What’s hot: Uber-class interior, blistering performance but diesel efficiency
What’s not: Doesn’t “whump!” on upshifts
X-Factor: An SUV? Hardly. A performance car first and last, with compact wagon versatility
Vehicle style: High performance premium SUV
Engine/trans: 230kW/650Nm 3.0 litre Biturbo diesel/8-speed tiptronic auto
Price: $89,400 (plus on road costs and charges)
Fuel consumption listed: 6.8 l/100km | tested: 10.4 l/100km
This is a car for the sheer joy of driving - Audi’s superb SQ5 TDI.
But, while Audi may claim it as the fastest diesel SUV on the planet (and its numbers are very impressive: 230kW, 650Nm, a sprint to 100km/h in 5.1 seconds), lots of cars are fast.
No, it’s the way the SQ5 3.0 litre TDI Biturbo drives that sets this compact four-door performance wagon apart: the way it harnesses power and gets it to the road, the glorious sound from the quad-pipe rear, the feel at the wheel and the exquisite interior - it’s all these things that define it.
To drive the SQ5, to dive through a sweeping mountain pass, to feel the visceral growling lunge of the biturbo underfoot, is to feel a liberation of the spirit.
This, Audi’s new wild-child, the SQ5 TDI, is really something special.
Special too is the price. At $89,400 it’s not ‘cheap’ - no Audi ever is - but for what is packaged into this car, and certainly in the context of its German competition, it’s very seductive premium performance buying.
It seduced us; we think that if you drive it, it will also seduce you.
Dang, here’s that word again - “exquisite” - the one so often used to describe an Audi interior. But in the sumptuously appointed SQ5 the interior is just that.
The electrically-adjustable sports seats are shaped for the sports/comfort compromise - scalloped, but not too deeply, and as comfortable as an easy chair.
The Nappa leather and Alcantara trim on our test car was beautifully finely-grained and soft to the touch. The stitching, flawless, front and back, is repeated in the leather touch-points on the doors and arm-rests.
And in our test car, the interior inlays around the centre console, dash and doors were of carbon fibre with finely-crafted polished metal edging.
Higher up, a three-element centre stack, also metal-edged and with piano-black highlighting, sits below the touchscreen MMI sat nav and reversing camera display.
The instruments, two clear dials sitting in a single binnacle, feature chronograph style raised metal lettering - like the mark of a master watchmaker.
It’s easy to get set at the wheel: the more upright dimensions of the SUV make access easy (helped by the deep opening of the sill-enclosing doors), and the reach and rake adjustable flat-bottomed wheel takes just seconds to get right.
There is a cohesion to the interior and exterior styling themes in the mirroring of the shapes and metal garnishes. Throughout, it creates a very classy impression.
Key standard features of the SQ5 TDI include - in addition to the reversing camera and MMI sat-nav (with seven-inch colour display) - auto air-con, CD/DVD player, Audi 180W amplifier with 10-speaker sound, 20 GB music storage, two SDHC memory card readers and voice control system, tyre-pressure monitor, electric front seats with memory function, xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights, and aural enhanced quad exhaust system.
Our test car was one of just 60 cars with a ‘Launch Edition’ package.
These, the first 60 to hit the Australian market, carry a $14,720 premium for 21-inch alloy wheels, dynamic steering, Bang & Olufsen audio, digital radio, adaptive headlights (with auto high-beam), heated seats front and rear, carbon inlay, luggage rail system and net, and alarm system.
And, of course, with a 5-Star European NCAP result, the SQ5 is fully featured for dynamic and passive safety features.
So it’s beautiful inside, comfortable, snug as a vault and with an uber-premium air of quality. It is, after all, perched atop the Q5 range.
But the drive is even better.
ON THE ROAD
But this, the first diesel-powered S model in the Audi model range, is all performance car. Two turbo chargers sit in series hanging off its 3.0 TDI Biturbo engine.
Pumping out 230kW in power is impressive enough from a 2967cc V6 diesel, but the thumping 650Nm of torque, available between 1450rpm and 2800rpm, is the stuff of legends.
Sitting on fat 21-inch alloys and a lowered S sport suspension, and all four wheels at work through Audi’s quattro AWD system (rear-biased naturally), the SQ5 will suck the doors off almost anything on a mountain road.
Fiercely quick away from the line, it can simply be fired out of a corner and overtaking is just a matter of ‘point and shoot’.
No DSG here; all that torque called for an inherently stronger conventional eight-speed tiptronic torque-converter auto. But the SQ5 will race through the gears when left to its devices, and will howl down on a trailing throttle into a corner.
Who needs DSG with an auto of this quality and ‘hooked-up’ feel? In dynamic mode, throttle response is electric, but whether in normal, sport or dynamic, the SQ5 strains at the leash.
Perhaps, at the SQ5’s price, only BMW’s exceptional M135i - at $72,400 (plus), and with 235Kw and 450Nm nestled under the bonnet - comes close to matching the SQ5 for European performance value, if not for its versatility, features and space.
But for all its performance credentials, the SQ5 is surprisingly compliant on road.
It’s firm, but there is an initial compliance that takes the edge off sharp bumps, before then firming rapidly and progressively.
This removes jiggle and harshness from the ride. And even on some more broken sections of the test route, this very very quick machine never once lost its on-road composure.
So, yes, it’s comfortable AND it’s fast. And thanks to a sound actuator built into the exhaust system, it goes about things with a most un-diesel-like deep guttural snarl. Light it up and you’ll feel an electric tingle dance through the nape of the neck.
It’s also abstemious. After a day of showing it the whip, we returned an average 10.4 l/100km. But for more normal driving (one presumes), Audi lists an average consumption of just 6.8 l/100km.
And that qualifies it for a reduced Luxury Car Tax rate. Whoever heard of a car capable of a 5.1 second 0-100km/h sprint labelled “green”? But there we have it.
FIRST DRIVE VERDICT
This is one very appealing car. At its $89,400 list price, realistically it’s nudging $100k by the time you put it on the road. But the SQ5 feels like a premium buy; everywhere you look you can see and touch quality.
And what you don’t see from the wheel, but that will speak to you every time you press the start button, is a twin-turbo diesel marvel as capable of noodling quietly along at commuter speeds, as it is of slamming 650Nm to the tarmac.
Audi describes its SQ5 as “extraordinary” and “versatile” and “vigorous”.
It is certainly each of those. The SQ5 3.0 TDI Biturbo is, quite simply, a special car.
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