First Drive – 2014 Audi SQ5
When last we saw the SQ5, it was the epic German spec version, with the brutally powerful bi-turbo 3 liter TDI engine. At that time, and to our dismay, Audi said there were no plans to bring the SQ5 to the USA. Being the types to leave anything alone, we posed the question differently, as in, why not take the standard Q5 3.0TFSI (which we knew was in fact slated for our market) dial up more power, give it some proper S car trim, and call it SQ5. All we got for an answer was a smile, and a “we’re not ready to talk about that yet”.. yet.
Fast forward half a year (give or take a few months) and Audi of America announces exactly what we couldn’t get them to talk about in Germany – the SQ5 3.0TFSI. This is a very exciting car for the USA market, which is not only Audi’s biggest arena for the Q5, but the S cars as well. It makes perfect sense, given the American, and increasingly global hunger for upscale SUVs and “crossovers”, that Audi would want to offer a higher spec SQ5 here. We’re thrilled with the result of adapting the already excellent Q5 to S-car trim, handling and power levels.
From the outside, the SQ5 is instantly recognizable as such thanks to the S specific grille with its sculpted horizontal slats, as well as a new rear valence allowing for the 4 meaty round exhaust tips. The Monsoon Gray over black example we drove was fitted with huge and edgy 21 inch split 5 spoke wheels, S exclusive Aluminum colored mirror shells, on top of the Q5 “S Line” front bumper/valence, enhancing the SQ5’s more aggressive appearance.
Sharp eyed readers will notice that the sq5 doesn’t share the same lowered stance as the European version we showed earlier. Even though it rides on considerably stiffer suspension than the standard Q5 (quoted as being the same rates as the euro version, just longer) The American SQ5’s ride height is unchanged from the standard Q5. This is due to the “light truck” rating that the Q5 comes to the USA with. If Audi lowered the SQ5 suspension at all, they would have had to re-certify the whole car at great expense.
It is a similar situation regarding the incredible Bi-turbo TDI diesel engine. Unlike the single turbo 3.0 TDI diesel engine, the Bi-turbo engine would require the addition of the AdBlue system for emissions in the USA, but the biturbo TDI engine wasn’t developed with that system.
Fear not though. It turns out that Audi upped the power from the standard S4/S5 333hp engine to 354hp. The SQ5 works exceedingly well with the 3.0TFSI supercharged gasoline engine. This familiar engine is not taken directly from elsewhere in the Audi lineup, but is instead beefed up internally and externally to handle the extra output before being bolted in. Alterations to the intake and exhaust, as well as electronic and fuel mapping all combine with a very slight bump in supercharger boost to generate the additional 22hp over the standard S trim 3.0TFSI.
Inside the SQ5 is familiar but decidedly upscale compared to to the standard Q5, with french stitched leather on the instrument binnacle, door cards, and center armrest, matching the seats and flat bottomed steering wheel beautifully. Replacing the wood or aluminum trim is genuine carbon fiber, or equally sexy layered wood and aluminum.
Side into the 12 way adjustable sport seat, press of the red ringed engine start button brings the SQ5 to life, and here is where the fun begins. Under way, SQ5 feels substantial, but not cumbersome. On the open road the handling is confidence inspiring to say the least. the elevated ride height does little to take away from the excellent cornering dynamics that all Audis are known for. All Q5s know how to take a curve, but the sq5 takes it to a whole new level. This is not to say that the sq5 pretends to be a sports car, but it can hold its own In the twisties, and positively devours fast flowing roads. We were happy to find the SQ5 to be surprisingly nimble considering the high center of gravity. Body roll is kept to a minimum, and squat and dive is well controlled without resulting in a bone jarring ride.
The power delivery from the 354 hp engine is silky smooth, and feels very much more like a large naturally aspirated engine than what is normally expected from forced induction. This is a mill that wants to be wound out for best results, but doesn’t fall on its face at lower rpms and gentle driving. Even in the high mountains of western Colorado, the SQ5 had ample power for passing slower cars. The accompanying soundtrack is excellent as well, with a lovely baritone growl building to a nice roar on the top of the rev band. We did long to hear a big of the supercharger’s voice, but were otherwise very pleased with the SQ5’s song.
Power is sent to the wheels via the 8 speed Tiptronic transmission, which in this application does a masterful job of emulating the 7 speed s Tronic box. We were blown away by the crispness of the shifting, the immediacy of it all was eerily similar to the dual clutch box.. The Tiptronic in the sq even makes the same barking sounds on up and down shifts.. It is truly remarkable how well Audi tuned this engine and transmission combo.
Steering feel is very typical of the recent S cars, and with the variable assist program available in the Drive Select system (which also alters the engine, transmission and exhaust) it feels very sporty without being annoyingly heavy. The SQ5 has the same electronic power steering as the rest of the Q5 lineup, but as we’ve noted before, to us it feels nearly identical to the older hydraulic systems, while saving lots of energy by not having to continuously drive a pump, and by only activating the assist motors when needed.
Our all too brief time with the SQ5 showed us that in fact Audi wanted this car to be able to walk the walk, and it absolutely can hold it’s own, and not just be a sporty looking SUV with no muscle to back it up.