The Audi SQ5 combines utility, luxury and excitement more deftly than others, and although its price is high in the Q5 lineup, it’s more affordable than its luxury performance SUV rivals.
The SQ5 is the performance-oriented version of Audi’s Q5 SUV. Both models were redesigned for 2018 with additional room and updated powertrains. The Q5 competes against the likes of the BMW X3, Porsche Macan and Mercedes-Benz GLC. The SQ5’s main competitors are the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 and Porsche Macan GTS.
The SQ5’s curves and stately face are polished but hardly exciting. The thrill comes from under the hood.
The car vaults off the line and stays strong after just a trace of turbo lag. The turbocharged 3-liter V-6 is good for 354 horsepower — with a bit more torque than the previous SQ5’s supercharged V-6. It has an eight-speed automatic transmission. Regular Q5 models have a 2-liter, four-cylinder powerplant that’s good for 252 horsepower and a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The SQ5 powertrain’s thrust is lively, but its sound is exhilarating. It thunders to life like the opening bars of the Imperial March — both ominous and thrilling — and Dynamic mode adds even more snarky, burly bark. Four driver-selectable modes alter the SUV’s driving characteristics: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual.
Overall, ride quality is firm but not punishing. The optional air suspension adjusts vehicle height as well as the firmness of the shock absorbers. The SQ5 comes alive in Dynamic mode with firm, connected steering and athletic handling. The accelerator’s hair trigger delivered more responsiveness for quicker pep off the line, and the ride felt much firmer — even choppy at times.
Trying to make sense of the Audi’s multimedia system is more painful than high school calculus. The SQ5 uses the most recent version of the system and, though it’s more straightforward than previous generations, it’s still a long way from simple. Its learning curve is steep, and for me, it required studying the owner’s manual and watching a YouTube tutorial to figure out.
In the plus column, the tablet-like screen sits high on the dash for good visibility and has crisp, modern graphics — I especially appreciated the navigation’s realistic Google Earth satellite view.
A couple of things stood out about our SQ5’s cabin — for better and for worse. First, we must address the lipstick-bedecked elephant in the room: the Magma Red interior. The lavish, quilted-leather seats and tasteful Carbon Atlas inlays convey elegance, but it’s smothered by a big bucket of bright Magma Red. Like a well-placed lipstick, that kind of red should be a tasteful pop that adds some jazz to an otherwise ho-hum look. In the SQ5, it’s everywhere, taking the cabin’s finishes from understated to garish. Thankfully, other color palettes are available — like black.
In other ways, the SQ5’s interior is the picture of luxury. Cabin craftsmanship and materials quality are top-notch, like the plush padding and detailed stitching on the doors and console.
All this plushness and technology has a serious price: $55,275 including destination, about $1,000 more than the 2017 version and $12,800 more than the regular Q5. The version I tested clocked in at $68,750 after extras like those quilted Nappa leather seats, an adaptive suspension, 21-inch wheels, navigation and a premium sound system, among other features. .
The SQ5 appeals in its balance of a classy, elegant vehicle with a fun factor in a way that few in the class manage as astutely. Its engaging road manners add an air of excitement to the everyday personality of the Q5, but Audi is overreaching with the SQ5’s designer-label price premium.