Road test: 2014 Audi SQ5

What is it about an overabundance of horsepower, a screaming exhaust note and swift acceleration that turn me into a recidivist, a backslider, an unrepentant hypocrite?

An admirer of Audi’s compact-sized Q5 crossover since first driving one in Europe back in 2008, I was pleased when the German automaker began fleshing out its Canadian lineup to include more fuel-efficient models — first the technically advanced hybrid, followed this past summer by the frugally fun diesel-powered TDI. As a result, I was starting to develop warm and fuzzy feelings for Audi’s greener sensibilities.

Now, however, the engineering trolls from Ingolstadt have reverted to the dark side, applying their S-line brand of high-performance voodoo to the Q5, the result being the naughty yet nice SQ5. And it’s hooked me like a 50-pound flounder.

Unlike the European version of the same name, replete with a 313-horsepower (and 479 pound-feet of torque) TDI turbodiesel V6 under its hood, the SQ5 is designed “specifically for markets such as the United States, Canada and China” and comes with a gasoline-fuelled 3.0L V6 TFSI engine with forced induction — that’s supercharger in layman’s terms. The resultant 354 hp (and 347 lb-ft of torque) delivered will sprint the 2,000-kilogram Audi to 100 km/h in 5.3 seconds on its way to an electronically governed top speed of 250 km/h. All that power is so very easy to access — too easy. Hit the throttle and “see ya.” I got the stink-eye from my better half more than once for “accidentally” stretching my right foot.

As the new topline model within the Q5 range, the near-$60,000 SQ5 is more than just a supercharged six in the engine bay. Said motor is hooked up to a supremely smooth and quick-shifting eight-speed Tiptronic automatic with sport and manual modes — and paddle shifters — along with Audi’s exemplary quattro permanent all-wheel drivetrain with torque vectoring. Additionally, the chassis is 30 millimetres lower than on a standard Q5 and the sport suspension is tuned more firmly for a decidedly racy setup. There are 20-inch wheels fitted with P255/45 performance rubber (the tester was optioned with 21-inch wheels) and big, big brakes that would stop a train.

Audi also offers dynamic steering with a “steplessly” variable ratio. Control of it is integrated in the Audi drive select system, which allows a choice between several modes in various systems. All of this means that the SQ5 handles as well as it drives, which is to say it sticks to the tarmac like Velcro and corners like nobody’s business — for a high-performance sport-ute. Since you sit higher up than in a sport sedan, you can’t help but feel more body motion. It’s an odd sensation — at least initially — especially if you’re used to getting your jollies in a C 63 AMG or something of similar intent.

Not that the Dynamic mode is particularly extreme — it’s definitely firm yet not bone-jarring — but one can also choose Comfort or Auto to dial down the sporting aspect, or click on Individual to customize steering, suspension and the engine’s tonal qualities. (I selected Dynamic for the suspension and exhaust, Auto for the electro-mechanical steering. This setup provided superb road feel without proving tiresome on longer drives.)

Typical of Audi’s product line, the SQ5 has a look that is restrained in its muscularity, with distinct styling cues that, like a few pieces of jewellery, accessorize an expensive, made-to-measure suit. There’s the platinum grey radiator grille with its horizontal double bars, distinctive bumpers and roof spoiler, exterior mirrors in aluminum look, V6 T badges adorning the front fenders and subtle diffuser with quad tailpipes showing off a well-shaped rear end.

But the SQ5’s exterior pales in comparison to the interior, which is as stunning as it is sporty. The instruments feature grey dials and white numerals; the pedals and shift paddles have a shiny aluminum-look finish.

The standard power-adjustable and heated sport seats — properly firm and supportive — are covered with a combination of Nappa leather and Alcantara (the tester’s Magma red/black colour combination was particularly rich. It also had optional carbon-fibre-look inlays).

As would be expected of a $60K sport-ute, the SQ5’s list of standard equipment is complete. In addition to the usual modern conveniences and power items, there are also xenon headlights with LED daytime driving lights, a stainless-steel loading-sill protector, power tailgate, panoramic sunroof and a driver information system with colour display. The optional ($3,200) multi-media interface (MMI) — with navigation and rear parking camera — is one of the easier systems to configure. The graphics are also first-rate.

As for occupant comfort, headroom is plenty both front and rear, as is front-seat legroom. Taller rear-seat passengers might find knee room a bit compromised if those up front are on the plus side of six-feet tall. Luggage room is certainly plenty for most day-to-day activities — 824 litres behind the rear seats, 1,679 litres when the back seats are folded.

Audi’s SQ5 is one of a small number of sport-utes around where “sport” is an accurate representation of its abilities rather than a generic description. Among SUVs, it is the most fun I’ve had since driving the outrageous Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 and is a lot easier to live with. Certainly, among performance-oriented compact-sized SUVs — a niche, to be sure — it has few if any peers (at least until Porsche’s upcoming Macan makes its debut).

Do I feel guilty about loving this nimble beastie? Only slightly. Will I get over my guilt? Oh, yes!

National Post
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Type of vehicle All-wheel-drive compact SUV
Engine Supercharged 3.0L DOHC V6
Power 354 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 347 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
Transmission Eight-speed manumatic
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Tires P255/40R21 (optional)
Price (base/as tested) $59,600/$66,100
Destination charge $1,995
Natural Resources Canada fuel economy (L/100 km) 13.2 city, 8.5 highway
Standard features Three-zone automatic climate control, multi-function flat-bottom steering wheel with paddle shifters, Nappa leather/Alcantara seats with heat front and rear, power front seats, auto-dimming rear-view mirror with compass, cruise control, Audi drive select, Audi side assist, audio system with 10 speakers and satellite radio, Bluetooth interface, colour driver information display, rear parking system, power windows, power folding and heated exterior mirrors, xenon adaptive headlights, headlight washers, panoramic glass sunroof, power tailgate
Options Bang & Olufsen sound system ($1,000), navigation package with parking system ($3,200), 21-inch double-spoke wheels ($1,000), Carbon Atlas inlays ($500), Lava Grey metallic paint ($800)

About Brian Harper