What are you driving?
I'm driving what feels surprisingly like a muscle-car, but with bar-stool seating. I'm also driving a car that I feel I really shouldn't like, but which I actually rather do...
You see, I'm generally a bit down on the Audi Q5 SUV in its standard form. Don't get me wrong - it's a fine car, handsome, and surprisingly good to drive, but I've always felt that (a) it's a little lacking in character, and (b) I'd rather put my money into an A6 Avant estate for the same cash.
This SQ5, though? Well this is a little different. For a kick-off, it's found some character, rather a lot in fact, thanks to its engine. You see, the 3.0-litre TDI diesel has twin turbos, but one of those is an electrically driven compressor. This is designed for maximum responsiveness at low rpm, and can spin up from asleep and dormant, to its 50,000rpm operating speed, in less than one second. That, combined with a conventional exhaust-driven turbo for higher-end power, results in some deeply impressive figures. Figures such as 347hp, and a whopping 700Nm of torque (as much as a Mercedes-AMG C 63's mighty 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 petrol engine can manage). For a combo of technology and oomph, that's a pretty impressive result.
In styling terms, it gets a honeycomb grille up front, a subtly menacing body kit all-over and LED headlights (which can be optionally upgraded to the ultra-clever Matrix LED units). A really nice, and again subtle, touch is that the door mirrors get an matte-aluminium finish. It's the kind of touch that tells the true petrolhead what they're looking at, but which most passers-by would not even notice.
In the cabin, it's all more or less as per the standard Q5, which is good (hugely impressive quality, plenty of space) and bad (a touch bland in its cabin layout and styling). You do get rather lovely high-back bucket seats, though, which are wonderfully supportive and comfortable.
Name its best bits
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the star here is the engine. The SQ5 is actually a mild hybrid. The 48-volt electrical system is not only there to power and control that extra turbo, it also helps to quell fuel consumption a little. This is does by activating the engine stop-start function earlier, and keeping it on longer, when you're in traffic, and by allowing the SQ5 to coast under light throttle loads when cruising on the main road. Performance? It's brisk - 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds for example.
If anything it feels faster. For all its technical advancement in terms of that electric turbo and the 48-volt mild hybrid system, it really does feel like an old-school muscle car. That diesel engine makes some deeply appealing noises (assisted by some artificial enhancement via the stereo speakers in Dynamic mode) and while there is a faint touch of turbo lag, the way this big, heavy car picks up and goes is massively impressive. Acceleration, of the kicked-backwards-down-a-lift-shaft variety, is never more than the merest flex of a right foot away. It's really quite an addictive feeling when the SQ5 picks up and lets fly.
In handling terms, it's very much like the standard Q5 - exceptionally competent and sure-footed, but perhaps lacking a little in the thrill department. You'll never find a road that the SQ5 can't deal with, indeed totally dominate. It's also an exceptionally comfortable cruiser, and manages to eke out reasonable fuel economy while doing so (we hovered around the 8.0 litres per 100km mark in our time with the car, which is pretty much the official figure). That's the magic of high-performance diesels.
Anything that bugs you?
That diesel-y nature makes the SQ5 perhaps a little unfashionable, plus there's a sense that the handling and steering are still just a touch too remote for true driver enjoyment. Honestly, though, those are the only criticisms we have.
And why have you given it this rating?
A big, expensive, high-performance SUV with a diesel engine to boot is hardly at the epicentre of the current zeitgeist, but the SQ5 has an immensely charming nature that gets straight down to performance brass-tacks. Fast, agile, comfy and handsome - what more do you really want?
What do the rest of the team think?
My first drive in the SQ5 was across the mountains in streaming rain with LOTS of standing water and the car coped brilliantly. It's not the last word in finesse or feedback, but it's competent and fun, nonetheless. The damping isn't perfect though and even in Comfort mode the ride doesn't ever really settle down - lighter wheels would no doubt help. Not uncomfortable as such, but a little more fidgety than it should be. Good refinement in terms of wind and engine noise though, and the rest of the package is top-rate, even if the augmented engine sound in Dynamic mode is plain strange (yet fun...).
Shane O'Donoghue - Editor
The most appealing feature of the SQ5 is its diesel engine and, when switched into its sportier driving mode, the Audi comes to life - though it's a bit contrived. But that’s the thing; without switching modes, the SQ5 isn’t all that different in everyday use to a 2.0 TDI model, aside from the vast amount of torque on tap. Performance aside, the SQ5 (and the regular Q5 for that matter) is one of the best SUVs in the segment, with appealing looks and a great interior.
Dave Humphreys - Road Test Editor