Adding ‘S’ to the Q5 unveils a performance revolution at Audi: it’s the first S-badged SUV and the first diesel S. Significant, because the Q5 comfortably outsells its BMW, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz rivals globally and, locally, vies with the A4 as Audi’s best seller, so the $110K SQ5 extends the range at the top end.
Audi’s newest SUV inherits the bi-turbo 3.0-litre V6 recently launched in the A6 and A6 Allroad. Sequential turbochargers, – the small one (with variable geometry vanes) increasing low-rpm boost; the bigger one adding more power above 3500rpm – are connected by a vacuum flap. The extra pressure required modified head cooling, revised intake timing and reinforced pistons. Peak power of 230kW between 3900-4500rpm matches BMW’s 535d, while the torque ceiling of 650Nm at 1450-2800rpm exceeds the BMW twin-turbo by 50Nm. Which is why the performance claims are so formidable – 0-100km/h in 5.1sec, yet the combined-cycle consumption is an equally impressive 7.2L/100km.
Audi offers just one transmission with the SQ5, ZF’s superb eight-speed auto mated with Quattro all-wheel drive. No doubting the SQ5 is seriously quick, with linear performance and a potent exhaust note that’s clearly been tuned to deliver something closer to the sound of a throbbing bent-eight than a humble oil-burner. In anything less than full-throttle driving, the torque converter and the electronics’ desire for the transmission to up-change early (in Drive mode) blunt the perception of performance. Selecting Sport restores the urge and adds an even harder exhaust note. Audi’s standard Drive Select offers a confusing choice of modes that most drivers will probably try once and then ignore.
All Q5s, including the SQ, inherit Audi’s new electro-hydraulic steering that so benefits the A6, A5 and A4. Here, it’s not so convincing, even working with the optional, variable-ratio Dynamic steering fitted to the test cars. It reduces the turns lock-to-lock from the normal system’s 2.8 to 2.2, yet there’s still a vague disconnect at the straight-ahead, while responses and weighting are inconsistent. For the hot Q5, the engineers reduced the ride height by 30mm and stiffened the springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. The standard 20-inch alloys wear 255/45R rubber and deliver a restless ride even on German roads. Only those who put style way above ride comfort will want the optional 21s in Australia.
Of course the beautifully detailed cabin is dressed up in harmony with the S-badge: black interior with terrific sports seats, brushed alloy trim panels, leather upholstery, grey instruments and a scattering of S logos.
More autobahn cruiser than backroad sprinter, the niche SQ5 is not going to be short of buyers. Think of it as Audi’s faster rival for the Range Rover Evoque.