sensible” family vehicle? You can expound on the increased sense of safety offered by the higher driving position. You can astound her with the near limitless storage capacity of its boot. You can illustrate the ease with which groceries, nappy bags and even strollers can be flung into the rear of an SUV, thanks to its large tailgate.
The fact that a sporty SUV is compromised isn’t a shortcoming. It is actually an advantage. Compromise is an essential ingredient in most successful things in life. And vehicles are no different.
An uncompromising vehicle might be fun in a certain situation, but living with it on a day-to-day basis can quickly become frustrating. Driving a supercar is great on a racetrack, but on a potholed road in peak-hour traffic? Not so much. Similarly, a proper off-roader can be fantastic on a 4×4 trail but a long-travel suspension and mud terrain tyres aren’t great on tar.
Another thing worth considering when discussing the “pointlessness” of sporty SUVs is the fact most of us aren’t professional racing drivers. How many drivers of RSQ3s, for example, will push the SUV so hard that its lack of agility relative to a vehicle such as the RS3 will be revealed. In most instances, sporty SUVs are far more capable than their drivers.
So sporty SUVs aren’t pointless. They are the perfect compromise. They combine practicality with fun, and allow the family man to have his cake and eat it, too.