Since its local launch some three years ago, the Audi Q5 has been regarded as one of the best cars in its class. A mid-life update last year made the car even better. Now, the latest and fastest Q5 model has arrived – the SQ5.
It uses a tuned-up version of the supercharged 3-litre V6 (and still wears the silly “V6T” emblem below the A-pillar), with 354bhp and 470Nm versus the regular Q5 3.0’s 272bhp and 400Nm. Therefore, the SQ5 is considerably quicker, doing the century sprint in 5.4 seconds, a full half-second ahead of its sister car.They’re identical in their mechanical refinement, though – revving freely towards 6500rpm without any rough spots. The SQ5 V6 develops a slightly deeper growl, but there’s not much aural drama when the engine is fully extended. Perhaps a sportier exhaust note could have been included in the technical setup of the SQ5, which stays quiet and refined regardless of road speed.
There are four drive modes to select through the MMI – Efficient, Comfort, Auto and Dynamic. There’s a fifth mode, Individual, that lets the driver set different parameters for the engine, steering and suspension.“Efficient” modulates the transmission and air-conditioning for maximum fuel efficiency. I hardly ever used this mode, because it robs the SQ5 of the instant response that makes it so good to drive. “Comfort” gives a ride that’s surprisingly supple and cushy for an SUV shod with upsized 21-inch tyres, but it feels slightly under-damped. My preference is for “Auto”, which is a well-balanced setting that stiffens the suspension the moment the driver revs hard, or at the first hint of a directional change. I only selected “Dynamic” when doing performance testing. In this mode, the gearchanges are very fast and the upshifts happen higher up the rev range, which is fun when pushing the car, but too frantic for normal commuting. Also, the steering feels artificially heavy in “Dynamic”.
Probably the most remarkable aspect of the SQ5 is its ride-and-handling compromise. Despite those huge wheels, the ride quality is on par with a German executive saloon, while the handling approximates that of a hot hatch, albeit with greater body roll and earlier sliding.
The 8-speed Tiptronic automatic with paddle-shifters operates smoothly, but it is less “speedy” than the dual-clutch S tronic fitted to the S4. The former’s eighth ratio, however, allows very relaxed cruising on the expressway, contributing to the decent fuel consumption quoted by Audi (11.5 kilometres per litre).
The cabin is of premium quality, with nice touches to remind the occupants that this is an S model, not an ordinary Q5 – grey instrument meters with aluminium-look needles, and front sports seats with Nappa leather upholstery and four-way adjustable lumbar support. The Bang & Olufsen hi-fi system features 14 speakers for superb highs, brilliant bass and realistic sound staging. My only complaint is about the aluminium facings for the fascia and doors. They look rather low-rent, and they might be glaring in strong sunlight. I would definitely prefer carbon or wood inlays. And I would expect a sunroof to be included at this price level.
The seats are firm but comfy, with adequate support for the thighs and spine. Five six-footers could fit into the SQ5 without becoming too intimate. A perfect driving position is easily achieved for people of all statures. However, some (shorter) people might find the large right mirror housing to be obstructive when they’re making a right turn, especially at traffic junctions.
Discreetly clever styling touches set the SQ5 apart from its lesser siblings. The sizeable single-frame grille is in platinum grey, with seven shiny chrome strips, while at the rump, the integrated tailgate spoiler, quadruple polished exhaust outlets, and rear air diffuser are all specific to the SQ5; not forgetting the usual S-spec “aluminium” caps for the side mirrors
The SQ5 is truly impressive, setting the standard for its segment. It gives the keen driver the practicality of a mid-size SUV, plus well-sorted “hot hatch” dynamics. Very few SUVs ever make it into my shortlist of fun cars, but this Audi certainly does. It’s genuinely fun to drive.
ENGINE 2995cc, 24-valves, V6, supercharged
MAX POWER 354bhp at 6000-6500rpm
MAX TORQUE 470Nm at 4000-4500rpm
GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 5.4 seconds
TOP SPEED 250km/h (governed)
CO2 EMISSION 202g/km
PRICE INCL. COE
$335,050 (no CEVS rebate/surcharge)