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First drive: Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.

First drive: Audi SQ5 TFSI
The new petrol-fuelled Audi SQ5 is slower and thirstier than its predecessor. So what gives?


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Audi brings us the second take on its hugely popular SQ5 performance SUV and, in what looks like a risky move, this time it's launching with a petrol engine, instead of the old car's diesel unit. Fear not, for a MkII SQ5 TDI is on the way, but for now we want to know whether the company from Ingolstadt has made a colossal mistake by switching the fuel on its mid-sized premium off-roader, or whether it has resulted in an S-model Audi that we can really get behind...

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Audi SQ5 3.0 TFSI
Pricing: Q5 from 38,035; SQ5 TFSI from 51,200
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed Tiptronic automatic
Body style: five-door, five-seat SUV
CO2 emissions: 189g/km (800 VED first 12 months, then 450 per annum next five years, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 34mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 5.4 seconds
Power: 354hp at 5,400- to 6,400rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1,370- to 4,500rpm

What's this?

Audi's second take on the SQ5 and, if you're up on your modern motoring history, you'll know that the old 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel SQ5 was a pioneer for S-badged Audi Q-models and also the first S vehicle of any type to drink from the black pump. Seems its blend of mammoth torque, monster all-weather pace, urbane refinement, typically brilliant Audi build quality and decent fuel economy hit a nerve with UK buyers - apparently, more than 15 per cent of the MkI Q5s on our roads are made up of the hottest variant. You'll notice this trend when you're out and about in your car, because it feels like the SQ5 is the most popular model of the lot, so often do you see them tooling around.

So, join us in some collective head-scratching, if you will, as we come to this SQ5 MkII... which is now toting a 3.0-litre petrol turbocharged petrol, the motor lifted wholesale from its S4 and S5 stablemates, rated at 354hp and 500Nm. Not bad, not bad - until you realise the old SQ5 had 313hp and 650Nm, which made it quicker to 62mph from rest (5.1 seconds plays the new boy's 5.4 seconds), quicker to pick up pace once on the roll (an additional 150Nm of torque will do that for you) and better on fuel (34mpg is not too shabby for a 350hp+ petrol SUV, but the TDI SQ5 officially returned 41.5mpg; in fact, last time we drove one, it managed nearly 43mpg on a 300-mile run).

Thus, it's hard not to think Audi has somehow gone and made the new SQ5 worse. But it's not all doom and gloom. For a start, while we've got the TFSI model now, in 2018, the more familiar diesel SQ5 will appear and that's almost certainly going to out-punch its TDI forebear. This is another 'trailblazer' for the SQ5 too, as it will make it the first S-model Audi in the UK to have a choice of engines - strangely, there was a supercharged petrol version of the MkI SQ5 sold elsewhere, but we never got it here.

And there's certainly plenty of appeal about a 354hp SUV from a premium manufacturer like Audi. Unless you're vehemently against the look of the current Q7, which gives rise to the Q5's appearance, the SQ5 should present no aesthetic issues - save for the dreadful faux pas of trying to give it quad-exit exhausts. Look at them closely; they're not exhausts at all, they're all blanking plates. The real items are hidden behind the bumper.

Anyway, elsewhere it's standard S-Audi fare: silver mirrors, roof rails and window surrounds; a dominant, chromed-up Singleframe grille; luscious 20-inch alloys, with 21s an option; revised bumpers and side skirts, plus the addition of a rear roof spoiler; full LED lights front and rear; and discreet 'SQ5' badging here and there. Looks great, especially in either Azores Green or Navarra Blue (both 645 metallic paint options), with Audi's traditionally classy if understated appearance.

The interior is near faultless. Perhaps Audi's cabin designers lack for much in the way of invention and daring, but boy, the company sure knows how to perfectly bolt together some very, very nice materials. The result is a cockpit that's both a tactile delight and ergonomically right on the money, while it will more than happily swallow four adults and 610 litres of luggage in the boot with little difficulty. It's reasonably well-equipped too, with items such as electronically controlled damper system and S-tuned suspension, MMI Navigation Plus on an 8.3-inch display, cruise control, a ten-speaker, 180-watt sound system, three-zone climate control and leather upholstery with electrically adjustable sports front seats, among more, but there's still a lengthy options list - and four items that will relieve customers of more cash on top of the 51,200 SQ5 purchase price were fitted to our German test cars. These were the gorgeous 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit (we're always miffed when this thing's an option on Audis), the Sport differential in the quattro system, S Adaptive air suspension and speed-dependent Dynamic Steering. And one of these is to be avoided at all costs (you've probably already worked out that it's not the Virtual Cockpit)...

How does it drive?

This might be the car that becomes the very definition of 'deceptively quick'. Honestly, you can rack up three-figure speeds in extremely short, smooth and quiet order in the SQ5, which has its creamy drivetrain and immense refinement working in tandem to utterly disguise just how quickly the scenery is spooling past the windows. Its natural cruising velocity seems to be about 110mph and there's never a moment when the Audi explodes into life as you exploit all of its performance.

Such cultured traits make it a marvellous day-to-day performance chariot and will surely win it plenty of admiring buyers, but the keener drivers among you will be reading the above paragraph and putting two and two together here. The problem for us is, the SQ5 is just a bit too refined. Depress the throttle, say, 70 per cent of the way down, and short-shift at 5,000rpm, and the SUV feels acceptably rapid and no more. Slam the accelerator into the bulkhead and rev it out to 6,500rpm redline, and you don't really reap any extra rewards. There's a muted thrum to the 3.0-litre motor when it's in serious action, which is pleasant enough, yet it never lets loose a full-blooded V6 cry to truly stimulate your senses. Those criminally hidden exhausts do their best with some distant pops, burbles and bangs, but it's simply not enough to make you go 'ooooh!'.

The gearbox isn't to be faulted, though, for the pace of its shifts or the slickness of the cog-swaps, and then there's the chassis. There's the suspicion here that this is a bit of a gem. Grip levels are enormous, understeer is removed from any sane cornering proceedings - that'll be one of the benefits of swapping a heavy TDI in the nose for a lighter petrol mill - and of course the SQ5 has unimpeachable quattro traction, especially in the dry. On the air suspension, there's a touch of body roll in the higher-speed corners, but it's not so bad that it prevents you getting pretty ambitious with your entry and exit speeds. And the Audi just soaks it all up. Even better, if you cob it really hard into a tighter bend and time your lift of the throttle well, the rear end will adopt a neutral-to-mild-oversteer stance that sees you winding steering lock off with a smile on your face.

Which makes our final paragraph on the dynamics all the harder to write. Two more things stick in our craw. The first is slightly mushy brake pedal feel, which sometimes makes stopping the SQ5 smoothly and effectively a tricky task. But by far the bigger spanner in the works is the Dynamic Steering. It is extraordinarily light for something with such big rubber contact patches at the front as the SQ5 and no matter which of the five Drive Select modes you flick the car into, nor what lunatic entry speed you adopt into a corner, you'll find it never, ever weights up to a satisfactory degree, nor does it give you any meaningful feedback whatsoever. Numb steering on Audi performance machines was an evil beast we thought had been vanquished years ago; it's a real shame it has reared its ugly head here once more, because it adds in an infuriating and fairly thick layer of vagueness to the driver interaction stakes that renders accessing the chassis' undoubted talents an elusive and sometimes frustrating affair.


We need to try an SQ5 TFSI without Dynamic Steering, because we reckon it might be deserving of another half-star in both the Driving Dynamics category below and its overall rating, if the standard steering set-up is any better - and we doubt it can be much worse. This is because the new SQ5 petrol is a premium performance SUV with a rather cracking chassis. It has throttle adjustability, it has hatchback-like agility, it has near-limitless tenacity and, on top of all this, a drivetrain that, while a gnat's too muted, is undeniably of the highest calibre of forced-induction V6s and true torque-converter automatic transmissions.

Nothing's going to take away the fact that the Audi isn't as thrilling to drive quickly as the distantly related Porsche Macan, nor is it going to eradicate that heinous set of 'false quads' in the SQ5's rear bumper, but without Dynamic Steering ruining the driving experience, it might just make more sense of Audi's decision to relaunch the car without a TDI powerplant. Until we do drive such an SQ5, we're left with an overriding feeling of 'great, but could do better'.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

5 5 5 5 5 Interior Ambience

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain

Matt Robinson - 1 Jun 2017    - Audi road tests
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2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.

2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.2017 Audi SQ5 TFSI. Image by Audi.


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