Audi's SQ5 TDI has brought massive power and torque to the compact 4x4 sector - and does so to an even greater extent now. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Audi SQ5 TDI does what few thought was either advisable or possible, namely packing a twin-turbo diesel powerplant with over 300PS into a mid-sized SUV. To be specific, the standard version offers 313PS, but there's now also a 'plus' model able to boost that figure to 340PS. Do you really need that much power? Not really. Would you like it though? You bet. As ever, the SQ5 isn't cheap but it does bring a welcome shot of sparkle to the Q5 line up.
It used to be so simple - and so restrictive. If you wanted a genuinely rapid SUV, you had to buy something huge and unwieldy. The Audi SQ5 changed all that by offering us the world's fastest diesel SUV in a manageably-sized package. This was the brand's first ever TDI-powered 'S' model and in tandard form, it delivers a thumping 313PS packaged in a compactly practical bodyshape filled with the usual Audi good stuff inside. Now, there's also an SQ5 TDI plus model offering 340PS. Either way, there's 540-litres of luggage space, comfortable seats for five and the opportunity to get over forty miles from a gallon of diesel if you drive sedately. Yet this Audi can climb a 31-degree gradient, cruise across a muddy field and on tarmac, charge to 62mph in five seconds. Truly a very special car.
Although this model doesn't wear an RS badge, don't for one moment let that lull you into thinking that it's anything but full-on. Flick the transmission into 'Sport' mode and bury the throttle and, via a tiptronic eight-speed automatic, the 313PS standard version of this car will get to 62mph in 5.1 seconds before powering on to its 155mph speed limiter without feeling at all breathless. Go for the 340PS 'plus' version and these figures don't change, but the torque output rises from 650 to 700Nm, so overtaking is even more effortless. Buyers of the 'plus' variant will also be able to get power down more effectively through the corners, thanks to the standard inclusion of a sports differential. Whichever SQ5 variant you choose though, there aren't really many worries about managing traction. It just grips and goes. You'd never think that you were firing almost two tonnes of premium German real estate up the road, such is the seamless torque of the 3.0-litre bi-turbo engine. The quattro all-wheel drive transmission means that it's barely any slower in the wet, conditions in which a rear-driven performance estate would sit with its rear tyres spinning impotently. That's what defines this car. It delivers so consistently without asking too much in return. And the steering? Well no, the standard set-up doesn't offer much feedback, but it is a lot better if you go for the extra cost variable-ratio 'Dynamic Steering' option I'm trying here. Which gives you a bit more confidence to push into tighter corners that reveal a standard of body control that isn't at all bad when you're driving hard. Partly, this is because of the lowered 'S' Sports suspension. Though the basic alignment of the suspension hasn't changed, Audi has taken 30mm out of the regular Q5's ride height, stiffened its springs and anti-roll bars and specified stiffer fixed-rate dampers.
Design and Build
The standard SQ5 looks the part with a platinum grey single-frame grille and galvanized roof bars in an aluminium-look finish. There's also a subtle roof spoiler and modified bumpers. The high-gloss package and the aluminium-look exterior mirrors accentuate the area around the windows, while the SQ5 is also offered with the crystal effect paint finishes Estoril Blue or Panther Black. Go for the pokier SQ5 plus model and the rank of this variant is conveyed by gloss black 21-inch cast aluminium Audi Sport wheels in a 5-twin-spoke star design. There's also an extended black gloss package taking in the exterior mirror housings, door handles, roof edge spoiler and rear diffuser. The interior is as smart and practical as you'd expect from Audi. The rear seat backs can be reclined to increase comfort and the whole of the back bench can be folded at a stroke by means of a lever in the boot. Luggage space is 540-litres but once those seats are stowed, 1,560-litres is available. Inside the 'plus' variant, diamond stitched fine Nappa leather upholstery further enhances the SQ5 sports seats and a sliding rear bench seat also features as standard to increase variability and enlarge the luggage compartment if necessary.
Market and Model
You'll need a budget of just over £45,000 for this SQ5 - and obviously a little more if you want the 'plus' version. But you get a very high quality performance SUV in return. The interior is finished in cool blacks and greys with a minimalist look that is reassuringly expensive-looking. If the black theme seems a little overbearing, the head lining can be specified in lunar silver which lightens the ambience a little. The power-adjustable sport seats are leather trimmed, complementing the brushed aluminium inlays. The fascia inlays can be specified in Carbon Atlas and Piano finish but there's also an aluminium/Beaufort wood black trim option which is a lot more attractive than you might expect. The instrument dials are finished in grey and include a 3D-design S badge. The needles are a contrasting white and the pedals and shift paddles have an aluminium-look finish. Additional visual highlights in the interior are the S gear lever knob, the S badges on the door sill trims, the start button, the specially-shaped steering wheel and the lighting package. Options also include Audi's state-of-the-art assistance and infotainment systems, as well as Audi connect services, bringing the many benefits of the internet to the car. The 'Mobile phone preparation - High with online services' package is on the options list and features an integrated Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) hotspot. This allows passengers to access the Internet and email with their smartphones, plus it also brings customized Google online services into the car. Another data feature is the smartphone app Audi music stream. This accesses more than 5,000 web radio stations and the audio signal is transmitted over the audio system loudspeakers and controlled via the MMI system.
Cost of Ownership
Somewhat remarkably for an SUV that will get to 60mph in not much more than five seconds, should you choose to drive it in a less demented fashion you could see 42.8mpg on the combined cycle, which should mean a cruising range of over 725 miles from the 75-litre fuel tank. The CO2 emssions figure is 174g/km. Of course, it'll be hard to resist prodding those turbochargers into life at any opportunity and in the real world, if you can get anything over 30mpg, you've got some rather saintly restraint, but that's still not a bad return for such a potent and useful vehicle. What else? Well insurance is rated at a rather hefty group 41 and the three year/60,000 mile warranty isn't anything to write home about. Depreciation though, seems to stack up well against this car's key BMW rival. An X3 xDrive35d specified to the SQ5's price tag records residual values of 44.5% after three years and 36,000 miles. By contrast, this Audi retains a much healthier 49.5% of its value.
The Audi SQ5 TDI is a fascinating glimpse into the state of the SUV building art. Okay, so shoving a hugely powerful diesel engine into a mid-range 4x4 doesn't sound like rocket science, but this is no ordinary engine and the Q5 is no ordinary vehicle, especially in uprated 'plus' guise. The combination of these constituents has moved the genre on a good few steps. All too often with premium brands, and especially with Audi, the fast all-wheel drive estate cars already on offer are so good it leaves you wondering why you'd bother uprating the engines of the SUVs. The SQ5 poses just one question to that mindset: why not? With 313 or 340PS on tap, depending on the variant you choose, you're never short of power and with up to 700Nm of torque on tap, you won't even need to buy a caravan. Just screw a towing eye to the side of your house and drag it up the road. But is this car a wee bit over the top? Probably. Will you love it regardless? Most definitely.