Test Drive: 2018 Audi SQ5

This sporty SUV is premium and powerful, and ultimately practical

Vancouver Island, BC—situated in the Pacific Northwest—is a picturesque location to test drive German automaker Audi’s newest small, upscale SUV. The island is rich with history and culture, and its landscape is nothing short of breathtaking. We drove the 2018 SQ5 from Victoria to the scenic fishing village of Tofino, located at the northern tip of the peninsula and a popular tourist destination for outdoor adventurers. The course gave us an opportunity to wrangle through city traffic and to motor along a few hundred miles of snaking two lanes that provided the freedom to test the inner workings of the S model—the car that joins its 2018 Q5 stablemate with a demeanor that is premium and proper, but not stuffy.

That SQ5 elevates the power and performance for this second-generation model, and enhances the sport in its utility-vehicle package. And, while many revere Audi’s sedans, coupes and convertibles, the brand’s premium SUVs have been the significant drivers of their growth in the US. In fact, sales of the compact Q5, along with its siblings, the smaller Q3 and full-sized Q7 represented close to 50% of Audi vehicle sales in 2016. Designed to raise the bar in the luxury crossover segment, the Q5 and the high-spirited SQ5 present a fresh look to the distinctive Audi Q design language, imbuing it with more sleek, muscular and chiseled lines.

With a coupe-like roof; strong, wave-design shoulder lines; and pronounced wheel arches to emphasize its standard all-wheel drive mission, this car looks powerful yet sophisticated. Adding emphasis are sculpted three-dimensional headlights that flow into the distinctive single-form grille, clamshell hood, short front and rear overhangs, and standard aluminum roof rails. The SQ5 adds sports-minded cues to the outside with a platinum gray grille, unique front and rear bumpers, aluminum mirror caps, standard LED headlamps, a rear roof spoiler and double-dual exhaust tips.

Inside, there’s plenty to admire: the quality of materials and engineering is refined and functional. With more elbow and stowage room in the cockpit, outdoor-lovers will be enticed to take more passengers and gear along for an adventure and commuters will admire the compact package with more airiness. At 1.3 inches longer and nearly an inch wider than the previous generation model, the Q5 has grown—now there’s extra space for passengers in the rear seat and extra storage in the trunk.

The wing-design wraparound dashboard and asymmetrical center console are driver-centric and use smart technology like the Audi Virtual Cockpit, MMI touch and standard Audi smartphone interface. The Virtual Cockpit features a 12.3-inch display that enhances infotainment viewing and adds to the navigation experience with large Google Earth images on the color display. We especially enjoyed using the full-color head-up display and sampling the 19-speaker, 755-watt Bang & Olufsen audio system.

Other features include eight-way power front seats and four-way power lumbar adjustment for the driver—making driving this car super-comfortable—plus 12-way power front sport seats. There’s also a standard sunroof (which can be upgraded to panoramic) and ambient LED lighting or an ambient LED lighting plus package with up to 30 color settings.

As for driving the SQ5, snaking through the lush landscapes of Vancouver Island was a pleasure thanks to ample, low-end torque-on-tap (whether driving in automatic or using the paddles) and the responsive powerplant that allows drivers to make the choice between quiet, mannered driving or serious speed. The SQ5 gets a new turbo-charged V6 engine that makes it faster than the previous model and more sprightly than the Q5, and this is evident when behind the wheel. Imbued with performance-styling cues outside and within, it also boasts a performance-tuned suspension, and both models come with Audi’s new quattro all-wheel drive system that enhances traction and improves fuel economy.

This is the true differentiator between the Q5 and the SQ5 though: the S’s sizzle comes from a new power-plant that replaces the set-up in the previous version. A turbo-charged V6 gets 354 peak hp. (It’s the same number of horses as the supercharged V6 it replaces, but 31 pounds lighter.) New also is an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission. While top speed in the Q5 is 130 mph and 0-60 is achieved in 5.9 seconds, the S scoots to 60 in 5.1 seconds and has a top speed of 155 mph. Standard Audi drive select toggles between five different modes: comfort, auto, dynamic, individual and off-road. The S models equipped with the available sport adaptive air suspension also have lift/off-road and all-road mode.

Selecting “dynamic” mode and pushing the well-weighted pedal, we are rewarded with an instantaneous, seductive symphony of performance sounds when up-and-down-shifting. When cruising over slightly trickier roads, the 8.2 inches of ground clearance serves well for getting off-the-beaten track, when the crossover is height-adjusted in the Off-Road mode. Also, of note, the SQ5 can stop faster with brake rotors that are a half-inch larger that the Q5’s, and has six-piston calipers in front. And, while the standard steering ratio is the same as the Q5, the S comes with the option of dynamic steering with a variable-rate rack.

Available in three trims—Premium, Premium Plus or top-of-the-line Prestiges—the 2018 SQ5 boasts with stainless-steel doorsills with S badging, sport-front seats with available contrast diamond stitching, standard matte brushed aluminum or available carbon atlas inlays. With pricing starting at $54,300, the SQ5 is sporty and certainly boasts plenty of creature comforts, but it’s ultimately utilitarian.

Images courtesy of Audi