2018 Audi SQ5 first drive review: practicality with a dash of performance Page 2


From the outside, the SQ5 announces its presence with authority thanks to those 20-inch wheels, a platinum gray version of Audi's signature singleframe grille, full LED headlights, aluminum-look mirror housings, a rear diffuser, and faux quad "exhaust outlets" that are really just for show (the exhaust actually exits under the vehicle).

Inside, the SQ5 gets a flat-bottom steering wheel with shift paddles, an 8.3-inch center screen, brushed aluminum trim with optional carbon fiber, Audi's MMI touchpad with handwriting recognition, leather and Alcantara-trimmed sport seats, three-zone automatic climate control, and a sport display for the available Audi virtual cockpit digital instrument cluster.

In addition to the S Sport package, the options list includes 21-inch wheels with summer performance tires, nappa leather seats with diamond stitching, and a Prestige package with such amenities as a panoramic sunroof, a color head-up display, a Bang & Olufsen 3-D sound System, the Audi MMI system with navigation, the virtual cockpit, and a surround view camera system.

My Navarra Blue metallic test vehicle came with all of this and more, bumping the $55,275 base price all the way up to $65,800.

2018 Audi SQ5

2018 Audi SQ5

Enlarge Photo
2018 Audi SQ5

2018 Audi SQ5

Enlarge Photo
2018 Audi SQ5

2018 Audi SQ5

Enlarge Photo

The road from Victoria to Tofino

My drive in the SQ5 started at the tip of Vancouver Island in the town of Victoria. Our crew of often lead-footed journalists drove along the east coast to Nanaimo among polite Canadians who respected the speed limits, then continued up the coast to Parksville, before heading inland to Port Alberni, eventually making our way to the west coast town of Tofino.

The drive gave me some time to play with the air suspension settings, toggling mostly between the Auto and Dynamic modes. For street driving, these are the modes you'd want to use most of the time. In Auto, the dampers are more relaxed and the ride is smoother, but the car isn't tied down to road as much as I would like for quick changes of direction on twisty roads. The Dynamic setting changes that, not only lowering he SQ5, but also putting the rear differential in a sport setting, stiffening the dampers, adding weight to the steering, increasing throttle response, holding gears longer, and introducing a deeper, richer engine note to the cabin by opening up a resonator that uses the windshield like a speaker to amplify the sound from the engine bay. 

2018 Audi SQ5

2018 Audi SQ5

Enlarge Photo

In Dynamic, the dampers and air suspension seemingly fight the SQ5's weight and height to make the SQ5 carve corners like a sport sedan. The 255/40/21 summer tires help the handling as well, but I wouldn't recommend them. They simply make the ride too firm, as the SQ5 can crash over sharp bumps. They may look good, but don't waste the $1,000 to opt for a harsh ride. I didn't test the standard 20s, but they must improve the ride. When the road straightens out, the Auto or Comfort settings will be more to your liking. 

Polite Canadians can be frustrating for an auto writer who wants to test all 354 turbocharged horses of his SQ5. Thank goodness for passing zones, which showed that the turbo V-6 and 8-speed is a great combo. Put the engine and transmission in their sport setting, either by using the Dynamic mode or by pulling down on the shifter, and passing is as easy as the quick jab of the throttle. Opt for the Auto or Comfort settings and the drivetrain is more relaxed for everyday driving, and passing situations require a deeper throttle pedal stroke. You can remedy that by using the oh-so-tiny steering wheel paddles to downshift. If Audi were serious about making this a true performance crossover, those paddles would be much bigger.

I'd also like more feel through the steering wheel. The SQ5's steering is fairly quick and definitely direct, but like most electric-assist steering systems nowadays, feel is left behind. When turning the wheel, I'd love to say that I felt the sport differential pulling the SQ5 through corners, but the turns never got that tight and the action never got that hot.

Bottom line

Perhaps that was by design. The SQ5 adds bits of performance but not too many. Audi calls the SQ5 the perfect balance of performance and functionality. That seems right to me. It has all of the practicality of the standard Q5 with a nice dose of sportiness thrown in. It doesn't venture too far into the performance spectrum, and it's not so big that it sacrifices fun for function. And with a starting price in the mid $50,000 range, it strikes me as a pretty good value in a market filled with overpriced luxury pretenders.

Audi provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.


 
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