What Car? says...
The Audi SQ5 is rather unusual in the world of sports SUVs. Why? Well, it's one of the last of these quick, high-riding cars to run on diesel rather than petrol.
After all, the word 'diesel' rarely appears in a sentence these days without 'unfashionable', 'outdated' or – worse – 'dirty' in front of it. Still, there are at least two reasons why Audi might be on to something with the SQ5's engine choice.
Firstly, a big high-performance SUV with a powerful petrol engine will drink more than the local rugby team celebrating a big win on the pitch.
So, does the latest Audi SQ5 make sense for buyers who want to combine pace and practicality, and how does it compare with the best sports SUVs? Read on to find out...
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Yet if you’re after something quick but also effortless to drive, the immense torque the SQ5's 3.0-litre diesel engine produces at low to mid revs will really appeal, because it allows it to gain speed without needing to be thrashed.
There's a slight delay between you squeezing the accelerator pedal and the car surging forwards, but when it does, you’re up to motorway speeds in no time. In other words, as a way to cover ground swiftly from point to point, it's an incredibly effective sports SUV.
Audi has chosen to augment the diesel engine note using a sound generator located in the exhaust. The result is a V8-inspired woofle that you'll either love or wish would go away.
The brakes are impressive at shedding speed but are also easy to apply smoothly. The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox is a little slow to kick down, but it sifts through its ratios smoothly and speedily the rest of the time – and you can always change gear manually using paddles mounted behind the steering wheel.
There are various driving modes to flick between, the most focused of which is Dynamic. That sharpens the SQ5's accelerator response, adds weight to the steering and makes the gearbox more assertive. The standard-fit S suspension with damping control (air suspension is only available on the higher Vorsprung trim) can be stiffened to reduce body lean through corners.
The results are good. The steering isn't quite as direct or communicative as the Macan’s, but it is accurate, making it easy to place the SQ5 exactly where you want on the road. It also controls its body remarkably well through tight bends. The Macan might be a little more fun, with its more rear-biased four-wheel-drive set-up, but we doubt it would actually prove any quicker on a mix of roads.
In the SQ5's Comfort mode, everything relaxes, including the suspension damping, allowing uneven roads around town to be dealt with commendably for a car with big wheels. Even the 21in alloys fitted to Vorsprung models (other versions get 20in ones) don’t ruin the ride thanks to its air suspension. If you throw into the equation the SQ5's whisper-quiet levels of wind and road noise, it makes for a hugely relaxing car to cover big miles in.
The interior layout, fit and finish
All Audi SQ5s come with luxurious diamond-stitched Napa leather seats, which only enhance what is already one of the best interiors in the class for out-and-out quality. There are textured, squishy plastics where you want them on the dashboard and doors, behind which everything feels solid. Even the buttons and switches operate in a precise way that Porsche and BMW can’t completely emulate.
The driving position is brimming with adjustability, from the reach and rake adjustable steering wheel to the multi-way powered driver’s seat, which includes four-way electric lumbar adjustment. The relationship between the pedals, seat and steering wheel is also very good.
As with the standard Audi Q5 visibility is excellent. There’s a more commanding seating position than in the Porsche Macan and the SQ5’s relatively slender front pillars and tall windows mean you’ll have no trouble seeing out at junctions and roundabouts.
Happily, front and rear parking sensors are standard, as well as a rear-view camera. Top-spec Vorsprung trim adds a 360-degree camera, plus adaptive matrix headlights over the standard version’s LED units.
Audi's excellent MMI Navigation Plus touchscreen infotainment system comes as standard. It's a little bit more distracting to use while driving than the iDrive system in the BMW X3 but you do get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring so you can run your own apps through the screen.
You also get a Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel and, on top-spec Vorsprung models, a head-up display.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The SQ5 is just as roomy inside as the regular Audi Q5. That means there’s no shortage of head and leg room up front. For storage you get a large glovebox, a pair of cupholders, door cubbies large enough to each store a bottle, and a large centre cubby with a padded lid that doubles as an armrest.
In the back, there’s enough width for three adults to sit side by side, although anyone in the middle is forced to straddle a large tunnel that runs along the centre of the floor.
The entry-level SQ5 has a moulding for the rear interior light that pinches some head room, but top-spec Vorsprung has a panoramic glass roof instead.
The outer rear seats are much more accommodating if there are just two passengers in the back, offering loads of head room and a decent amount of knee room, even for those long in the leg. That said, you can get a coupé version of the SQ5 too – based on the Audi Q5 Sportback – and that sacrifices some rear space for a sleeker body shape.
Storage space in the rear isn’t as abundant. You’ll need the optional Storage pack to get storage nets on the back of the front seats and a pair of small pop-out cupholders on the centre armrest (it also adds an elasticated storage net and strap in the boot to hold smaller items in place).
The rear seats fold in a 40/20/40 split and are easy to drop down using a couple of handy levers next to the tailgate opening. Sliding and reclining rear seats are also standard, allowing rear passengers to kick back and relax on longer journeys, or letting you to trade a bit of rear leg room for a larger boot.
You get a powered tailgate as standard and it opens to reveal a bigger boot than in the Porsche Macan. While the BMW X3 boot is slightly larger on paper, the SQ5 can swallow one more carry-on suitcase with nine in total – unless you go for the Sportback version, which loses 40 litres of boot space.
The SQ5's boot is a useful square shape inside, and is easily large enough to swallow a fold-up pram. There's a small load lip between the tailgate opening and the boot floor that you have to lift things over.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Running costs are one area where the Audi SQ5's diesel engine really helps your wallet, and its official WLTP fuel economy is just shy of 35mpg. You'll be lucky to get in the high twenties in the Jaguar F-Pace 400 Sport or Porsche Macan – although the BMW X3 M40d offers a similar amount of performance with an even better fuel economy figure of around 40mpg.
If you’re a cash buyer, the SQ5’s list price is similar to the X3 and less than the F-Pace and Macan GTS. And while resale values should prove competitive with a Mercedes GLC 43 or X3 40i, the SQ5 will shed its value quicker than a Macan.
CO2 emissions are quite low for a sports SUV but the SQ5 still pumps out enough to be placed in the top benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax band for company cars. That means it won’t save you anything in tax over petrol rivals with even higher CO2 outputs.
We’d stick with the standard version, which features most of what you might reasonably need, including leather seats with heating and four-way electric lumbar support in the front, three-zone climate control, 20in alloy wheels, privacy glass, parking aids and touchscreen infotainment.
Disappointingly, air suspension is not available as an option on the standard SQ5, giving you no alternative but to fork out for the significantly more expensive Vorsprung version if you want a pillowy ride. That said, at least you get pretty much everything else bar the proverbial kitchen sink with Vorsprung, including 21in wheels, adaptive cruise control, carbonfibre interior finishers, a panoramic sunroof and a head-up display.
Audi hasn’t been stingy with safety kit, either: six airbags, a tyre pressure monitoring system and automatic emergency braking (AEB) are standard. Vorsprung adds active lane-keeping assist, and the automatic emergency braking works up to the 155mph top speed, rather than the standard model’s 52mph ‘city’ limit.
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