The Audi SQ5 is still the ultimate all-rounder
With a faster and more economical diesel variant on the horizon for Australia, however, will this sweet-sounding petrol still hold relevance?
Since the original Audi SQ5 first launched back in 2013, the model has always positioned itself as the perfect do-it-all car, combining two of the things Australian buyers in particular look for most – high performance, and a big SUV body.
Serving up not only that but the sort of style and luxury feel you’d expect from a car bearing four rings on the front of it, too, it’s perhaps no surprise the SQ5 has seen a good level of popularity here, particularly in its current, second-generation guise that first launched back in 2017.
With a few minor spec changes for 2020, however, it seemed an opportune time to get behind the wheel of it and see how it stacks up three years after launch, particularly with a more significantly altered second SQ5 variant on the horizon for the Aussie market.
More on that later – first, the basics. Sitting at the top of the Q5 range, the $99,900 SQ5 is unsurprisingly lavishly equipped, and even more so for 2020 with a host of new upgrades.
A truly bangin’ Bang & Olufsen sound system, head-up display, metallic paint, and extended front seat adjustment is all added as standard. Weirdly, however, a panoramic sunroof was also listed on the spec sheet but absent from my tester – not to worry, though, as it only allowed for even more headroom.
As before, Audi’s excellent Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster is fitted as standard with some additional sporty displays such as a central tachometer layout, the fabulous S-branded front bucket seats, surprisingly scalloped rear seats, and perfectly ergonomic flat-bottomed steering wheel are also present.
The materials, as you’d expect from an Audi, exude pure quality – from the quilted leather on the seats to the suede door trim and even the rich pile of the carpets, there’s not an offensive-feeling surface in sight.
Both displays on the dashboard are of a fairly good resolution, too, although it must be noted that it lacks the latest and truly greatest Audi infotainment system featured in some other models, with this still making do with the older-style MMI Navigation Plus system which uses a rotary dial and writing pad in place of a touchscreen, and lacks smartphone mirroring tech.
In terms of general Q5 stuff though, there’s plenty of room inside in both rows and a fair amount of storage space in the cabin, and the boot is not only huge but incredibly easy to load thanks to the incredibly width of its opening thanks to the full-width rear tailgate.
The Q5 isn’t bad looking by mid-size SUV standards, either, but the SQ5’s sporty additions make it look really fantastic. From the satin silver exterior trim highlights to the big diamond cut wheels and massive red brake calipers, it’s all very tastefully done, although the lookalike exhaust outlets in the rear bumper hiding tiny downturned pipes behind them are the automotive equivalent of stuffing a sock down your trousers.
Thankfully there’s nothing fake about the SQ5’s actual performance credentials, however, as this mid-size SUV continues to put a heavy emphasis on the ‘Sports’ part of that acronym.
Packing a 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine under the bonnet with a truly massive turbocharged whacked right between the cylinder banks – some will know this as a ‘hot V’ configuration – to give it 260kW and 500Nm, which is enough to see this otherwise sensible family car scoot from 0-100km/h in just 5.4 seconds.
Paired to an eight-speed torque converter automatic and Audi’s rear-biased quattro all-wheel drive system, it’s a remarkably competent drivetrain in which everything feels a perfect fit in a car designed to be both luxurious but palpably fast.
There’s a lovely old-school charm to the way the turbo six delivers its power – the big turbo does mean big amounts of turbo lag low down, but it only goes to show that in an era of turbocharging engines for efficiency, this thing is turbocharged solely for performance.
Nevermind that I was only able to get its drinking habit down to an indicated 11.9L/100km during my week with the thing against a claim of merely 8.7L/100km, what really matters here is the explosive burst of power you feel as you hit 4000rpm that really rockets you forward.
As the bent-six finally starts to open up its lungs, emitting a rather sonorous roar as you proceed towards its redline, you do actually have some revs to play with as it will allow you to wind it out to 6500rpm, meaning the short gearing of the eight-speed allows you to keep it right in that top-end powerband – peak power is held between 5400-6400rpm – as you bounce through the gears to an accompaniment of burbles and crackles.
The transmission may be a seemingly old-school torque converter unit, but it feels far closer to the dual-clutch ‘boxes seen in many other Audi models as its shifts are incredibly prompt and crisp whether pulling the up or down paddle, but with the added bonus of this auto being much smoother around town.
With peak torque plateauing from 1370-4500rpm, the SQ5 remains perfectly smooth and sedate around town. Sure, you hear hints of that fruity exhaust note and it can occasionally feel a tad jolty over the worst bumps Australian roads can throw at it – chalk that up to the fixed-rate suspension and big drug dealer wheels – but you quickly forget while driving it around town that you’re in anything other than a regular Q5.
Pitch it at some corners though and it quickly becomes clear that it’s not only hot hatch-rivalling straight line performance the SQ5 brings to the table, but a similar level of handling competence as well.
It’s almost unbelievably well-sorted when driven with real verve – it remains shockingly flat and hugs the apex tightly, and while driving it with real anger will reveal some lean and understeer as you approach the limit, it does at least provide you with some feedback of when you are on it. Do note, as well, that the optional sport differential ($2950) was fitted to my tester to help improve its dynamic competence even more, and it’s an option I can see the value in opting for even with the silly price of it.
More impressively, however, is that unlike in some rivals like BMW’s X3 and X4 M40i twins or the Jaguar F-Pace S, which are still remarkably impressive performance SUVs, you more quickly forget that you’re piloting a 1945kg SUV when behind the wheel of the SQ5.
There is an elephant in the room that must be addressed, however – this second-generation petrol-powered SQ5 is still slower than the old first-gen SQ5 in TDI Plus guise. Diesel fans, fret not, however, as later this year the current SQ5 you see here will finally receive the TDI oil-burning drivetrain you’ve been waiting for.
With 255kW and a mammoth 700Nm on tap, it’ll be faster than this petrol model, shaving the SQ5’s triple-digit sprint to 5.1 seconds, and thanks to a 48V mild hybrid system it’ll cut down big time on this thing’s drinking problem, too, although it's unclear how much of a premium it may charge over the petrol's current $99,900 starting price.
For now though, the sole SQ5 TFSI currently available at this point in time is a truly wonderful thing to drive, and if a diesel doesn’t take your fancy, know that you’ll still have a big grin plastered across your face every time you open up this old-school and incredibly characterful turbo petrol mill that definitely sounds the business. The financial upkeep its fuel consumption will require aside, the petrol SQ5 still remains one the ultimate SUV for when you can only have one that needs to do it all.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on June 16, 2020. The vehicle tested here was provided by Audi Australia. All noted prices are in Australian dollars (AUD).