Audi SQ5 SUV
“The fast Audi SQ5 does a lot of things right, but it’s numb to drive”
- Numb steering
- Lacks character
The formula behind the Audi SQ5 is simple: you take the standard Q5 SUV, fit it with a 349bhp 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, add sports seats and a bodykit, et voila – you’ve got yourself a practical family SUV that can go from 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds when called upon.
So it’s certainly quick then, while its plush interior is appealing and the quad exhausts add a welcome dose of visual drama to the family SUV format. The thing is, if you like driving quickly, you probably also enjoy the act of driving itself – and the SQ5 isn’t as good at delivering involvement as it is acceleration. The steering is lacking in feedback, the driving position is high and the overall impression is of a car that offers lots of speed, but in a slightly clinical package.
The Jaguar F-Pace and the Mercedes GLC are available with similarly powerful engines and both have more character than the SQ5. You could also consider the standard Q5, which – with the 249bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine – is only a second slower from 0-62mph, but costs roughly £10,000 less.
The SQ5 isn’t just expensive to buy, though: it’s also rather pricey to run. While the old SQ5 came with a twin-turbo 3.0-litre diesel, the latest model gets a petrol engine, which officially manages 34mpg and will achieve far less when provoked by a prod of the accelerator. Audi does have a diesel version of the latest SQ5 in the pipeline, though.
And while there’s a fair amount of standard equipment – including huge 20-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights and Napa leather sports seats with power adjustment – you have to pay extra if you want Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital dashboard. True, this is a reasonable £250, but on a £50,000-plus car, you’d think it’d be standard.
We’ve no complaints about spaciousness, though: front-seat passengers are well taken care of and while the transmission tunnel hump means anyone in the middle rear seat will have to splay their legs, this is a common trait and the two outer seats have plenty of room. More good news is to be found in the spacious boot, while the standard Q5’s excellent five-star Euro NCAP safety rating applies to the SQ5, too.
MPG, running costs & CO2
Big SUVs with powerful engines use a lot of fuel and with official economy pegged at 34mpg, the Audi SQ5 is no exception. While making a direct comparison to the old SQ5 isn’t really fair, those seeking to replicate or better that model’s 42mpg figure will have to wait for Audi to bring out a diesel version of the latest SQ5.
So you’ll be spending a lot of money on fuel, but don’t forget the commensurate rise in insurance premiums powerful cars bring: the SQ5 sits in group 42 out of 50. And while Audi’s service plans will make budgeting for maintenance relatively easily, its three-year/60,000-mile warranty looks distinctly average these days, particularly when BMW and Mercedes both offer more generous guarantees.
Engines, drive & performance
The Audi SQ5 feels solid, safe and planted on the road, and when called upon will accelerate more rapidly than the vast majority of other cars on the road. It’s also – given its size – pretty nimble during cornering. Go for the £1,000 adjustable air suspension and it’ll hunker down by 15mm when you select Dynamic mode, reducing the slight body lean that otherwise develops in sharp bends. You can also specify a sport differential, which allows the wheels to put down their power more effectively, leading to tighter cornering.
Even with these systems fitted, however, the SQ5 left us feeling a bit cold. The steering provides little in the way of feedback, while the driving position is too high and the pedals oddly placed. The Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace are far more involving, providing tactile feedback through their respective steering wheels and a far greater sense of having been engineered for pleasure as well as speed.
The switch from diesel to petrol power ought to have brought greater character and more brio, but while the 3.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine makes the SQ5 unquestionably quick, it doesn’t deliver the effortless slug of power provided by its predecessor’s diesel.
Interior & comfort
We like Audi’s interior design – we like it a lot – and aside from slightly sub-par plastics on the top of the doors, the SQ5 is lovely inside. The standard sports seats are supportive and come with high-quality quilted leather and the gearlever is a chunky joy to hold. And while the MMI infotainment system lags ever so slightly behind BMW’s iDrive setup, it’s still excellent.
All cars come with the Napa leather seats mentioned above, as well as LED headlights, sat nav, all-round parking sensors and a power-operated boot. There’s still a healthy options list, though, so you’re likely to be tempted by at least one or two items. The £250 Virtual Cockpit replaces the dashboard dials with a 12.3-inch digital screen and makes the sat nav and infotainment far better integrated. The panoramic sunroof will lighten the interior (and your wallet) significantly, while the reversing camera makes manoeuvring a fair bit easier and the adaptive cruise control takes much of the effort out of traffic jams and motorway slogs.
Practicality & boot space
Four adults will have no difficulty getting comfortable in an SQ5 and they’ll find plenty of places for their belongings, as the glovebox and doorbins are well sized and shaped and there are several useful cubbies for mobile phones, wallets and the like. True, the middle-seat rear passenger will have to contend with a transmission tunnel hump in the floor, but this is something of a given for many cars, and is unlikely to come as much of a surprise.
Round at the boot and, at 550-610 litres (depending on how you position the sliding rear seats), you’re unlikely to want for much luggage space. There’s no load lip to speak of, and if you choose the air suspension the rear of the SQ5 drops when you open the boot, making loading even easier.
Reliability & safety
The standard Audi Q5 scored five out of five when Euro NCAP assessed the level of protection it offers in the event of a collision, and this rating also applies to the SQ5. All cars come with city autonomous braking, which works at speeds up to 52mph, as well as mandatory systems like electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes.
We reckon it’s time Audi beefed up its warranty, though: a three-year/60,000-mile policy used to be par for the course, but Mercedes and BMW don’t set a mileage limit on their three-year policies, while Toyota, Renault, Kia and Hyundai all offer longer guarantees.
Price, value for money & options
The Audi SQ5 comes with leather seats and LED headlights, so it’s hardly spartan – but given its high list price, there are a couple of options that should be standard. The £250 Virtual Cockpit is one of these, as is the £450 reversing camera. And while the £900 head-up display is more of a nice thing to have than an essential item, it seems churlish to charge £225 for power-folding wing mirrors on a £50,000-plus car.