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Audi SQ5 review (2012 onwards)
What: Audi SQ5 (2012 onwards)
Where: Munich, Germany
Date: July 2012
Available: October 2012
Audi begins a performance revolution with its first diesel 'S' model. It's epically fast for a TDI 4x4, but it lacks cohesion.
We like: Speed, noise, looks
We don't like: Lack of steering feel, disconnect between engine and chassis
The SQ5 marks a pair of firsts for Audi: not only is it the firm's inaugural diesel S model, but also it's the first proper performance off-roader from the Ingolstadt marque. The V12 TDI Q7 doesn't count.
It's suitably 'S' in its appearance two. Four tailpipes, a bespoke grille, new daytime running lights and liberal use of Alcantara on the inside not so subtly hint that this isn't you're standard 2.0 TDI Q5.
The SQ5 will face some stiff competition
The SQ5 will be the halo model in the mid-size SUV range when it hits the UK later this year and is part of a wider package of revisions for the Q5. It's a tough market out there though, and the SQ5 will face some stiff competition from the Range Rover Evoque and BMW X3.
The Audi's rivals might beat it on price - the baby Range is £3,020 cheaper, while the Bee-em undercuts the SQ5 by £485 - but they can't hope to touch it for performance. But speed alone isn't enough. Can the SQ5 pull off the trick of being a blisteringly fast, good handling all-rounder?
With 313hp at your disposal and four-wheel drive to deploy every drop of power, the SQ5 is amazingly rapid. It's quicker than an Audi TT S Coupé with a dual-clutch gearbox to 62mph, ramming home just how epic the super-SUV's performance is.
It's the car's 479lb ft of torque available between 1,450 to 2,800rpm that makes it feel so muscular. From just over tick over the SQ5 pulls hard with the sensation of a large capacity V8 petrol engine. It sounds like one, too.
The 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 diesel employs some special exhaust trickery to butch up the engine note, piping it into the cabin to give a soundtrack to match the pace. It bassy and rumbly overlaid with the faintest hint of boost whistle from the turbos. It sound good, and not just for a diesel.
Its quite alarming charge towards the redline is abated as the turbos run out of lung capacity, so it's best to shift up at around 4,500rpm (where maximum power is produced) to drop you right back into that ocean of torque.
The engine is mightily impressive and gives the SQ5 prodigious shove, but we were less convinced over the eight-speed automatic gearbox. It's not a dual-clutch item, and although it swaps ratios cleanly and smoothly most of the time, the transmission did sometimes take a while to lock up from stationary and threw in some spurious jerky shifts.
Ride and handling
While it might have the pace to humble plenty of two-seat sportscars, come to some corners and you'll realise the SQ5 isn't one. There's plenty of grip from the Quattro four-wheel drive system and the suspension does an admirable job of keeping body roll to a minimum.
A compromise you'll have to live with
The steering is pretty lifeless however, and overly artificially weighted in the sportiest 'Dynamic' driving mode - the 'Comfort' setting feels more natural, if no more communicative.
The chassis rides well although there's a slight busyness to the ride - a compromise you'll have to live with for the aesthetics of the 20-inch wheels and relatively flat cornering stance. It is liveable though and is certainly more comfortable than an S-line equipped Audi saloon.
Some might prefer the more relaxed and compliant Range Rover Evoque, others would plump for the BMW X3 for its more involving chassis. But if it's a fast 4x4 with decent grip - even if it's hard to tell where the limit is - Audi's first fast SUV will suit you pretty well.
The SQ5 is just different enough inside to remind you you're in a special variant, yet it retains all the good points of the standard car - good ergonomics, a lengthy list of equipment and superb fit and finish.
There's Acantara for the headlining and A pillars that makes it feel significantly sportier than the beige coloured interior of the standard car we drove. It's amazing how a bit of material can change the ambience.
The teak decking of a super yacht
Complete with 'SQ5' marked bespoke dials, some black wood-effect inlays that ape the teak decking of a super yacht and a subtle but effective two-tone leather combo for the seats, it's a cold but comfortable Germanic cabin.
There are a few negatives though: the seats are supportive but the flat bases could cause leg ache after a while, and space in the back with three up would be cramped. Especially for the poor middle passenger who has to straddle the propshaft tunnel - it's the price you pay for four-wheel drive security.
It's plenty practical enough for an average sized family though, with a 540-litre boot putting it on a par with its rivals and a low lip meaning luggage loading is easy. There's loads of interior storage available, too.
Economy and safety
For a 1,750kg-plus SUV (Audi is yet to confirm the SQ5's kerb weight) pushing out 313hp and with a 0-62mph time of 5.1 seconds, 39.2mpg combined is pretty damn good. We're pretty sure the two will be mutually exclusive, however.
The SQ5 gets stop-start fitted as standard, helping cut CO2 emissions to 185g/km and road tax to £185 per year - it sounds a lot, but it's actually cheap for a performance off-roader.
The previous generation Audi Q5 received a maximum five star from Euro NCAP in its smash-it-into-a-brick-wall test, so with a set of revisions that hasn't altered the chassis all that much, we expect the new car to pass with flying colours again.
The MSN Cars verdict
The SQ5 is stunningly capable and marks a new era of fast Audis. One, because it's a ridiculously rapid off-roader - it's nearly as quick as the 525hp Mercedes ML63 AMG from the class above - and two, because it proves that performance diesel Audi S models work.
But although blessed with a prodigious turn of speed, the SQ5 isn't quite the all-rounder we hoped it could be. It lacks cohesion between the engine and chassis and the dead steering erodes its sporty credentials slightly.
In all other respects the SQ5 is a polished vehicle and makes a great case for itself, but in attaching that S moniker, you expect a bit more involvement. It's more of a fast Q5 with a few styling tweaks than a pure blooded S car.
Need to know
Engines, petrol: N/A
Engines, diesel: 3.0-litre V6 BiTurbo
Torque: 479lb ft
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
MPG: 39.2 combined
CO2, Tax: 187g/km / 31%
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