Johannesburg - South Africans will remember the first SQ5 as Audi’s oddball “S” model, the first and only diesel-powered vehicle in our market to wear the sporting sub-brand’s signature silver mirrors. Despite drinking from the dark side of the pump, it was a true high-performance SUV we commended for its lag-free and luscious torque curve, sharp handling and rumbly exhaust note.

But, for the all-new version, Audi’s done a switcheroo on fuel type and given us a petrol-powered version with the same 260kW/500Nm 3-litre turbo V6 as the latest S5 coupe. It also gets the same eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox, quattro all-wheel drive system and basic chassis platform as its low-slung sibling, so for all intents and purposes the SQ5 is an all-wheel drive sports car on stilts.

Yeah right, you say. We’ve heard the same from Mercedes, Jaguar and Porsche with the GLC 43, F-Pace and Macan - all cars which closely rival this Audi. Can you really just stick a hot motor into an SUV body and call it sporty? The answer, as much as it would pain any lover of lowering springs to admit, is yes.

Obviously a higher centre of gravity will always mean more lean in corners when pushing on, but the wonders of modern suspension help the SQ5, and its sporty SUV competitors, handle with impressive athleticism when drive settings are set to their firmest. There’s some genuine flickability here, thanks in part to a revised quattro system, and if a twisty road presents itself this SUV is happy to play along.

Audi’s new quattro ultra system can send all power to either front or rear axles based on driver input together with what the computer deems necessary for given situations. Full on power slides aren’t really possible (without a seriously slippery surface), but it still completely dismisses that age old cliche that quattro Audis will understeer into a hedge at first sight of a bend.

All Q5 derivatives come with fancy five-link suspension setups at all four wheels, so it’s able to deflect nasty bumps and potholes with natural pliancy. But the SQ5’s standard-fit adjustable shocks offer a huge spread between pillowy soft and corner carving modes. Ride quality is probably the SQ5’s strongest highlight, and that says a lot considering our test car rode on regular steel springs. Air suspension is available for R13 500, but it’s so good in standard trim this option would need to be extra special to be worth the outlay.

This new turbo V6 impressed us with its creamy rev range and punchiness when we tested it in the S5, and for the most part it impresses here too. Turbolag is a non-issue, and it surges with a readiness comparable to the now extinct supercharged 3-litre that did duty in older Audi S cars.

Sadly the SQ5’s exhaust system mutes some of the sweet song we remember from the S5, and even if it amplifies electronically in Dynamic mode, it’s never quite vocal enough to tickle senses in the same way. Take note that those mock quad tailpipe tips are in no way connected to the single, downward facing exhaust outlet just inside the right rear wheel.

Audi quotes 0-100km/h in 5.4 seconds and we weren’t too far off with a best sprint of 5.69 at our test track. It’s certainly quick, but deceptively so. Some blame for this can go to the lack of noise, but the eight-speed gearbox is also partially responsible.

It’s an extremely smooth and responsive shifter in normal day-to-day driving situations, but because there are so many ratios and it’s tuned to operate in very narrow RPM bands, some sensation of in-gear whoosh is lost to frequent up-changes. That long, drawn out, steady build of power common to old-school transmissions with fewer gears just doesn’t happen.

This tiptronic is equipped with a launch control feature, but the torque converter gearbox doesn’t leave the line with the same explosiveness we’ve become used to with modern dual-clutch transmissions. That said, there’s plenty of vooma to compensate for the missing rev-dump shortly after take off. That shows in the numbers.

When the current A3 hatch was introduced in 2013 it brought with it new levels cabin quality, and the new Q5 takes them even further. There’s a clinical precision in the fitment of every trim piece, each seat stitch and all switchgear. Peer under the dash, or run your finger along the underside of a plastic panel where eyes and hands aren’t supposed to go, and it’s clear the interior was designed and built by a team of obsessive compulsives who colour-code their clothes drawers.

No new gadgets to report on here, but because navigation is standard in the SQ5, the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster is a relatively cheap, and must-have R7000 option. At R1 044 000 in base trim, I’m not sure why Audi doesn’t throw this signature feature into the deal.

VERDICT

Awesome ride and handling, exceptional build quality and plenty of guts to move it along in a hurry. We just wish it shared its exhaust note with the much shoutier S5.

Engine: 3-litre, V6 turbopetrol
Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual-clutch
Power: 260kW @ 5400-6400rpm
Torque: 500Nm @ 1370-4500rpm
0-100km/h (tested Gauteng):5.69 seconds
Top speed (claimed):250km/h
Price: R1 044 000
Warranty: 1-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km

Drive360