Though it's not cheap to buy, the Audi SQ5 has few rivals. The mighty twin-turbocharged diesel engine is at the centre of its appeal, but it also turns out to be an incredibly capable cross-country machine, regardless of the conditions. The first diesel S-car has arrived, with a bang.
In the Metal:
It's possible to specify an Audi SQ5 that looks less sporting than a 2.0 TDI Q5 in S line specification. Stay away from the two new colours (Estoril Blue - pictured - and Panther Black) and stick with the standard 20-inch alloys (as opposed to the optional 21-inch alternatives) and few will notice that you're driving, not only the first diesel S model from Audi, but also the first of the 'Q' cars to bear an S badge. Badging, a subtle roof spoiler and a 30mm lower ride height don't stick out too prominently, though there's no hiding from the suitably sporting quad-pipe exhaust system.
Inside, the updated Q5's cabin is of very high quality. It's added to by electrically adjusted front seats trimmed in a mix of leather and Alcantara. As standard the palette is made up of blacks and greys, though there are plenty of options to customise it to your liking. We particularly liked the unusual aluminium/Beaufort trim panels that mix wood and aluminium in a complex production process. The grey instruments with white needles are new as well and of course there are S badges everywhere - including on the more sculpted steering wheel.
Let's get the negative out of the way from the off: the SQ5 is not a sharp driving tool that engages its owner. Once you accept that there's a lot of enjoyment to be had. As expected the engine plays a lead role. As already featured in the Audi A6, it's a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel unit with twin sequential turbochargers. Maximum power is impressive enough, at 313hp, but it's the seemingly unending wall of torque that makes the biggest impression. The headline 650Nm may 'only' be available from 1,450- to 2,800rpm, but there's plenty on tap outside that band too.
To set the SQ5 apart from the already quite impressive 3.0 TDI model Audi fits a 'sound actuator' in the exhaust that effectively amplifies the sound. It's more pronounced in the A6, but here it gives the SQ5 a character all its own - and we don't care if it's a little fake.
There's nothing gimmicky about how the SQ5 drives. While not being especially engaging, it is astoundingly capable. The 0-100km/h time indicates that this is a quick car, but the stopwatch doesn't show how fast it is cross-country. In heavy rain we traversed deserted German countryside at what could be considered indecent pace, yet the wide tyres barely relinquished their grip once, body control was sublime and the brakes shrugged off high-speed stops in the conditions without so much as a shimmy through the steering wheel. You do get the sense that the car is doing it all for you, but it's mightily impressive all the same. Saying that, it's best in such conditions to take over control for the eight-speed automatic gearbox, as it's too keen to change down when all you want to do is surf the wave of torque.
The drive select system is standard, altering a whole host of things such as the transmission and throttle calibrations, power steering assistance and damping. However, even in Comfort mode the car felt distinctly firm on the road. It'll be interesting to see how it handles our less maintained surfaces.
What you get for your Money:
No doubt the SQ5 will be bought by people that want the best and sportiest Audi Q5 they can get and in that sense it's not bad value at €72,550. That's more than the similarly powerful BMW X3 xDrive35d (which is also more efficient), and about €10,000 little more than the costliest 3.0 TDI Q5. Standard equipment will be generous though.
Audi unveiled the SQ5 the night before the 2012 Le Mans 24 Hours race started, a perfect showcase for the company's high-performance diesel technology. It went on to win the race in its latest iteration, the R18 e-tron quattro, itself a diesel-electric hybrid.
It's highly unlikely that an RS version of the Q5 will surface, developed by quattro GmbH. Instead, pay close attention to the Q3 line-up...
Let's be clear: Audi S models have always been effortlessly quick, well-equipped, sporty looking and beautifully put together. The new SQ5 fits that mould to the letter so it's irrelevant that it happens to be the first SUV and diesel to wear Audi's S badge. Fancy the most impressive version of the new Q5 SUV? This is it.