The heavy, box-like designs of old are long gone. The new SQ5 is efficient, fast and not too shabby on the eye.
THERE are a remarkable number of SUVs in the wealthiest postcodes in London. Just stroll through the streets of Hampstead or Chelsea – they’re everywhere. Owners like the elevated driving position, which gives a commanding view and affords the opportunity to look down at people. They have been seduced by their go-anywhere promise and their practicality, particularly in terms of the large amount of cabin and boot space.
The trade-off has been that many SUVs are pretty crappy to drive. Large, heavy and unwieldy, you need either a large engine at the front to get any pace out of them – which also equates to a big knock to the fuel economy figures – a more fuel efficient version, which lacks oomph, or a hybrid, which adds further weight in order to eek out more fuel efficiency. Still, the days when SUVs were big stinking, ugly boxes with awful boat-like handling are gone, as this latest Audi SQ5 clearly shows.
A sport version of its diesel Q5, it’s the first time an S-badged Audi has been powered by a diesel engine. In fact, it’s the world’s fastest diesel SUV and is powered by engine technology that has come from the manufacturer’s Le Mans racecar development. And it is seriously quick. This in itself should pique your interest, but if it doesn’t then its fuel economy might. Despite being able to shift its near two-tonne weight (1920kgs) to 62mph in just 5.1 seconds and on to a top speed of 155mph it can return as much as 41.5mpg. This is none too shabby for a car of this size and weight. To put it in perspective, it is quicker than Porsche’s Cayenne S diesel and faster than its Cayman sportscar model.
The SQ5 uses the same 3.0-litre V6 bi-turbo engine seen in the Audi A6 Allroad I liked so much last year. On the road, the engine has a nice growly voice at low revs and provides a gruff sporty muscle car sound at speed. This is thanks to a sound actuator in the exhaust system, which pipes the petrol engine-like sounds into the cabin rather than the discordant diesel exhaust note that you might have expected.
Most of the time you’d never know you’re powered by a diesel engine. The car punches forward, at any speed and in any gear, meaning it’s very easy to overtake slower traffic. The automatic transmission is particularly good. You can flap away on the paddles if you like, or let the car do its own thing. Either way, progress is ruthlessly efficient with little disruption when shifting through the eight gears.
But this SQ5 feels like an altogether different Q5 to drive thanks to a 30mm lower ride height, unique suspension setup and larger 20-inch alloy wheels. The ride can feel a little too firm at times but on the road it is unusually agile and handles well, with loads of grip. It has an adaptive dynamics system that allows you to choose between comfort, auto, dynamic and efficiency modes. This changes the steering weighting, throttle response, shifting point for the gears and even the sound actuator, depending on your mood.
The cabin oozes quality. My test car was trimmed in black and red nappa leather and attractive carbon fibre. The seats are comfortable, walking that challenging tightrope between practicality and sport. My test car came with a flat-bottomed steering wheel (a £100 option), which enhanced the sport identity further.
There are some exterior changes to the regular car, including a different S radiator grille, black painted brake calipers, twin oval chrome exhaust pipes and five parallel-spoke alloy wheels, plus subtle SQ5 badges all around. The car looks sporty and muscular without being tacky.
This all adds up to the most enjoyable Q5 out there. It has a clever combination of attributes that make it a very attractive car if you can afford the sticker price.
0-62MPH: 5.1 secs
TOP SPEED: 155mph
CO2 G/KM: 179G/km
MPG COMBINED: 41.5mpg
DESIGN Four stars
PERFORMANCE Four stars
PRACTICALITY Four stars
VALUE FOR MONEY Two stars