In my weaker moments, or perhaps when the weather has been foul for weeks and the roads are in a terrible state, I sometimes think the car I'd like to tool around in is a compact SUV with a bit of poke. The recipe just seems to make sense to me, at least for the car you use on a daily basis. I like the security of four-wheel drive in very wet weather. I like being sat up a little higher to have a better chance of spotting the lunatic in the car in front before he doesn't spot you. And with more ground clearance, I also like merely thumping through potholes rather than actually falling into them.
But this is all theoretical. I haven't yet driven a single small-to-medium sized performance SUV that I would particularly like to live with, which might be because nobody has built a really good one yet (the more potent versions of Porsche's Macan are probably the exception, which is great if you're looking to spent upwards of £60,000).
With more or less the same powertrain that makes the VW Golf R one of the best and most effective hot hatches you can buy, the Audi SQ2, I though to myself, might just be the car to change all that. I was busily persuading myself of the SQ2's merits and preparing for it to be the compact performance SUV I had been waiting for, right up until the moment I drove it. And it isn't. Chuck it on the pile.
You'll have your own view on this but I don't love the way the car looks. Although I do like its relative subtlety, because even with quad exhausts and contrasting black body trim and 'quattro' stickers along its flanks, it still doesn't look like a car that'll out accelerate a Ferrari F355. With 300hp from its 2-litre turbocharged engine (the same unit that serves in more VW Group compact performance cars than anybody has the time to count), four-wheel drive and a rapid-fire dual-clutch gearbox, the SQ2 is a seriously punchy machine.
Just as it is in various SEATs and Volkswagens the drivetrain is pretty much beyond reproach. The engine is strong and fizzy, the gearbox both responsive in manual mode and well-mannered when left in auto, while traction even in the wet is absolute. Drive with a little care and you'll even squeeze decent fuel efficiency from the SQ2.
But it has a previous-generation cabin. Anybody familiar with the latest Audi stuff will spot that immediately. Models like the A1 and A8 have gone all ultra-slick and modern with sharp angles and integrated digital screens. So the SQ2's cabin feels a little dated, but it's still mostly very good. The material and build quality are both fine and Audi's MMI infotainment system, combined with Virtual Cockpit (the full-width display within the instrument binnacle), makes for about as intuitive a car media system as you'll find anywhere. What isn't so good is rear seat space. The SQ2 is 66mm shorter than a Golf and any adult who attempts to spend meaningful time in the rear of the cabin will be well aware of it.
And to drive? Actually, there is plenty the SQ2 does rather well. It has sharp and accurate steering, for instance, so when you make a lunge for an apex you feel the car respond as one, not in the disjointed way of most taller cars. Here there is no sense of the front end responding instantaneously and the rear half a second later. Body roll is reasonably well contained and there's plenty of grip as well, all of which means you can hoof the SQ2 along a twisting road with a fair degree of enthusiasm. It doesn't simply fall to pieces the moment you starting wringing it out.
Nor does it ever come to life and really sing, though. There isn't a hot hatch on sale today that wouldn't be more fun to drive along a country road, because no matter how well set-up a sporty compact SUV is, a taller ride height and an elevated centre of gravity will always be limiting factors.
What would really wind me up about the SQ2 in daily use though is its lumpy ride. To make this sort of car handle at all it needs to be tied down by some fairly robust suspension components, like heavy springs and taut anti-roll bars. (Curiously, you cannot spec the SQ2 with adaptive dampers.) While its ride is a long way from being unreasonably firm, it is nonetheless too unyielding given the car's modest appetite for fun. I can forgive a busy ride when a car is a real firecracker.
And therein lies the fundamental compromise at the heart of the sporty SUV. If you jack a car up by four or five inches, you make it both less comfortable and less fun to drive. Those are not prices worth paying, in my view, for a loftier view of the road and a little more ground clearance. I will continue longing for a compact SUV with a bit of poke, one that is as fun to drive as a good hot hatch. But I'm not yet convinced I will ever drive one.
SPECIFICATION - AUDI SQ2
Engine: 1984cc, 4 cyls, turbo
Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): 300@5,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 295@2,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 secs
Top speed: 155mph