Audi SQ5 Plus: Review

Good fast Audi or bad fast Audi? Whether S or RS, it's always a bit of a lottery. Denial about the market's desire for fast SUVs - or the industry's willingness to cater to it - is no longer an option. These are important cars. Masters of the aspirational, image-driven purchase, Audi needs to keep its head high against hot Macans, fast F-Paces and a host of fresher rivals. Hence the addition of 'Plus' to the SQ5's badge, along with 33hp to bring it up to 340hp and a similar torque boost for a hearty total of 516lb ft.

Pretty subtle up to the quad exhausts...
Pretty subtle up to the quad exhausts...
We'll understand if this passed you by but the SQ5 is actually the first diesel S model Audi has produced, riding the wave of 'hey guys, diesel engines are great!' optimism that's turned rather sour since you-know-what-gate. Perhaps explaining why there's now a petrol SQ5 in some markets, including (funnily enough) North America. It's powered by the latest 3.0-litre turbo V6 featured in the new S4, S5 and many others to come and has 354hp and a relatively puny sounding 343lb ft of torque. Fear of missing out? Probably not this time around, the diesel SQ5 Plus still punching harder than most in its class.

The current darling of the sector - the F-Pace 3.0 D - only has 300hp and the Macan Diesel a mere 258hp. You'll now need Alpina's help to get your X3 35d on equal terms in spec sheet bragging rights.

Is PH the place to be getting in a froth about the comparative power outputs of mid-sized diesel SUVs though?

Big bang theory
Fewer excuses need to be made than once perhaps, the SQ5 appearing - all things relative - something of a bargain given its relative firepower. Someone at group headquarters must have a spreadsheet for such things but the Audi has clearly been given blessing to outgun its Porsche equivalent - by some margin - while the Macan takes punchier petrol turbos, optional air suspension and various other gizmos with it into the next price bracket. They're still fundamentally the same car though, possibly making the Audi the thinking man's Macan.

Fast, frugal AND characterful
Fast, frugal AND characterful
First impressions are of a car with a technically interesting, hugely powerful and surprisingly charismatic powerplant. Somewhat let down by a finishing package of indistinct control weights, lacklustre spring/damper rates and an aloofness from the process of driving that'll have both F-Pace and Macan sleeping easy in their respectives. There's extra body stiffening, fancy five-link front suspension and an electronically controlled Sport Differential (new for the Plus), but also the sense money invested in hardware wasn't matched with an inclination to calibrate it effectively. Stereotypes so far intact then.

The engine IS mega though. Twin sequential turbos give a broader spread of power than the numbers suggest, the familiar turbodiesel boostiness far more potent and sustained than in 'regular' equivalents. It sounds moody too, though reading up reveals at least some of this is amplified noise recycled for your listening pleasure. For a two-tonne car with a relatively small engine it feels entertainingly keen, smoothly anticipating which of the eight-speed auto's ratios is best suited to the demand from your right foot.

As mentioned the Plus also gets the electronically controlled Sport Differential on the rear axle, familiar from other Audi S and RS products and traditionally a significant influence on dynamic behaviour. And if you're willing to push on through the frustratingly light and vague steering - compounded by a natural tendency to understeer - you'll find ... your spotters guide to fast Audi stereotypes nearly complete.

You'll have to make do without a virtual cockpit...
You'll have to make do without a virtual cockpit...
Playing to (stereo)type
Sorry. Actually what you'll really get is a sense of the rear axle coming into play rather effectively. To achieve it requires a wet road surface and some pretty bloody-minded throttle inputs though, neither we'd imagine within the operating window of most diesel SUV drivers. The SQ5 might have the firepower then, but a Macan will kid you you're still driving a sports car, more of the time. In the more natural hunting ground of the nation's outside lanes the SQ5 is much happier, the choppier aspects of the ride settling down, the refinement exemplary and the (optional) B&O sound system absolutely top notch.

Ready with that spotter's guide? It's time to talk about the cabin. Quilted Nappa leather counts for an Audi vision of flair amid the usual 'premium material' fare. But, like the Macan, the SQ5 manages to contrive looking and feeling like a big car - with all the disadvantages that brings when parking or threading along narrow streets - while being really rather mean on interior space. Visibility is also terrible, the gigantic wing mirrors more or less filling the front quarter of the side windows. This and the vague steering are serious impediments for enjoying the performance so readily on offer.

It's good, but it's not more than that
It's good, but it's not more than that
Which is a shame. Because new, and especially used, the SQ5 has the potential to be a bit of a double agent, ready to embarrass the related Macan's badge-enhanced sense of self-worth with that significant power advantage. It's also a hell of a lot cheaper, diesel Macans demanding crazy money to the point that even a 20,000-mile car can command £56K at an OPC (increasing to £60K-plus), while an approved 5,000-mile SQ5 Plus can go for under £50K.

Almost but not quite in conclusion. The Plus adds to the appeal but there's not quite enough to make it the unsung hero of the genre.

2,967cc V6 bi-turbo diesel
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Power (hp): 340@4,100-4,300rpm (313@3,900-4,500rpm)
Torque (lb ft): 516@1,500-2550rpm (479@1,450-2,800rpm)
0-62mph: 5.1sec
Top speed: 155mph
Kerbweight: 2,075kg (EU, including 75kg driver)
MPG: 42.8 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 174g/km
Price: £50,865 (£55,745 as tested comprising Sepang Blue paint £645; Technology package - Advanced £625; Electrically adjustable front seats £450; storage package £125; Audi Drive Select £220; heated front seats £300; piano finish black inlays £305; Audi Parking System Advanced £340; Bang & Olufsen sound system £535 and 'high' mobile phone preparation with Audi Connect £350) 


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Comments (80) Join the discussion on the forum

  • lewisf182 13 Jun 2016

    Must say these seem like a great ownership prospect, good residual, decent economy for the performance and they sound fantastic IMHO... Great all rounder?

  • Alucidnation 13 Jun 2016

    What the fk is with this obsession with vague steering and understeer?

    So what?

    Near enough everyone that purchases this will not be necessarily pushing this car anywhere near its limits.


  • wormus 13 Jun 2016

    Dull as you like.

  • Tuvra 13 Jun 2016

    wormus said:
    Dull as you like.
    A family friendly SUV that keeps up with the hot hatches, yeah really dull, or are we all supposed to drive Caterham's 24/7?

  • ahenners 13 Jun 2016

    Alucidnation said:
    What the fk is with this obsession with vague steering and understeer?

    So what?

    Near enough everyone that purchases this will not be necessarily pushing this car anywhere near its limits.

    Might as well just buy the 2.0TDI S Line Plus and save £15k then.

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