Audi’s sportiest mid-sized SUV has swapped diesel power for petrol. Is it a change for the better?
It is a rare diesel that finds unanimous approval within the walls of evo, and the original SQ5, for all its 479lb ft of torque and associated thundering pace, never quite hit the spot. Customers like diesels though, and Audi sold 62,000 first-gen SQ5s worldwide following its 2012 debut. They made up a high proportion of UK Q5 sales too, which is probably why there always seems to be one sitting six microns from your rear numberplate on the M1.
Diesel is taking a lower profile within the VW Group these days, so it’s not a surprise that a petrol engine is now available in the SQ5 for the first time. In fact it’s currently the only engine choice for the Q5. Specifically, it’s the same turbocharged 3-litre V6 you’ll find in the S4 and S5, with an identical 349bhp and 369lb ft.
While the power output is higher than that of the old SQ5, by 40bhp, the petrol unit develops less twist and consequently isn’t quite as smart off the mark. Crossing the 62mph threshold takes 5.4sec – hardly night and day to the old car’s 5.1sec, but a deficit nevertheless, and down on a Mercedes-AMG GLC43’s 4.9sec too.
The engine is still a class act, pulling from very few revs with a creamy and insistent force all the way to the 6400rpm red line. Thumb the Drive Select switch into Dynamic and throttle response becomes admirably crisp, while changes from the eight-speed Tiptronic auto are intelligent enough that you rarely feel the need to trouble the aluminium-effect paddles behind the steering wheel unless you’re really pressing on.
The silken drivetrain and hushed cabin make the SQ5 a deceptively fast car, just like its diesel predecessor, but therein lie two problems. Firstly, the old diesel offered more of a boot in the kidneys if you were to stand on the throttle at any revs in any gear. And secondly, it all feels a little undramatic. Some will appreciate the SQ5’s refinement, but a more rousing soundtrack and a little less linearity to the power delivery would add more fizz.
Just as the drivetrain is held back by its lack of drama, so the SQ5’s chassis is held back by that old bugbear of Dynamic Steering – an option, but one fitted to our test car. Even in Dynamic mode it’s ultra-light around the straight-ahead, giving an almost nervous feel at speed, with little resistance to work against. You need to wind on a fair degree of lock before any real weighting appears, and feedback fails to make itself known whatever kind of cornering you’re undertaking.
That’s a shame, since there feels like a fundamentally sound chassis underneath the SQ5. Like other recent Audi S models, the SQ5’s balance feels more neutral and adjustable than before. Body roll is kept to a minimum too, without doing too much damage to what feels (on smooth German tarmac, at least) like a pliant ride, one that improves further in Comfort. There’s good grip too, and light work is made of direction changes.
But the SQ5 is not a class-leader. A Porsche Macan S still provides more to entertain the keen driver, and a GLC43 indulges you with a little more character (and noise) for its corresponding lack of Ingolstadthoned polish. Both are cheaper than the Audi, too.
All is not lost, however, as Audi plans to launch another diesel SQ5 in the future. It’s hard not to imagine that eclipsing the petrol in terms of performance, and it should bring about a welcome improvement on the petrol model’s 34mpg combined economy figure, too. And for all our apathy towards diesels, there was something rather appealing about the old SQ5’s gravelly tone and lowdown punch.
‘The silken drivetrain and hushed cabin make the SQ5 a deceptively fast car’
TECHNICAL DATA FILE / Specification / #2017 #Audi
Engine V6, 2995cc, turbo
Power 349bhp @ 5400rpm DIN
Torque 369lb ft @ 1370-4500rpm DIN
0-62mph 5.4sec (claimed)
Top speed 155mph (limited)
Weight 1870kg (190bhp/ton)
Basic price £51,200
+ Styling, deceptive pace, fine chassis
- Overly light, feel-free Dynamic Steering; lack of excitement