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Audi SQ5

Click to view picture gallery“For some cars their name and
  number are pretty much irrelevant;
  not much more than a non-emotive
  stock number. Not so Audi
s
  eminently driveable SQ5
the ‘S
  is significant because it tells you
  it
s deliciously powerful; the Q
  even more so as it gives a hint as
  to its well-cloaked abilities...


EXTERNALLY, THIS VERSATILE MID-SIZE SUV from Ingolstadt could be taken for exactly that a perfectly competent and stylish Sports Utility Vehicle. And you'd be right... and wrong. Right because it does exactly what its SUV DNA leads you to expect; wrong because this SUV is anything but a plain old SUV. It's a serious 'Q' car one that's hiding in plain sight.

Under its bonnet lurks a muscular 308bhp twin-turboed 3.0-litre V6 BiTDI diesel unit that generates what used to be called, for obvious reasons, 'stump-pulling' torque — 479lb ft. Let's cut to the chase: the SQ5 despatches the zero to 62mph sprint in a mere 5.1 seconds. That's impressive; doubly so when you remind yourself that this is not some streamlined sports coupe but a two tonne, four-wheel drive SUV. Top speed is limited to 155mph.

“Let’s cut to the chase:
the SQ5 despatches
the zero to 62mph sprint
in a mere 5.1 seconds.
That
s impressive;
doubly so when you consider that this
is not some
streamlined sports
coupe but a two tonne,
four-wheel drive SUV.
Top speed is limited
to 155mph.
..”
If you think that's amazing, consider this: it also manages around 40mpg and will take you off-road if that's where you want to go. Yes but, I hear you saying, it probably costs £70K. Actually, no. And not £60K either. Not even £50K — but just £43K. And yes, there are plenty left even though at this price you'd think that they'd all been snapped up.

The V6 engine (already serving flawlessly in the A6 and A7 line-up) is notable for its total lack of 'lag' thanks to running two sequential turbos instead of just one. Getting all that power down with über-smooth confidence is an eight-speed tiptronic auto 'box ably assisted by Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system.

Driving it is a real hoot: floor the accelerator and the SQ5 takes off like a jet fighter, trailing a delightful deep-throated roar. The V6 doesn't appear to know it's a diesel and so should, customarily, run out of puff as the revs carry on rising. But no-one's told the SQ5 that, so it just keeps on going, surging forward on the crest of a great wave of torque.

And the fun doesn't just come from the SQ5's smile-inducing get-up-and-go. No sir, it comes from the way this biggish SUV handles. Handling and SUV are terms rarely found sitting comfortably side-by-side. But they are in this potent Audi sports 'ute'.

Behind this apparent paradox is, firstly, the permanent all-wheel drive, and secondly, a menu of driver-selectable driving modes that offer an anytime-you-want-it choice between Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, Efficiency, and Individual. As the name implies, Individual lets you pre-set a personalised dynamic recipe from a mix-and-match menu of parameters for the engine/gearbox, suspension control, dynamic steering and even the sound from the quadruple exhaust tailpipes!

The eight-speed autobox also comes with a range of modes to cater for all your driving needs: Drive does it all for you (and very fluently too); Sport injects real verve into your journeys; and manual, in conjunction with the paddle-shifters on the steering wheel, gives you full control of all eight ratios.

Keen drivers will undoubtedly spend a lot of finger-time playing the scale of gears with the paddles and the tiptronic's Sport mode engaged. Operating thus, the SQ5 will beguile you with its aptitude to bite the performance bullet.

The acid test has to be fast, tortuous cross country roads. And here the SQ5 shines. Like all four-wheel driven cars, there's that initial hint of 'inertia' as you line up for the bend. Body roll is well contained but you're nevertheless aware — in an informative rather than a worrying way — of the mass transfer that in most SUV's signals 'back off'. But lifting off the SQ5's throttle at the eleventh hour doesn't invoke the usual penalties.

“Keen drivers will
undoubtedly spend a lot
of finger-time playing
the scale of gears with
the paddles and the
tiptronic’s Dynamic mode
engaged.
Operating thus, the
SQ5 will beguile you
with it
s aptitude
to bite the performance bullet.
..”
However, trust in Audi's engineering and keep the power coming and the SQ5 squats down on its lowered suspension and faithfully tracks round and through, confidently carrying your speed with you.

Usually this degree of dynamic polish comes at the cost of ride comfort but the SQ5 already has the answer in its technological arsenal: select Comfort from the ride dynamics package (simply press the button on the fascia) and despite the huge 21-inch metallic grey alloys and 255/40 Dunlop rubber, the SQ5 rides with surprising suppleness.

Drive it for a week, as we did, and you'll likely come to the same conclusion as us — that for the money (especially for the money) it's a top-two contender for our best drive of 2013 (and we've had some very persuasive new models so far).

Contributing to its ideal all-rounder tag is a bodyshell that guarantees versatility. Along with ample space for five grown-ups, the boot-cum-loadbay is easily accessible. And you need never dirty your hands opening the tailgate — blip the key-fob and the tailgate self-unlocks and rises under power to reveal a very large boot of 540 litres capacity. Unlike many that require a button pressing in the tailgate to close it again (the SQ5 has one of those too), another press on the key-fob will do that for you.

Converting to a full cargo-bay is the work of a moment; the rear seats fold down easily to form a level load floor capable of swallowing 1,560 litres of luggage or cargo. The extraordinarily useful sliding rail luggage system is also easily removed whenever you need maximum lugging space. And no messy puncture repair aerosol for the SQ5 — it gets a proper space-saver spare that comes collapsed and which is inflated by an on-board compressor when needed.

The SQ5 is packed with plenty of helpful user-friendly features; for instance, when you're running low on fuel the screen not only flashes up a warning but also offers to find you the nearest petrol station and guide you there. Brilliant if you find yourself driving in strange territory at night.

Every Audi comes with a class-leading cabin. But the range-topping SQ5's is about as good as it gets — high-quality Nappa leather sports seats, typical Audi flourishes throughout topped by carbon-fibre finishing and satin chrome filleting to the sporty four-spoke multifunction (audio, phone, nav, media) 'S' leather wheel, instruments, and switchgear.

Dials are distinctive white-on-grey and there's comprehensive driver information (including the excellent large digital speed readout — in fact I don't recall looking at the analogue speedo once) displayed between the main dials. Build quality is faultless, and the ambience blatantly classy.

“Dials are distinctive
white-on-grey and there
s
comprehensive driver
information (including
the excellent large digital
speed readout — I don’t
recall looking at the
analogue speedo once)
displayed between the
main dials.
Build quality is faultless,
and the ambience
blatantly classy.
..”
In addition, the driving position is superb. Enhanced by the great all-round visibility, slim front screen pillars and big windows make the SQ5 dead easy to place accurately on the road, whichever direction you're moving in.

Plus a two-setting driver seat memory ensures minimal disruption when sharing with another driver. If, that is, you want to give up the wheel — seriously not going to happen once you've tasted the SQ5 driving experience…

All the usual essentials are there including adaptive cruise control, power one-shot windows, 6xCD autostacker and music dock for your player, two SD card and a SIM card slot, front and rear parking sensors plus reversing camera, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, powerfold door mirrors, intuitive and crystal-clear SatNav with a large touchscreen (one of the best of its kind), a one-shot-op double glass panel sunroof (front opens; rear is fixed) with, yes, you guessed it, a powered sunblind (perfect on a summery day!), hill descent control, electric park brake, a first rate climate control system, Audi's dummkopf-proof MMI (infotainment interface), active lane assist guidance, speed warning, etc.

Physical comfort is guaranteed thanks to brilliant, nicely-bolstered seats, a height-adjustable and extending front centre armrest that's big enough for two to share, and plenty of room in every direction. The rear cabin is also generously spacious in all directions and man enough for two near-six-footers to lounge behind two more sitting up front; both 60:40-split rear seatbacks are tilt adjustable, and both rear seats slide individually forward and back.

A third rear passenger sitting in the middle slot will most definitely not feel like a 'piggy'. And all rear passengers benefit from their own AirCon so it's not just the driver who'll be getting pleasure from the SQ5.

The SQ5 drives superbly — it's quiet, refined and well mannered, but stamp your right foot and keep it down and it can be brutally hard-charging. All of which makes it a delightfully low-key giant-slayer and point-to-point express. Addictive in the best possible taste!
MotorBar

Audi SQ5 3.0 V6 BiTDI quattro | £44,055
Top speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.1 seconds | Average Test MPG: 38.9mpg
Power: 308bhp | Torque: 479lb ft | CO2 179g/km