Audi’s slick new performance crossover is more of the same, done better.
It’s been a while since Audi has done anything to surprise us. But who needs surprises when sales are strong and the cars are good? Audi has been on a roll for years now in the States, and the popular Q5 crossover has been a big part of that success—the first-generation Q5 had its second-best sales year ever in 2016, a full eight years after its debut.
It’s no wonder, then, that the new Q5 and its performance-oriented sibling, the SQ5, aren’t making any sort of philosophical shift for their second generation. Rather than truly redesigning its cars, Audi recently has been refining familiar formulas with a methodical, almost scientific approach to eliminating imperfections and fixing shortcomings.
Upgraded Across the Board
The result is that the new SQ5 is much like the old SQ5, except that it’s better in nearly every way—at least objectively. Audi’s long list of claimed improvements runs the gamut from better fuel economy to a broader torque curve to increased cargo space and more technology features. This vehicle rides on the same MLB Evo platform that underpins the latest A4 and A5, and the six-cylinder SQ5 specifically benefits from some significant suspension tweaks and a different all-wheel-drive system versus the standard four-cylinder Q5.
It also has that key ingredient in any Audi S model: more power. The old SQ5’s supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 gives way to a new turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 (meaning the T in Audi’s V6T badge finally actually stands for turbo). The new six makes the same 354 horsepower as before, but torque rises by 23 lb-ft to 369 and peaks nearly 3000 rpm sooner in the rev range. As before, an eight-speed automatic is the only transmission choice, and all-wheel drive is standard.
There is more differentiation now between the Q5 and the SQ5 in terms of how that torque is put to the road. While the standard model has adopted a new, more efficient Quattro Ultra system that can disconnect the rear driveshaft at times, the SQ5 sticks with a more conventional setup that continuously turns the rear driveshaft as it varies torque between the front and rear axles. To go along with the SQ5’s performance-oriented mission, its Quattro system has a rear bias: It defaults to a 40/60 front-to-rear split and can route as much as 85 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. There’s also an optional Sport Differential, a torque-vectoring differential for the rear axle that can send almost all of the torque to one wheel.
The Sport Differential is part of a $3000 S Sport package, which also includes air springs that bring roughly four inches of height adjustability to the SQ5. The adaptive dampers that we liked so much in our first drive of the Q5 are standard on the SQ5, as are summer tires on 20-inch wheels, with 21s optional for $1000 extra.
The SQ5 that we drove in British Columbia was equipped with both of the above options, making for $4000 in performance-enhancing extras (there’s also a variable-ratio dynamic steering system available for another $1150). So equipped, the SQ5 felt exceptionally buttoned down and taut without sacrificing ride comfort. The combination of the air springs and the adaptive dampers creates a wide range of dynamic character among the four standard driving modes: Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, and Individual. (The air suspension brings an Allroad and a Lift/Offroad mode as well.) Predictably, perhaps, we wished for more feedback from the electrically assisted power steering, but the weighting is well tuned to the various modes, and the attractive flat-bottom steering wheel is a joy to hold, with just the right rim thickness.
The powertrain also impresses with its ability to change demeanor. In Comfort mode, the eight-speed auto shifts imperceptibly. The SQ5 is mostly hushed at speed, although the 21-inch wheels and Pirelli P Zero high-performance summer tires do hum a bit on the highway; all-season tires, a no-cost option for the standard 20-inch wheels, may be quieter. Switch to Dynamic mode and the gearbox wakes up, executing prompt upshifts and downshifting aggressively as you brake for a corner. Dynamic also brings some hints of overrun on the exhaust, enhancing the V-6’s already throaty engine note.
We suspect that Audi’s claimed zero-to-60-mph estimate of 5.1 seconds is slightly conservative; we think five seconds flat is more likely. That would put the Audi right in the hunt with its closest rivals, the 5.1-second, 380-hp Jaguar F-Pace S and the 4.5-second, 362-hp Mercedes-AMG GLC43.
Look and Feel
As we’ve come to expect from Audi, the SQ5’s interior is impeccably assembled and materials look and feel of high quality. Audi’s Virtual Cockpit instrument cluster is part of the optional $2600 Navigation package on the base Premium Plus trim, but it’s standard on the Prestige model; it’s a worthy upgrade, presenting a ton of information directly in the driver’s line of sight in a clear, attractive, and highly configurable manner. Carbon-fiber trim and faux-suede bits are scattered throughout, as is the custom in any sort of high-performance vehicle these days.
The one area where the SQ5 falls short of some of its competitors is in visual drama. Rivals such as the F-Pace, along with the Alfa Romeo Stelvio and the Porsche Macan, are more distinctive than the SQ5, which looks nearly identical to the previous model. Those who like to fly under the radar may prefer the Audi’s subdued looks, but, to our eye, its soft, somewhat nondescript shape does little to convey the athleticism found within.
Audi, though, has never purported to peddle the same sort of excitement as more characterful and extroverted automakers. The SQ5 may not be thrilling, but it nearly flawlessly executes its mission. Don’t tell Lexus we said so, but the relentless pursuit of perfection is really being undertaken at Audi.