PROS: It has a satisfying engine, sleek styling, luxurious interior, good cargo capacity, nifty handling seating for five, and a fantastic infotainment system.
CONS: It will cost you.
Let’s cut to the chase: the 2018 Audi SQ5 3.0T quattro tiptronic — that’s the vehicle’s full, grand name — is a superb SUV that costs a lot. But it will give you just about everything you could possibly want in this segment of the market.
The SUV seats four comfortably, five people in a pinch, and it has a good amount of cargo space. The vehicle has sleek styling and features one of the best infotainment systems around. The SQ5 also has reasonable fuel economy and drives great.
But it begins pricing at $US54,300, and our tester tipped the scales at a healthy $US65,800, once options were added. So you gotta pay to play.
Will you enjoy the playing? I kind of gave it away already, but read on for specifics:
Always one of my favourites, the SQ5 takes the pleasing Q5 and revs it up. By the way, just to cover it now, those rectangular chrome exhaust ports aren't real -- they're a design element.
The SQ5 is the sportier version of the stalwart Q5. Audi has a higher-up performance division, but there's currently no RSQ5. Which is fine because the SQ5 gives you pretty much all you need on the go-quick front.
The design has proven popular and has helped Audi carve out a space for itself in a field crowded with BMWs, Mercedes, Lexuses, Acuras, Infinitis, and Porsches (and more recently, Jaguars, Maseratis, Alfa Romeos, and Lamborghinis).
The rear end is as svelte as possible for an SUV that needs to be able to, for example, fit a bicycle. (I tested that out while I had the vehicle and was able to fit a two-wheeler back there with no problem.)
The SQ5 summarises everything that the luxury SUV has become: it's German, it looks sharp, and it has moderate offroad capability, but is really more about handing everyday driving in affluent zip codes. It's built on a car-like crossover platform and for those who like a little pep under the gas pedal, it delivers.
The big change for the 2018 model was under the hood. The SQ5 loses the previous generation's supercharged V6 and gets a 3.0-litre turbocharged mill.
A six-speed automatic transmission pipes 354 horsepower to the SQ5's outstanding all-wheel-drive system. The Quattro setup favours the rear wheels, providing a more traditionally dynamic driving experience. But if you start to lose grip up front, the system will lend an assist.
Fuel economy, at 19 mpg city/24 highway/21 combined is deeply OK. You do pay a price for performance. Audi says you'll be parting with over $US3,000 extra in gas money over five years compared to what, say, a lowered-powered mass-market SUV would cost you.
Snazzy red brake calipers provide the stopping power and are part of a $3,000 S Sport package that also includes a jazzier adaptive-air suspension and a special rear differential. The Pirelli P-Zeros are more sporty than off-roady.
Cargo capacity is in-line with the segment. I dropped the rear seats so I could load up the aforementioned bike. Otherwise, the passenger configuration provides ample space for grocery-shopping duty and short family road trips.
The vibe is premium-minimalist, with just enough bling to avoid the sense that you're luxury ideals are too austere.
The front quilted leather seats are comfortable, heated, and not overly bolstered. But they will hold you snug if you get spirited with the accelerator and tempt the SQ5 to serve up its 5-second 0-60 mph dash.
As you can see, the back seats are also nice, but legroom isn't all that great. My 11-year-old and six-year-old children were fine, but my 14-year-old daughter preferred the front seat.
From the driver's perspective, the SQ5 is a pretty high-tech machine, thanks to Audi's Virtual Cockpit infotainment system, which makes use of both the center stack's touchscreen and the instrument cluster. There's also a head-up display.
A lot of people seem to like the full-on mapping view. No more shifting your eyes back and forth between instrument clusters and the screen for navigation!
Climate controls are more straightforward: buttons and knobs. But the design is sophisticated, modern, and high-tech.
The seven-inch screen seems bigger than the specs would suggest, and the resolution is arrestingly vivid. The system checks every box, although there is a learning curve because the controller is located above the shifters and you have to get used to a submenu-based organisation.
Once you get a feel for it, however, the system is incomparable. Audio is sent through a wonderful Bang & Olufsen system, and you can cue up everything from your own tunes via Bluetooth or USB to SiriusXM satellite radio. Connectivity isn't quite as intuitive as with some other carmakers -- especially GM and its seamless 4G LTE OnStar system -- but it's present. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also supported, as is good old-fashioned Bluetooth smartphone pairing.
It never lags, it never hiccups. It just works fantastically well.
You can see the combination of a trackpad, controller, and buttons/switches here, above the shifter.
Not a massive amount of storage up front, but about as much as you'd find in similar BMW and Mercedes SUVs.
Well, the Audi SQ5 is splendid. It's still my favourite luxury SUV in this performance segment, although some of good vibes are probably coming from nostalgia as the Jaguar F-Pace and the Maserati Levante are stout competition.
I wasn't even as irritated by the turbo six as I thought I'd be, although I very much prefer the old supercharged six-banger. My colleague Ben Zhang detected a bit of turbo lag, and that makes sense, but the SQ5 is so biased toward sending power to the rear wheels if at all possible that you want to forgive it. It has that delicious, rear-wheel-drive hunker down thing going for it, and not many SUVs with all-wheel-drive systems can say that.
Driving it is a lot of fun. Perhaps not quite as tight and sharp as a Porsche Cayenne or Macan, but the suspension in Dynamic mode (there are also Comfort, Auto, and Individual mode that can be customised) likes to dig in, keeping the sway into the curves under control, which is something for a vehicle that tips the scales at over 4,000 lbs. The steering can get vague, but not distractingly so, and it provides a decent feel no matter which mode you're in.
For bopping around town and freeway cruising, the SQ5 is a capable performer -- so much so that you might ask why, if you never get on the throttle and want to skip through the gears with the paddle shifters, you need to pay the premium over the Q5?
Because you can. I think it's an intangible thing, but I like the SQ5 way, way more than Q5, and I think the Q5 is terrific. The SQ5 is simply better. It's worth the money. Audi has always done a great job with the Q5. And it followed that with the SQ5. With the 2018 model, the excellence marches on.
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