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Ingolstadt extends performance SUV line-up downwards to include Q2 crossover

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It’s testament not only to the design and engineering capacities of Audi but also to the unflinching confidence of its top brass that, even after a challenging few years, it continues to grow its model portfolio and to add choice to its showroom range.

The axe certainly fell at Ingolstadt, on both product and people, at the nadir of the firm’s Dieselgate-related troubles – but to judge by the diversity of the new cars it will introduce in the UK this year, from the Audi E-tron electric SUV to the facelifted R8 supercar, you simply wouldn’t know it. And, as if to prove as much, here comes more of that diversity.

Minimal SQ2 badging on the tailgate and front grille, plus Quantum Grey paint (£575), lend themselves well to the fast Audi’s stealthy appeal

Audi S-branded performance models, developed in collaboration with in-house tuner Audi Sport, have long been a reliable bellwether for the mood of the brand as a whole – and you could hardly imagine one better equipped to clean up in 2019 than this: the new 296bhp SQ2 performance crossover hatchback.

The regular Audi Q2 has only been on UK roads itself since 2017, and sits in a niche full of jacked-up five-door hatchbacks that have proved very popular – but where performance derivatives have been surprisingly slow to propagate. This year will see a flurry of them arrive, however, and Audi is to be congratulated for beating several rivals to the punch.

There’s one sibling brand it hasn’t manage to beat, however. It’s only a couple of months since we ran the road test ruler over the Cupra Ateca, after all, and it’ll be interesting to record how differently, and how much more successfully, the SQ2 can use the same platform, and many of the same key mechanicals, than its Iberian relative did.

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Price £36,800 Power 296bhp Torque 295lb ft 0-60mph 4.5sec 30-70mph in fourth 7.8sec Fuel economy 26.9mpg CO2 emissions 159g/km (NEDC correlated) 70-0mph 45.5m

The Audi Q2 range at a glance: While the 296bhp, four-wheel-drive SQ2 sits as a stand-alone model atop the model hierarchy, the Q2 range as a whole is far broader. Entry-level 30 TFSI makes use of a 114bhp three-pot motor that drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, while the more powerful diesel and petrol engines can be had with versions of the seven-speed S Tronic automatic ’box found on the SQ2. SE is the entry trim, followed by Sport, S Line, Black Edition and SQ2.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Audi SQ2 2019 road test review - hero side

The SQ2 is at once subtle but unmistakeable, and so adopts the tone set by so many Audi performance derivatives. Sports suspension shaves 20mm from the ride height of the standard Audi Q2, and the grille and hefty air intakes in the front bumper not only feature unique vanes but are also optionally ringed by broad, black accents.

Follow the car’s bevelled edges back and you’ll find the rear adorned with Audi no less than four exhaust tips in the style of the S3. On a compact SUV they make quite a statement, but this is the image SQ2 buyers will want. Moreover, it’s the S3 hot hatch with which this new crossover shares a significant amount of hardware.

Quad exhaust pipes are among the few exterior features that hint at the SQ2’s potency. Otherwise, the car remains a low-key thing to look at. Who doesn’t like a good sleeper, though?

The Volkswagen Group’s excellent EA888 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol is once again reprised, with figures that every road tester now knows by heart: 296bhp and 295lb ft, with the latter generated at only 2000rpm and holding on until 5200rpm.

Despite such a broad powerband, the SQ2 gets Audi’s S tronic dualclutch transmission, with the brand’s typically small paddle-shifters affixed to the back of the wheel.

Quattro four-wheel drive is standard, with torque split between the axles by a hydraulically actuated multi-plate clutch, though Audi would have us believe this is no flat-footed calibration. When the front tyres lose grip, the SQ2 is said to have the ability to channel the entirety of its available torque to the rear axle, but even in less committed driving, torque flows rearwards when meaningful steering input is detected, and in the interests of agility there is also brake-based torque vectoring.

Dimensionally, the steel-bodied SQ2 is neither as long nor as tall as its Cupra Ateca cousin (both use the VW Group’s MQB platform). In the interests of handling and body control, Audi has sought to marshal the car’s mass with a passive spring-and-damper set-up rather than the adaptive alternative available on the standard Q2 and many rivals besides.

INTERIOR

Audi SQ2 2019 road test review - front seats

There’s plenty of appeal to be drawn from the simplified layout and minimalistic design of the SQ2’s cabin, but oddly enough it’s also a cabin that, even though the Audi Q2’s only been on sale since 2017, is beginning to show its age.

The overall architecture Audi isn’t unlike what you’d find in an A3 from 2013 – and, indeed, those familiar with Audi’s newer models might just remark that the SQ2’s cockpit looks and feels just a little bit last season. That said, the array of circular air vents that populate the moulded, soft-touch dashtop still exude a welcome level of stylishness, even if they lack the rich material tactility one might expect from the cabin of a £40,000 Audi.

The SQ2’s sports seats didn’t let me sit quite as low down in the cabin as I would’ve liked. That might have been more forgiveable were they not so lacking in lateral support.

Our SQ2 ran Audi’s older MMI Navigation Plus infotainment system that, along with the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, comes as part of the £1395 Technology Package. It comprises a dashtop-mounted 8.3in screen (the standard car gets a 7in display) that’s controlled solely through the rotary dial that lies just behind the gear selector.

It works well, allowing for comfortable navigation between the various functions and their respective sub-menus. Dedicated shortcut buttons flank the main dial, allowing for even quicker access. While the display is easy to read and not adversely affected by a hugely noticeable amount of latency once up and running, on the graphics front it is beginning to show its age.

The Virtual Cockpit, meanwhile, remains as impressive as ever. Its scope for configuration will no doubt be a draw for many, particularly its ability to show clear and attractive full-screen mapping information from the sat-nav system.

Allowing your eyes and fingers to explore the lower reaches of the SQ2’s interior reveals a broader mix of plastic finishes than most Audis have. These are detectable on the transmission tunnel and the lower half of the dash fascia; but it will likely be the doors you notice first, which are surprisingly plain-looking. The door bins aren’t lined, so any loose items can clatter about noisily on the move.

From an ergonomic point of view, there’s enough to impress. There’s little need to stretch or compromise your seating position to reach the controls for the climate systems and infotainment suite; and, while our testers agreed the manually adjustable seats left you positioned too high, the adjustability in the steering column made for an otherwise comfortable driving position.

As for the second row, a typical rear leg room figure of 650mm makes the SQ2 less spacious for back-seat passengers than a Cupra Ateca (670mm). Passengers with longer legs will find themselves having to spread their knees around the front seatback a bit, but not problematically so for shorter hops. Head room, meanwhile, is pretty average; we measured it at 930mm. That lags behind the Cupra (1040mm) and also a VW Golf R (950mm).

There is a good-sized boot, though – one that offers 355 litres of storage capacity with the rear seats in place. The load-bay floor is usefully flat, but a subwoofer housed beneath the floor does mean you can’t use the lower adjustable floor setting.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Audi SQ2 2019 road test review - engine

Weight is on the SQ2’s side here – at least, when compared with the only other performance crossover rival against which we can measure its pace. The more compact Audi was 85kg lighter than the related Cupra Ateca on the scales, and showed as much by outstripping its Spanish in-house rival against the clock.

Launching through typically efficient electronic driveline governance and two generously rubbered axles, the SQ2 needed just 4.5sec to hit 60mph from rest. It was three-tenths of a second quicker than the Cupra from 30-70mph – not least because of the traction it has and the slickness of its twin-clutch gearbox in flat-chat operation. It also beat the current Honda Civic Type R, tested in slightly damp conditions back in 2017, by the same margin.

The Volkswagen Group’s EA888 engine remains capable of delivering fiery performance even after all these years. A 0-60mph time of 4.5sec certainly isn’t to be sniffed at

At that speed, few ought to be disappointed by the outright pace of this hot Audi… and yet. The knockout clout of Audi Sport’s five-cylinder compact RS models was never likely to be forthcoming from this lower-rung S model; but, of a modern fast Audi, somehow you can’t banish the thought of it from your impressions of the SQ2 – nor help being left just a little bit cold by the performance of a powertrain that nonetheless makes all the right noises, and hits as hard as can reasonably be expected.

Slightly clumsy relative spacing of intermediate ratios would be the only serious criticism we’d make of the car’s twin-clutch transmission. As the car picks up speed in manual mode, the gap between third and fourth gear seems a particularly wide one. You can therefore be made to regret an early upshift when you want every last morsel of acceleration you can get from this car. The SQ2 certainly encourages you to drive it quickly often enough that you might notice the quirk, too. It sounds less contrived than the Cupra Ateca did in its sportier driving modes, and feels a bit more energetic on the road.

This being an Audi S, it would be wrong not to describe the suitability of SQ2’s powertrain to everyday, any-weather use – particularly because it would be very suited to it indeed. Even on a wringing wet surface, the car’s quattro drivetrain doesn’t struggle for traction for an instant. Both engine and gearbox are unfailingly responsive, obedient and well-rounded; outright braking power is reassuringly strong; and the brakes are also instinctively managed and modulated through its pedal.

RIDE & HANDLING

Audi SQ2 2019 road test review - cornering front

That distinct sense of imperturbable nonchalance that fast Audis tend to exude while covering ground quickly, regardless of the conditions under wheel, is very much manifested in the SQ2. While not exactly a car that rejoices at the prospect of being driven absolutely on the limit, the manner in which its chassis, steering, suspension and four-wheel-drive system work together to keep the Audi steadfast and stable, and to allow you to carry as little or as much speed as you care to, is impressive to witness.

The car’s taller stature doesn’t lead to any compromise on lateral body control that you’re likely to notice on the road, with roll being checked in a direct, assured and progressive fashion. Pitch hasn’t completely been erased, mind, particularly under braking – but, again, the passively damped sports suspension helps ensure the SQ2 doesn’t end up suffering a shortage of grip even when squatting or diving a little.

You might imagine a performance crossover would absolutely depend on well-tuned adaptive suspension – but I reckon the SQ2 is all the better because it doesn’t

The confidence inspired by the SQ2’s resolute sure-footedness is further backed up by its steering. At 2.1 turns lock to lock, it’s swiftly geared, enabling the Audi to alter its course with reassuring, rather than intimidating, immediacy. Select Sport mode and the steering weight will increase to a purposeful level that stops narrowly short of feeling artificial; but, even thus configured, it remains a muted, tight-lipped rack that much prefers filtering out the influences of drive and bump on the steered axle to communicating them.

Still, a dynamic comfort zone that’s impressively broad makes the SQ2 an easy vehicle – if not a hugely engaging one – to drive quickly on technical stretches of country B-road. Front-end grip is generally in plentiful supply, but that’s not to say the limits of the 235/40 section tyres can’t be exceeded if you’re boorish. The SQ2 will wash into understeer if provoked, but the ability of the hydraulically actuated multi-plate clutch to direct 100% of the motor’s torque rearwards does mean you have to work quite hard before it’ll really plough on. Overall, then, handling precision is very creditable at road speeds.

MIRA’s Dunlop handling circuit isn’t the ideal home for any four-wheel-drive crossover hatchback, but a performance-branded one ought to be able to hold its own here: and the SQ2 did indeed offer credible performance and handling poise.

Body movements are a bit more pronounced than would be expected of a comparable hot hatchback, as you’d imagine of a car with a higher centre of gravity. The SQ2’s steering, meanwhile, is less communicative even when experiencing high cornering loads than you might wish for. But, while the car’s natural bias is towards stability and gentle power-on understeer, the handling is usefully sensitive, and a bit adjustable, to a lifted throttle.

The SQ2 shone brighter on the low-friction surface of our wet-handling circuit, where it set a lap time beyond the reach of cars with twice its power. Because lateral load is lower, body movements are better contained, with the mid-way ESP setting permitting a useful amount of slip at the rear axle.

Comfort and isolation

Audi doesn’t offer adaptive dampers on the SQ2, so the underlying firmness of its sports suspension is just as present in Comfort mode as it is in Dynamic. Given the Cupra Ateca and VW Golf R – with which the Audi shares practically everything – both offer some form of adaptive damping as an extra, you might consider its omission from the Audi’s options list to be a bit of an oversight.

In fact, the SQ2 doesn’t suffer too much from it. Being a performance model, a certain degree of ride animation in the car is par for the course – particularly at town speeds – but it never becomes bothersome. Urban intrusions do have a tendency to feel sharp-edged, and it’s difficult to shake the suspicion that a really well-sorted hot hatchback would offer marginally greater damping sophistication in such environments.

Of much greater concern than ride refinement, though, are the SQ2’s under-bolstered sports seats. These offer little in the way of lateral support, which compromises their suitability for a car capable of developing as much grip as the Audi does. One tester remarked that the need to set yourself in the SQ2’s seat before entering a corner wasn’t dissimilar to the technique a motorcyclist would use when navigating a succession of fast bends.

On the move, the SQ2 does generate a fair amount of wind and road noise. At a 70mph cruise, our sound gear recorded 68dB, which suggests the cabin isn’t as isolated as that of the Golf R or a Cupra Ateca. At the same speed, our microphone returned readings of 67dB in both.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Audi SQ2 2019 road test review - hero front

You might need to hold a special affection for the Audi brand in order to commit to an SQ2. An asking price of £36,800 is steep compared with that of a Cupra Ateca or VW Golf R Estate, both of which use doppelgänger powertrains to the one in the Audi but have greater practicality and, in the Golf’s case, greater handling polish too.

Though the car comes well equipped, consider also the additional options that may be required to create the SQ2 in your mind’s eye. You’ll pay £1500 for the 19in wheels and gloss-black exterior trim, £375 for privacy glass, £1395 for Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrument binnacle and £700 for a premium sound system. But if, beyond £40,000, the SQ2 becomes very questionable value for money at list price, it is more impressive than rivals in its ability to hold its value.

Audi SQ2 performs incredibly well for retained value against Cupra Ateca and BMW X2 M35i

Our forecasts suggest that after three years and 36,000 miles, the Audi will retain more than 60% of its purchase price, which shades the Cupra (59%) and comprehensively betters BMW’s X2 M35i (48%). This should also make for favourable PCP finance deals.

At the time of writing, Audi Financial Services will get you behind the wheel of an SQ2 for £441.30 per month, following an initial deposit of £5850. Final balloon payment amounts to £19,688.75. Representative APR stands at 5.9%.

Day to day, the SQ2 should prove no more expensive to run than could be expected of an SUV-shaped car with almost 300bhp. Our recorded touring economy of 34.5mpg might have been a little higher but, with a 55-litre fuel tank, it is at least enough for 325 miles between fill-ups.

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VERDICT

Audi SQ2 2019 road test review - static

The Audi SQ2 Quattro has proved itself a credible, fairly rounded performance car during our test processes, delivering a healthy quantity of driver appeal: more of that last factor, certainly, than you might have expected to get if you’d written this off as just another opportunistic, marketing department-driven Audi S-car.

By landing four stars, it beats by half-a-star what the Cupra Ateca managed a couple of months ago. The Audi handles better than its Spanish rival, with more balance and even a bit of involvement when you go looking for it. It works better on the road, too, and has a simpler, more energetic character than the Ateca with which it’s easier to engage.

More fun than you might expect – from a crossover or an Audi S

What the car gains by being smaller and lighter than the crossover norm, mind you, must be set against what it loses on practicality. This certainly isn’t a particularly comfortable four-seater for full-sized adult occupants – and that fact only brings its value proposition further into question as a near-£40,000 car with the de rigueur options.

Still, if the job of a performance car is to be fast, composed and fun to drive first and foremost, the Audi SQ2 makes a better one than any crossover hatchback has so far.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Audi SQ2 First drives