2017 Audi SQ5 review: fast, unflappable and a bit two-faced
The Audi SQ5 is Exhilarating in its sheer straight-line potency, but even with a new petrol engine, it's pretty dead-pan otherwise
Sports SUVs. You either love them or hate them, but judging by the sales figures, most people buying cars - even in the UK and Europe - love them. Audi is soon going to be producing more SUV derivatives than 'normal' saloon or hatchback models, so that says pretty much everything you need to know.
Mooching about in the SQ5, it's not really hard to see why the motoring masses are going all out for 4x4s. You sit high up and have a good view out, there's plenty of room for the kids, or the bike, or whatever your space-hungry justification for wanting an SUV is.
Not only that, but you're immediately imbued with a sense of imperviousness to the prevailing conditions and general road-going mayhem that somehow a saloon doesn't give you. Whether that's a good or a bad thing is anyone's argument, but the SQ5 does it very well.
Of course, this being an Audi, that SUV imperiousness is enhanced by an interior that looks and feels top-notch, while the scorching point-to-point pace delivered by a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 is hinted at by a suitably muted rasp from the exhausts. It's very much an everything-to-all-men sort of car.
Previously the SQ5 was diesel powered, and Audi will be introducing a diesel SQ5 to the range in the near future, but this petrol could well be the better bet. Complete with the standard eight-speed auto, you'll likely see mpg in the low 30s in real world use, and it helps to give the SQ5 an impressive spectrum of characters that you can cycle through via the drive select modes.
On standard adaptive suspension and optional 21in wheels of our test car, comfort mode has the SQ5 wallowing and floating a bit, but it also feels appealingly spongey over bumps, and the soft throttle response and lazy gear-changes encourage an unhurried cruise. You're inclined to sit back, and enjoy impressive refinement courtesy of the super-silky engine.
Toggle through to Auto and everything tightens up a bit, you feel a bit more of a brittle jolt over sharp-edge bumps and the steering weights up a tad, but it's still pretty easy-going.
Stick it in Dynamic and you realise that you've only been seeing one side of the rather two-faced SQ5. The nice side. The side that you'll use to drop the kids at school. Hit the right button, and two-face turns the other cheek. You can wave the kids goodbye, turn the Frozen soundtrack off, turn up The Prodigy, and go effing mental on the drive home, should the mood take you.
Here is an SUV that feels fast yet deadpan most of the time, but there is fun to be had the more aggressive you are. The steering is not delicate or feelsome, but it's direct and gives you confidence to fling the SQ5 around with remarkable daring.
Which you'll have no qualms about doing, since there's so much grip that the SQ5 is surefooted even when you really go for it. For efficiency reasons, the SQ5 is front-wheel drive unless it senses slip, when it can apportion power to all four wheels, but regardless it has a chuckable quality that gives it real appeal.
Our car also had the optional sports differential fitted, which helps to give a spark of zest to the handling. Push reasonably hard, and it tucks its nose into corners with real enthusiasm, and you can even edge it into a bit of easily countered lift-off oversteer if the fancy takes you.
Obviously, very few SQ5 owners are going to be worried about having a playful chassis, but it's good to know that you can find a glow of entertainment beyond the straight-line potency in this car.
Ultimately, it's one of the most complete fast SUVs out there. Refined, comfortable (even on standard suspension rather than the available air suspension), wonderfully finished inside, and spacious enough for all the outdoorsy motoring needs of a small family. And, of course, a ludicrously rapid point-to-point weapon if you want it to be.
So, if you can get past those odd fake exhausts and want a circa-5.0sec SUV, this should be on your shortlist.
Exactly what the average sports-SUV buyer will want, only with added polish
2017 Audi SQ5
Engine: 2995cc, V6, turbocharged petrol
Layout: Front-engined, 4WD
Gearbox: 8-spd auto
Power: 349bhp at 5400rpm
Torque: 369lb ft at 1370rpm
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Economy: 34.0mpg (combined)