Audi SQ5 3.0 TDI
Johannesburg - Sporty SUVs are confusing. The logic of creating an off-road vehicle and then dropping its suspension and slapping on low-profile tyres – thus ensuring it can’t go off-road – is lost on me.
My view is that if you want a sports-car with SUV space, the way to go is a high-performance station wagon such as the Audi RS6 Avant or BMW M5 Touring. I don’t get why people prefer super-SUVs just because they can sit 5mm higher – but then I’m apparently not like most people as I’m also not interested in Master Chef or British football.
However, after driving the completely illogical Audi SQ5 and liking it despite my prejudices, I’m willing to concede that I could possibly also sit through an Arsenal vs Liverpool match, or watch someone prepare a scallop ravioli, without falling asleep. Possibly.
Because as arguably pointless as it is, there’s nothing about this high-performance Q5 that induces heavy eyelids.
Once you accept that its low-profile 20” tyres aren’t going anywhere near a sandpit, it’s actually quite a pleasant drive.
Much of the appeal comes from the lively three-litre twin-turbo diesel engine, which shoots generous outputs of 230kW and 650Nm to the wheels via quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed tiptronic ‘box.
This is the first time Audi’s high-performance S badge has found its way onto a turbodiesel vehicle, and it deserves to be there because the performance is suitably eager.
Throttle inputs are met by rushes of instant and lag-free acceleration, the kind that make you want to shout “hell yes” as you’re pressed firmly into the seat.
In our high-altitude performance test the SQ5 covered the 0-100 km/h dash in a spirited and hot hatch-like 5.8 seconds, while Audi claims that 5.1 seconds is attainable at sea level.
Top speed is a governed 250km/h, but more impressive is the SQ5’s very lively in-gear acceleration, the kind of overtaking power that swiftly slingshots you past long trucks. You can select Sport transmission mode which favours the lower gears to provide even more instant acceleration, and you can even play at being Lewis Hamilton by changing gears manually with steering paddles.
And it doesn’t sound half-bad for a diesel too, with an exhaust sound actuator delivering a rather sporty rumble.
All this impressive huff and puff is delivered without excessive raping of your fuel budget, and the diesel-powered test vehicle, while not getting anywhere near Audi’s laughably low 6.8 litres per 100km fuel-consumption claim, still sipped an economical 8.7 litres.
So everything’s hunky dory on the engine side, but how does she handle? Not too bad, I must concede.
Audi has dropped the SQ5’s ride height by 30mm and with its lower centre of gravity the test vehicle sliced through our twisty handling course in a relatively fleet-footed manner, without the drunken-hippo effect of some SUVs. The suspension’s tight enough to prevent excessive pitching and body roll, while at the same time delivering a fairly firm but not uncomfortable ride.
Overall the athletic visuals are subtle rather than flamboyant, which is as per the usual Audi recipe.
The low-profile tyres need to be kept away from potholes or dirt roads though – which (at the risk of sounding repetitive) defeats the very object of owning an SUV.
To display its status as the top-dog in the model range the SQ5 is tarted-up with sportier bumpers, S-badged black brake callipers on the front axle, and aluminium-look finishes for the single-frame grille and exterior mirrors, while a roof spoiler and four tailpipes provide a racier-looking rear view.
Inside, the sporting decor comprises dual-tone alcantara sports seats, aluminium-look pedals and shift paddles, and S-badges scattered about the place.
The steering’s also flattened on the bottom, a la racing-car style.
It’s all pleasingly weaved in with Audi’s typical high-class elegance, which is still very evident even though the nearly six-year-old Q5 is getting on a bit.
Audi’s midsized SUV has reasonably spacious passenger room along with a large 540 litre boot that’s expandable to 1560 litres and easily swallows toys such as mountain bikes.
Power-adjustable front seats, cruise control and satellite navigation are standard issue in the R794 500 vehicle, which is sold at a R114 500 premium over the single-turbo Audi three-litre Q5 TDI.
My left brain (the cold, logical part) still believes that sports SUVs make little sense. It’s like making Usain Bolt run in high heels.
However, the less rational (and apparently less critical) right side of my brain really enjoyed the SQ5 for its pace and space. Driving it was a guilty pleasure. - Star Motoring
Audi SQ5 3.0 TDI
Engine: Three-litre, V6 turbodiesel
Gearbox: Eight-speed Tiptronic
Power: 230kW @ 3900-4500rpm
Torque: 650Nm @ 1450-2800rpm
0-100km/h (measured): 5.8 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 250km/h
Fuel consumption (measured): 8/7 litres per 100km
Price: R795 500
Warranty: One-year/unlimited distance
Maintenance plan: Five-year/100 000km
BMW X3 xDrive 30d (190kW/560Nm) - R696 475
Porsche Macan S Diesel (180kW/580Nm) - R862 000
Follow Denis Droppa on Twitter.