SUBTLE AND UNASSUMING, UNLESS YOU KNOW WHERE TO LOOK, THE 2016 AUDI SQ5 PLUS IS AN ABSOLUTE POWERHOUSE... BUT IN A PLAIN WRAPPER.
It first arrived as one of the first medium performance SUVs in the premium class - the SQ5 blended Audi’s traditional poise with really beefy turbo-diesel performance.
Now, despite its advancing age, Audi has given the SQ5 a rework for the SQ5 Plus. It pounds out a touch more power and plenty more torque from its 3.0 litre turbo diesel engine, and keeps the SQ5 at the head of the performance-SUV pack.
Vehicle Style: Medium Performance SUV
Price: $108,900 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 250kW/700Nm 3.0 litre twin turbo diesel V6 | 8spd auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.8 l/100km | tested: 8.9 l/100km
What do you get in a Plus that you don’t in a regular SQ5? Well, for one thing, there’s the engine with 10kW more power, and 50Nm more torque.
While the SQ5’s 0-100 km/h times aren’t altered by the extra urge, rolling response is, for even more urgent overtaking.
The QS5 Plus also gets treated to a coat of gloss black on the grille, window surrounds, door handle uppers, mirrors, and roof racks - adding a bit of stealth appeal - along with the new connected exhaust finishers.
So, still a monster of an engine, still a perfectly serviceable family SUV. The SQ5 Plus is one of Audi’s proud wolves in sheep’s clothing.
- Standard equipment: Leather seat trim, electrically adjustable driver’s and passenger seat, tri-zone climate control air conditioning, powered tailgate, automatic headlights and wipers, proximity key with push-button start auto-entry, multi-function trip computer,
- Infotainment: 7.0-innch colour touchscreen, SD card input, 20Gb music storage, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, satellite navigation, 10 speaker audio
- Options fitted: Technology Package with Audi connect, B&O audio upgrade w/14 speakers, digital radio, adaptive headlights and high beam assist $3100
- Cargo volume: 540 minimum, 1560 maximum
Audi simply doesn’t do bad interiors. Instead it pays careful attention to ergonomics and detailing to present accommodation that is both classy, comfortable and timeless. All that holds true for the SQ5 Plus.
Timeless it may be for style, bit it misses out on Audi’s newer interior design language, as seen in the A4 and Q7 ranges, leaving the Q5 feeling a little behind the times with its reliance on buttons and a ‘last generation’ layout.
No such problems when it comes to comfort though, with the SQ5 Plus offering a commanding driving position, comfortable seats, and premium-looking quilted leather trim.
Rear seat space is right on cue for containing a pair of growing teens or adults, with knee and legroom enough to sprawl out in comfort. Adding a third passenger to the middle position can feel tight though.
Designed to offer a racy look, the flat-bottomed steering wheel feels unnecessary in a car like this. Despite its performance leanings it still needs to be easy to drive in close confines, and on city streets the large flat bottom is out of place.
Audi’s easy-to-use MMI infotainment interface makes scrolling through navigation, music, phone and settings simple, but the 7.0 inch screen feels a little light-on compared to larger more modern systems.
The optional Bang & Olufsen audio system is a must-have for audiophiles, delivering incredible sound reproduction. Compared to the audio upgrade in some other Audi vehicles it’s a relative bargain at $1650 by itself or $3100 when added as part of Audi’s Technology Package.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 250kW/700Nm 3.0 litre twin-turbo diesel V6
- Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all wheel drive, active torque vectoring differential
- Brakes: Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes
- Steering: electromechanical speed-sensitive power steering
- Towing capacity: 2400kg braked, 750kg unbraked
It wasn’t all that long ago that 250kW from a petrol six-cylinder was considered decent, and unheard of for a production diesel.
In the SQ5 Plus though, there’s not only 250kW, but also 700Nm, or an extra 10kW and 50Nm compared to the standard SQ5, with peak torque online from as low as 1500rpm.
The best of both worlds then, with the power of a petrol six, but the torque and economy of a diesel? Pretty much.
Even the soundtrack is rewarding; deep, rich, and only ever diesel-like just off idle for a bare second. (It’s good enough that you might not even notice that it’s not in fact real, but rather synthesised.)
Handily, thanks to Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system, the SQ5 is able to immediately transfer that monstrous torque into forward momentum with minimal fuss. Simply squeeze the throttle and it grips and goes.
The sensation is somewhat different to what you might usually expect from a high performance engine - there’s no frenetic rush, just a lifting surge. From the seat of your pants the SQ5 Plus feels more relaxed than its official 5.1 second 0-100 km/h time.
And rolling acceleration - that ability to get out and around slow moving traffic, or to lift from a corner - is particularly impressive.
For all that performance ability, there’s no shortage of good old fashioned family practicality.
The ride is just a little firm, but still comfortable enough that even with a full load of passengers no-one will have a cross word to say about the way it deals with bumps.
The vehicle we tested was rolling on its standard 20-inch wheels, but 21-inchers are also available. While the bigger rims look fantastic, the standard wheels are probably the best comfort option.
It’s also a pretty heavy beast, and if you hustle through corners that weight can be felt. The handling, in fact, despite the unshakeable grip, perhaps isn’t as crisp as it should be, which means slow-in-fast-out is the best way to dispatch a winding road.
Even though we didn’t get near the laboratory-claimed 6.8 l/100km for the SQ5 Plus, after a week of hard driving, and making the most of the grunty diesel up front, an on-test figure of 8.9 l/100km still didn’t feel to bad.
All the while, passengers (and driver alike) enjoyed minimal road and wind noise, commanding views, and cross-country comfort. Not a bad combination at all.
ANCAP rating: 5/5 Stars - the Audi Q5 range scored 35.21 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2009.
Safety features: Eight airbags (driver and passenger, front and rear side airbags, and full length curtain airbags), electronic stability and traction control including roof rack detection, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce control and brake assist, tyre pressure monitoring, blind spot detection, distance-keeping cruise control, rear view camera.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Mercedes-Benz is yet to answer the performance SUV call in Australia, but the petrol powered AMG GLC 43 and GLC 63 won’t be too far off. BMW offers a less-potent X3 xDrive 30d, or the hatchback X4 xDrive 35d.
Even the Porsche Macan Diesel, despite being (somewhat) based off the Q5’s underpinnings, can’t match the monster-Audi’s power and torque outputs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Audi’s SQ5 is already something unique - it isn’t the only high performance SUV out there, but it is a member of a fairly exclusive club, particularly in the medium prestige SUV subgroup.
For discerning buyers, the SQ5 Plus turns up the heat. Its styling changes may only be for the entertainment of trainspotters, but the effortless, heavy-hitting performance cannot be ignored.
However, although as refined as you’ll find, it feels a little older than some of the other vehicles you might also be tempted to look at in your local Audi showroom. Perhaps the ageing "less suave" interior interface of the Q5 might not hit the spot the way an S4 Avant might.
But, if a wagon just won’t cut it, and an SUV is on your list, the SQ5 Plus remains a compelling proposition in the premium class. Few 'get up and go' the way this SUV can.