Audi switches to petrol power for the second iteration of the SQ5, a very popular premium-compact SUV in its original guise. We never got the petrol SQ5 first time around, all versions of this hot Audi 4x4 instead coming with a 3.0-litre diesel in our market, but Ingolstadt clearly feels there are more threats to the car from rival manufacturers, so this time the 3.0-litre TFSI turbo motor is being expanded to new territories. That makes this latest SQ5 slower and thirstier than the old diesel model - so has Audi dropped the ball here, or instead pulled off a masterstroke?
In the metal
It's an upmarket Audi - that means crisp, if somewhat unadventurous exterior styling and a cabin unequalled by anything else in the class. The SQ5 has all the sporty aesthetic cues you'd expect of an S-model from Ingolstadt, so look for a big Singleframe grille in a matte grey finish, revised bumpers and side skirts, a rear roof spoiler, attractive 20-inch wheels, aluminium-effect finish for the door mirrors, roof rails and window surrounds, and discreet 'SQ5' badging.
There's certainly no problem with the execution of the S addenda for the SUV, so you'll only dislike the SQ5 if you're not a fan of the regular car's 'shrunken Q7' appearance in the first place. Perhaps the biggest design clunker on the SQ5 are those quad exhausts; look more carefully, and you'll see - alarmingly - that all of the 'exits' are in fact blanked-off fakes. The real exhausts are downturned, like an old turbodiesel's, behind the bumper. Very odd.
Nothing odd about the cabin though, which is another Audi peach. Beautifully wrought, classy to look at and with switchgear that all feels solid and precise, this is another cockpit right out of the top drawer. There's plenty of room for four tall adults to get comfy in the passenger compartment, while the luggage area out the back has increased in size from the old SQ5, the new version now boasting 610 litres with all seats in position. Lovely digital touches like the 8.3-inch MMI Navigation Plus screen and the (optional) 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit only heighten the ambience, while the driving position is a great compromise between the lofty perch of a 'proper' SUV and the low-down feel of a sports car.
All in all, the SQ5 is about as likely to put punters off in the showroom as Donald Trump is of getting through a day without doing at least four extremely embarrassing things. Covfefe, isn't it?
This is a tremendously smooth, highly accomplished performance SUV, although at no point will it ever get any of your senses fizzing. Take, for instance, the 3.0-litre V6 petrol. Now, we know Audi can do phenomenal soundtracks - the five-pots of some of the RS models, the V10 in the R8, even the V8 TDI in the larger SQ7 - and surely, if the company has decided a petrol is needed to up the excitement levels, then the lovely V6 in the SQ5 should be allowed to sing its mellifluous tune? Well... apparently not. Don't get us wrong, the engine emits an appealing, muffled growl all throughout the rev range and there are a few pops, bangs and rumbles from the exhausts too, but in terms of volume it never gets beyond about seven on the dial.
This lack of noise is only a pity because the drivetrain and chassis of the SQ5 are uniformly excellent. In terms of the daily driving duties, the refinement levels are off the charts - use light throttle applications only and you won't hear anything of the engine's exertions, the tyres' path along the road surface nor the bodywork cutting through the air. Both the engine and the eight-speed Tiptronic auto are velvet smooth in operation, no matter what you're asking them to do. Even at higher speeds, everything stays remarkably hushed on board and, with our German test cars being fitted with the optional air suspension, the ride is so exceptional at all times that you might be tempted to think the SQ5 is fitted with 16-inch wheels, never mind 20s.
And yet, when you press on, the SQ5's case doesn't fall apart. Body control is excellent, even if some lean in the faster corners is noticeable, while the grip levels are monumentally high (in the dry) and traction instantaneous, courtesy of the quattro underpinnings. Fling the Audi into a tighter bend and scruffy understeer is kept at bay, while if you really bung the front in and then give a lift of the throttle, you can even find yourself winding steering lock off - we're not talking tyre-smoking, lurid oversteer, naturally, but there's a healthy degree of neutrality to the way the SQ5 corners.
It would therefore be deserving of a higher overall mark, if it were not for two things. The first item to address is the braking. The stoppers fitted are good enough for the job but pedal feel is strangely mushy at times, requiring a slightly panicky extra-hard press of the right leg to stop the SQ5 as quickly as desired.
This is more of a minor foible and one which can be worked around, but what's not forgivable is the overly light steering. Long gone are the days where every fast Audi review read 'loads of understeer, rigid ride, numb steering' and the company has clearly shown it can master all three in the right circumstances, but quite what they've done to the poor old SQ5's set-up, we're not sure. A qualifier here is that the test cars were fitted with the (again) optional Dynamic Steering, which is supposed to weight up and slacken off according to the pace the vehicle is travelling at, yet the SQ5's steering never felt anything but infuriatingly wishy-washy, no matter which Drive Select mode we put the SUV into.
This is a real shame, because all the signs are there that the SQ5 has rather an excellent chassis. So it's highly annoying that the main interface for feedback on what it's doing at any given point is so clearly the Audi's major weakness.
What you get for your money
Tricky one as the petrol SQ5 has not been confirmed for sale in Ireland. If it did come here, reckon on it being in the same price ballpark as the competitors we list below, so €100,000 and more. A lot of cash, granted, but then the SQ5 is a high-spec model so the equipment list is pretty generous. Reckon on 20-inch alloys, full LED lights all round with High Beam Assist, five-mode Audi Drive Select, electronically controlled dampers, cruise control, a ten-speaker sound system, leather upholstery with Sport seats in the front, three-zone climate, Keyless Go and much more. Audi's Virtual Cockpit, though, is likely to remain an optional extra.
But while we may or may not get the petrol SQ5 here - it would be sad if we don't - the diesel variant hasn't actually been killed off. It's due in next year, so perhaps it might be worth waiting for that SQ5 instead; especially as our road tax laws aren't particularly kind to the TFSI model.
Many of these mid-sized fast SUVs are extremely quick and capable, without being hugely exciting to drive, and the Audi SQ5 falls into that category. What's irking us, though, is that - with just a bit more steering weight and some feel through the wheel's rim - we might have been pleasantly surprised at the fact Ingolstadt had emerged as the most obvious dynamic rival to the Porsche Macan. There's evidently a superb chassis on the SQ5, that is sadly rendered inaccessible by the featherweight steering. So, with that in mind, and the petrol's hefty tax bills too, while we like the new TFSI version we reckon the forthcoming diesel SQ5 will be a better bet for the sort of people who simply want a crushingly fast SUV, and to damnation with the driver involvement.