The Audi SQ5, the range-topping Q5, makes a fast and desirable family car, but can’t seduce and delight like a performance great

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The Audi SQ5, if we’re honest, wasn’t the obvious place to start one Audi S-brand performance revolution, let alone two.

Because, while it’s a classy, practical and desirable family 4x4, which has comfortably been dominating rivals such as the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 on both European and global sales, the Audi Q5 has also always been a slightly soulless car to drive. Competent, refined and secure, but just a bit dynamically ordinary.

The SQ5 is certainly fast, but it fails to excite

Nevertheless, the SQ5 was not only the firm’s first S-badged SUV, but also its first S-brand diesel, and its success bred the more hardcore RS Q3 and the brutally quick Audi SQ7

It is powered by the 335bhp, 516lb ft twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 diesel from the Audi A6 and A6 Allroad and that mighty multi-cylinder diesel certainly makes the Q5 quick. Audi’s claim is for 0-62mph in a smidge over five seconds, in a class where the fastest BMW X3 only just squeezes in under six seconds, and most other rivals struggle to beat seven. 

But in reality, the SQ5’s performance doesn’t feel quite that outstanding. This is a  brisk drive, but the car’s short-shifting, occasionally slipping eight-speed automatic gearbox and very linear power delivery do kill the performance drama a little.

Audi’s chassis modifications are just as important as the contents of the engine bay. And what’s notable in this department is that Quattro GmbH — Audi’s usual go-faster department — hasn’t been involved. Although with the emergence of the Audi Sport division, you can't help feeling this won't be the case when the second generation SQ5 rolls around.

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Audi AG’s own chassis development team has taken 30mm out of the regular Q5’s ride height, stiffened its springs and anti-roll bars and specified new, stiffer fixed-rate dampers. The kinematics of the suspension — camber, castor and toe angles, in other words — haven’t been altered.

Our test car, equipped with Audi’s optional variable-ratio Dynamic Steering system, had plenty of purpose and grip about it but lacked a little simple coherence and progressiveness in its handling responses, and both feedback and consistency from its controls. 

Although fast and stable, it was barely any more involving than its lesser range-mates on a really testing road. It bamboozled the driver, instead, in a never-ending search for the best Drive Select settings, and confused slightly with unpredictable steering weight and directness.

The SQ5’s ride, too, leaves a little to be desired. The car’s chassis isolates you from noise well enough and reins in roll quite well. The ride quickly becomes restless as the road’s surface begins to rise and fall, though, as those new dampers attempt — and often fail — to keep vertical body movements in check with any subtlety.

While a BMW X3 xDrive35d is a less mechanically refined machine than this, it’s also a much more compelling one through a fast bend. And a Range Rover Evoque SD4 may not be able to compete on sheer urge, but its blend of compliance, responsiveness and control is also much more impressive. While Alpina's Alpina XD3 has the oomph and driveability to make it a compelling option - albeit an exclusive and expensive one.

As for the interior, well its typical Audi - which means it is simple, ergonomical and stunningly well put together. As for the standard equipment, expect the SQ5 to be very well equipped as it is the range-topper and as the Q5 is nearing the end of its lifecycle, with the second generation SUV having already made its media appearance.

There are two trims to choose from - SQ5 Plus and SQ5 Plus Special Edition. The 'entry-level' as much as you can describe it that, comes with a wealth of equipment, with the outside being adorned with 21in alloy wheels, a sports-tuned suspension, active sounding twin exhaust, parking sensors and xenon headlights as standard. Inside there is tri-zone climate control, heated and electrically adjustable front seats, a Nappa leather upholstery and Audi's MMI infotainment system complete with a 7.0in display, DAB radio, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, sat nav and a 40GB hard drive.

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Upgrade to the SQ5 Plus Special Edition model and you'll find a Bang & Olufsen audio system, a reversing camera, keyless entry and go, and a panoramic sunroof included in the package.

So should you buy one? Well, it depends if you’re really looking for a driver’s car — because, according to Audi’s own figures, most Q5 owners aren’t.

Considered as a less specialised range-topping option for the Q5 range, the SQ5 makes a strong enough case for itself. It mixes class-leading costs of ownership with serious ground-covering performance, understated Germanic design appeal and a cabin that can be considered outstanding in its quality, richness and space. 

But those looking for a really great-handling SUV should probably either stick with plan A — buy a Range Rover Evoque or the Alpina XD3 — or gamble on plan B, which is to go for the less powerful and practical Audi’s RS Q3. Which, incidentally, was developed by Quattro GmbH (now known as Audi Sport). ‘Nuff said.

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 SQ5 2012-2017 First drives