Audi has unleashed a sportier version of its Q5. Not only is it the first SUV to ever get an “S” badge, but it is also the first S-branded diesel vehicle that the company has produced. This, of course, means that the vehicle has a lot to live up to. Can it succeed?
Here is an interesting fact: Audi sells two very different versions of the SQ5. The first is sold in the US, and the second is sold in other parts of the world, such as Europe, the UK and South Africa.
Unsurprisingly, the US version is powered by a petrol powerplant – a three-litre supercharged mill that develops 260 kW of power. What is curious, though, is that the American SQ5 has about the same ride height as the standard version. Why? Well, because lowering it would prevent it from being classified as a small SUV according to US safety standards. It would simply be deemed a hot hatchback.
The European version, by contrast, has been lowered a whole lot (30mm), and indeed, it can best be described as a beefed-up hatchback with all-wheel drive.
Let there be no doubt about it, this is not a vehicle designed for off-road driving. It can handle dirt roads pretty well, but with those low-profile tyres, it clearly wasn’t designed for that either.
No, the SQ5 was made for on-road driving. This is a sporty SUV intended to be fun yet practical. Does it succeed?
It is certainly impossible to complain that it lacks oomph. The SQ5 is notable for two reasons: Firstly, it is the first SUV to boast an “S” badge. And secondly, it is the first S-branded oilburner that Audi has ever produced. So as you would expect, the company has imbued it with an appropriate level of vigour. Its 2967cc bi-turbo V6 develops 230 kW of power and 650 Nm of torque, which for a compact SUV is obviously quite a lot. In fact, Audi claims that it can go from 0 – 100 km/h in just more than five seconds – considerably faster than its rivals (such as BMW X3) can manage.
The SQ5’s oilburner is an impressive thing. Only the Macan S Diesel would probably be able to rival it in terms of performance. As soon as you put your foot down, the vehicle accelerates with an urgency that was hereto unknown in a compact SUV, so in that sense Audi’s SUV certainly deserves that “S” badge.
If we’re honest, however, the SQ5 isn’t exceptionally fun to drive. Yes, it has loads of power, and that power is delivered in a very linear and effortless fashion, but it doesn’t result in an involving drive. The SQ5 is fast, but it doesn’t egg you on you to put your foot down. It allows you to complete journeys quickly and painlessly, but it doesn’t turn every journey into an event.
You can slip the eight-speed tiptronic gearbox into “sport” mode, which will give the SQ5 an altogether more aggressive character – complete with greater engine noise, more forceful shifting and higher revving – but this sort of behaviour doesn’t suit the SUV. We were content to keep it in standard mode, cruising along peacefully for most of the time, and occasionally making use of all that power and torque when an opportunity presented itself.
As mentioned, it is unusual for an S-badged Audi to sport an oilburner. What is also a bit strange is the fact that Audi tuning department Quattro GmbH wasn’t involved during the Q5’s transformation into an S-car. Instead, only a few basic changes were made to the suspension. Ride height was lowered, anti-roll bars and springs were stiffened, and stiffer fixed-rate dampers were fitted. In other words, things such as castor, camber and toe angles weren’t altered at all when it came to the suspension set-up.
That said, the ride and handling offered by the SQ5 are good. Roll is kept to a minimum in corners, and while the suspension feels firm, it isn’t harsh. The vehicle offers a comfortable yet sporty ride.
But it just doesn’t feel as if the SQ5 was designed to put a smile on the driver’s face as he pilots the SUV through a selection of tight corners.
This shouldn’t suggest, though, that the SQ5 is a failure. Not at all. If you take it for what it is, the Audi is actually very impressive. Chances are, if you’re in the market for a sporty SUV, the SQ5 is just what you’re looking for.
It would be unreasonable to expect the SQ5 to provide a supremely fun drive. If you wanted a vehicle oriented purely towards driving enjoyment, you wouldn’t be shopping around for an SUV. The words “sporty” and “SUV” will never sit comfortably next to one another, and any sporty SUV will always be a bit of a compromise. The SQ5 pulls of this delicate balancing act better than most. It retains virtually all the practicality of the standard Q5 (minus the ride height), yet offers enough sportiness to make it stand out. It is very, very fast, but still has the comfort and versatility needed to make it a family-friendly SUV. Moreover, it is remarkably frugal for such a powerful SUV. Audi claims that it needs only 6,8-litres of diesel per 100km, and based on our tests, that isn’t far off the mark.
Its biggest problem is its price. It retails at R794 500, and the model we tested, which had optional inlays, towbar and glass roof, was priced at R827 740. That makes a vehicle such as the Range Rover Evoque – which isn’t as powerful, but somehow feels more special and desirable – look like a bargain.
Speaking of bargains, if you’re determined to get your hands on a sporty SUV, but don’t intend on paying close to R800 000, turn the page…
AUDI SQ5 3.0 TDI
Engine: Three-litre, V6, bi-turbo, diesel
Power: 230 kW @ 3900 r/min
Torque: 650 Nm @ 1450 r/min
Transmission: Eight-speed tiptronic
Acceleration (0 – 100): 5,1 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 250 km/h (governed)
Fuel consumption: 6,8-litres (claimed)
Fuel tank: 75 litres
Luggage capacity: 540 litres (rear seats up)
Warranty: One-year/unlimited km