Colin Hubbard reviews the 2014 Audi SQ5 SUV
In recent years Audi's RS specification has been reserved for the range topping version of each model line and the S derivative designated to the less hardcore and more affordable car but still in essence a fast accomplished driver.
The S moniker has produced some pretty special cars over recent years such as the B6 S4 with its 4.2 V8 and the B8 S4 with its Supercharged V6 but never a diesel, until now.
Audi, keen to champion the success of its diesel Le Mans winning cars, saw a performance future in the oily stuff and decided to produce its first ever diesel S car. Surprisingly it makes its debut in an SUV.
Welcome to the SQ5 which is an S car based on the mid size SUV but with more power, control and style than the rest of the Q5 range.
Power is provided in the form of a 3.0 V6 Diesel with 2 turbochargers fitted in-series at the rear of the engine. A smaller turbo operates from lower revs (circa 2,500rpm) and as pressure builds a valve opens and the larger turbo kicks in for full power. Along with high pressure direct injection it's a smooth and very powerful diesel unit producing 308bhp and a staggering 479 lb/ft torque.
All that torque is too powerful for the standard dual clutch transmission so the engine is coupled to an 8 speed tiptronic automatic gearbox with torque convertor and permanent four wheel drive. The Quattro system features a self locking centre differential distributing power to which axle is most demanding.
This set up is enough to take this fairly big SUV from standstill to 62mph in 5.1 seconds, which is fastest in its class. It only stops at 155mph due to its limiter.
The chassis has been firmed up with 30mm shorter springs and passive dampers and the brakes have been enlarged to cope with the extra slug of diesel power.
Outside it looks stunning in Ibis white and over a week turned more heads than a hectic hairdresser.
The first thing that hits you about its looks, beyond the bright paintwork, is the optional 21 inch twin spoke 'star' design alloys. The wheels are two tone and heavily sculptured, noticeably more when you get up close (when I cleaned them) and compliment the body colour well.
Externally they haven't gone overboard with extended arches and sharp creases but there are some nice touches over the lesser models.
First off is the signature S model aluminium effect mirrors which along with the lower suspension give a much more sleeker look than the standard Q5's. The front features a heavily chromed grill while at the rear there's a roof spoiler, LED lights, rear diffuser and a quad tailpipes.
Overall the effect is well thought out. It's a handsome car and leaves some potential for an RS model in the future.
Things get even better when you open the door, Audi's legendary ability to make the superb interiors shines through as I climb up into the Lunar silver and black Nappa leather drivers seat. Even though it's physically lower than a stock Q5 the view out is still commanding.
The dash is well laid out with everything at easy reach and finished off classily with piano black and silver highlights.
I found the driving position to be more comfort orientated than out and out sports car and would prefer more lateral support in the front seats of this S model. The steering wheel extends out and up sufficiently to suit most drivers so is easy to get comfortable. The transmission tunnel eats into the drivers left foot space as the engine is longitudinal mounted with a large auto box. You get used to it after a day or two but at first it feels a little alien.
When you first start the engine up it makes a surprisingly good noise. I expected the usual diesel clatter and bassy dullness at idle you get with a standard oil burner but it sounds quite good, almost undieselly.
On the go and the engine proves itself as a smooth but perky unit riding on a wave of torque from even lower revs, the interface between the small turbo and larger turbo fairly seamless but you can feel a definite abundance of power from just over 3,500 revs.
The noise throughout the rev range is very beefy, almost powerboat like in sound and the result of an actuator located in the exhaust system. Whatever it is it does a fantastic job of making this diesel SUV sound like a performance car.
It's almost comical the way it accelerates when in the fairly narrow powerband between 3,500 and 5,000 revs but once there it pulls relentlessly. Using Sport mode on the tiptronic box (pull back further after original selection) it retains lower gears to keep the revs high which makes for some very rapid progress making use of the larger turbo only at these revs.
The beauty of this unit is that you can simply knock it from Dynamic mode back to Auto or Comfort and it returns to a smooth but also torquey motor making a cracking everyday luxury car.
The chassis is extremely grippy helped no doubt by the all wheel drive but there is a fair degree of roll when pressing on. When you turn the wheel you sense the car pitch a little. To be fair I haven't driven another SUV that can ride quite like a sports saloon, the extra height is always going to be an issue and short of installing very hard suspension and low profile tyres giving a bone jarring ride the SQ5 is a good compromise.
Don't get me wrong it's very competent performer and as a benefit of the huge tyres and excellent damping it is a car that rides comfortably and securely. On my way home from work there is a large bump in the road on a slight corner which is a good test of a cars competence at around 60mph. The SQ5 took it in its stride at full throttle and it simply rode it like it wasn't there, just a raise in cabin height and then down again with no correction required to the steering.
Surprisingly the brakes, despite being nothing special in specification, coped admirably over the week. It's a difficult job keeping a near 2 tonne SUV with a powerful engine and keen driver in check but they did. The modulation was excellent and not once did I want for more stopping power.
The quoted average fuel consumption figure is 41.5mpg, which was never going to be achieved the way I drove the car through the week, with the computer registering 25mpg. I can see the quoted figure being achievable when driven softly as it has all the systems required to aid fuel economy. One such example is the stop start which takes a while to turn over the big V6 and as you start off utilising the smaller turbo only lower rev power is slightly wanting so exiting busy junctions can be a little intimidating.
Something terribly clever has been done to the way the car rolls without engine power, maybe it's the transmission disconnecting, the sleek body styling or the low drag tyres but when you back off the throttle it retains speed for an eerily long time almost as is if it has magic wheel bearings with zero friction.
Spending a week with a car lets you really get inside its head and it's been an absolute pleasure with the SQ5.
The interior is a special place to be and provides a good space for the occupants along with a full size boot capable of swallowing enough luggage for a family of five. The rear seat deserves a special mention as it can accommodate a child seat either side on a flat base to keep the seats stable and an adult in the middle in comfort. Alternatively it will happily accommodate 3 adults with plenty of legroom with the backrests adjustable for angle.
The rear seats can also be lowered to take large loads either by standing by the boot area or by the rear doors both by a remote folding mechanism.
The electric boot release and closure was a gimmick at first but proved a boon when out shopping and with your hands full, simply pop the button on the fob and it lifts up, press the button on the fob or tailgate and it shuts again.
There's are plenty of storage spaces within the car, each door swallows a drinks bottle and few pairs of sunglasses, there are two cupholders in the front and two in the back, a large glovebox and a large compartment under the armrest.
This being a media car it was fully loaded and as tested was just over £52k but it had pretty much everything bar a kitchen sink.
Bower and Wilkins supplied the optional Hifi componentry with 14 individual speakers and 500 watts of power and the results are epic, in conjunction with the DVD player it puts you in the movie itself. Sadly you can't watch films on the move but you can listen to them and even at full volume it provides crystal clear sounds with spine tingling bass.
DAB radio proved excellent through the week, the sound was crystal clear pretty much everywhere I drove which is a bonus as coverage near me is pretty poor.
The full length sunroof made the interior light and airy, a cloth blind could be retracted at the touch of a button and another user friendly rotary switch powered back half of the full length glass roof.
Options aside the SQ5 is a very talented car with an opulent spacious interior and powerful yet efficient powerplant. But is it worthy of the S car title?
In some area it excels and in some areas it falls short.
For example when the large turbo kicks in the wave of torque is monstrous and hugely addictive so speed is never left wanting.
The gearbox is fast acting and in Sport mode keeps the engine in its sweet spot so you are don't experience turbo lag.
The lower and sleeker looks tick all the right boxes.
The brakes are good and the handling is competent but not quite as a true S car should be. The issue comes down to the physics of an SUV in its height and weight so it's never going to be a ballet dancer but it is compliant and composed, just not dainty.
Overall though I think they pulled it off and it deserves to wear the S badge.
The S package has made the SQ5 almost peerless, a high performance diesel SUV with a luxury interior.
BMW are hottest on its heels with the X3 and X5 with the Q5 sitting in between them in terms of size. The X5 is a little heavy and expensive to be a true rival and only the £45k X3 35d MSport can get close to the performance of the SQ5 but even then the looks and luxury feel are a long way off.
The other Volkswagen group cars don't really come near either but are closer in size than either BMW. The VW Toureg needs a £62k V8 Diesel to get close to the Audi's performance but even that is slower and Porsche's similarly priced Macan Diesel only gets the poverty spec 254bhp diesel so is left at the lights by the SQ5.
With my own cash in hand in this sector it would almost certainly go toward the S Audi.
Price - £44,725 (£52,285 as tested)
Engine – 3.0 litre, V6, single (2 stage) turbocharged, diesel
Transmission - 8-speed twin clutch sport auto
Drive – permanent 4 wheel drive with self-locking centre diff
0-60mph – 5.1 seconds
Top speed - 155 mph (limited)
Power – 308 bhp
Torque – 479 lb ft
Economy – 41.5mpg (combined)
CO2 - 179 g/km
Kerb weight – 1,920 kg