Audi SQ5 TFSI review: petrol 345bhp quattro crossover tested Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Wednesday 4th October
First Drive

Audi SQ5 TFSI review: petrol 345bhp quattro crossover tested

£51,070 when new
Published: 31 May 2017


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Before we play Fast Audi Bingo, am I right in thinking the old SQ5 was quite a handy bit of kit?

You are. Audi's first fast crossover could cover ground like a sorted hot hatch, and in its later SQ5 Plus form, would cause a Porsche Macan a major headache. It rode well, it brought its rear axle out to play in corners, and for a diesel, it was entertainingly quick and even sounded decent. Really good, underrated car, that.

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Not a great time to launch a new fast diesel though, is it?

Probably not, so for now the second Audi SQ5 only exists as a petrol. Predictably, it's the engine and gearbox from the S4 and S5. Namely, a 3.0-litre, single turbo V6 connected to a slightly rear-biased four-wheel drive, controlled by an eight-speed, automatic gearbox. It develops 345bhp and 369lb ft, compared to 335bhp and 516lb ft in the old SQ5 Plus TDI. Ouch. Sure, that was the uprated model, but normally, replacements better the stats of previous special editions. This new SQ5 is 0.3sec slower to 62mph…

Only a petrol ‘for now’, you say?

This is only temporary. If you'd prefer your SQ5 with diesel torque and range, there's a 3.0 TDI version coming next year, with about 450lb ft to shift its 1870-ish kilos.

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Plenty of folks do like that recipe. Audi shifted 62,000 mk1 SQ5s between 2010 and 2017, and the diesel was a smash hit. It swallowed 15 per cent of British Q5 sales, above the usual 1 in 10 average for an Audi S car.

So, what will said folks make of this new petrol one?

That'll depend on why they bought the old SQ5. If it's effortless teleportation in an almost tediously peerless cabin they're after, step right up. The SQ5 breezes up to 62mph in 5.4 seconds, but its V6 never rasps with the urgency of a Merc-AMG GLC43's similarly powerful motor. Partly, the diluted soundtrack has to do with the gearing this engine's working with - so much longer than the Merc's, as we discovered in our S5 vs C43 twin-test

Second gear is good for well over 80mph, so the SQ5's power delivery isn't frankly that biting. Peer at the standard Virtual Cockpit and yep, the numbers are ratcheting up at a rapid rate, but it's a very deceptively quick car. Teleportation? Yes. Sense of occasion? No. For me, you'd want some of that for your £51,200. Especially as the old dark horse diesel SQ5 punched its torque out with proper gusto. And the Porsche Macan, Mercedes-AMG GLC43 and Alfa Stelvio all make a remarkably good fist of rationalising a tall, heavy body with engaging, in-your-face performance.

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What do I get for my money? Fifty grand buys a lot of quick crossover right about now.

There's adaptive suspension as standard, but if you want to jack the ride height for off-road jaunts (hah!) you'll need the optional sports air suspension we had on the test car. On German roads so glassy smooth they could be dug up and used as a snooker table, it rides pretty superbly, even on optional 21inch rims. You get 20s as standard and the SQ5 looks none the worse for them. Quad exhaust fetishists: beware the SQ5's criminally obvious fake tailpipes. The real (two) pipes live deep under the bumper.

Unsurprisingly, it's very cool inside. There's supple leather, tightly fitted aluminium, and the usual ornately knurled switchgear. Nav, Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise control and the full house of anti-collision tech is all thrown in. It's spacious, but the 30mm ride height drop means it's not actually that SUV-ish to whisk along in. Wouldn't you just have an S4 Avant, in that case?

Spec-wise, what do I want?

If you're really, really committed to unlocking hidden depths to the SQ5, the sport differential can be amusing. It takes provoking, but it will briefly give the car that satisfying rear-drive feeling on corner exit. If I'm honest, I feel silly even writing that. Peak irrelevance. But it is just about the only time the new SQ5 lets its sensible guard down. Again, in the old Plus, that XXL hot hatch sensation was closer to the surface.

Oh, and goes without saying by now surely, but the dynamic steering nonsense is unhelpful at best and disconcerting at worst. When the rest of the car is this aloof, there's no need to throw money and technology at its steering. Save it for the delectable Azores green paint: £645 well spent.

Right, fast Audi bingo time.

Likely to be mighty in a grimy winter? Immaculately built and finished? A bit insipid when you actually concentrate on driving it? Numb steering? Check checkity-check. Annoyingly it’s not a full house because the SQ5 rides so pliantly, doesn't understeer, and no matter how rapidly the scenery is whipping past the mirrors, never feels as quick as it is. 

Is this just a case of 'different' rather than 'better'?

Well there's plenty of areas the new SQ5 buries its predecessor. It rides with more sophistication and dexterity, albeit on the trick suspension in its own back yard. It's uncannily quiet inside, muffling tyre roar completely and shunning wind noise into three-figure speeds. The interior is two generations smarter. It's a broader GT car. Like all Audi S cars, when it doesn't shine on first impression, you've got to bear in mind it'd be spectacular to live with, but it'll take many wet, gruesomely wintry miles to get under your skin.

That's where I suspect the SQ5 shines. Not on an afternoon test drive in sun-soaked Germany, but over 20,000 miles of come-at-me-weather use in filthy weather. That said, a Mercedes-AMG GLC43 is a couple of grand cheaper and immediately more enthusiastic and satisfying. I still suspect the punchier, less fashionable TDI might be the sweeter spot on SQ5s. To be continued.

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