Audi’s sporty SQ5 aims for the well-heeled millennial
We millennials have it so easy. Our parents—those (you!) know-it-all baby boomers—grew up making “hard” choices such as which two cars to buy for your young family’s commute and weekend escapes. We, the allegedly entitled millennial generation, typically have the attention span (and budget) to buy just the one car. And whether we have Tesla money or Toyota money, we expect our ride to do everything—it must be an economical commuter, a comfortable grand tourer, and a light off-roader, and it should be fun to drive.
For the well-heeled among us, the European luxury automakers have gotten quite good at filling this particular niche. And with the 2018 Audi SQ5, the folks from Ingolstadt prove they know what those wealthier millennial (and younger Gen X) buyers want. Audi says the typical SQ5 owner skews male and is typically around 35 years old. That makes it the youngest demographic in the Audi line despite being more expensive than several other four-rings models. Audi seems to have found the formula that sets millennial hearts ablaze.
Based on the second-generation Q5, Audi’s redesigned SQ5 once again picks up where the mainstream Q5 leaves off. The old SQ5’s 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 gets replaced with a new 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6, with its single twin-scroll turbo nestled inside the engine’s vee to mitigate lag. Power is unchanged at 354 hp, but torque increases from 346 lb-ft to 369 lb-ft. Audi says the new turbocharged engine is 31 pounds (14 kg) lighter than the old V-6, and it is tuned to be more responsive, too. It’s also a big leap over the 252 hp and 273 lb-ft you get from the capable-enough 2.0-liter turbo in the standard Q5—which no longer offers a V-6 option.
Although the new Q5 gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, for the SQ5 Audi has opted to carry over the old SQ5’s quick-shifting eight-speed auto. The eight-speed is mated to Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system, which unlike the pedestrian Q5 is always shuffling power between the front and rear wheels to optimize performance. (Base Q5s get Audi’s Quattro Ultra all-wheel-drive system, which defaults to front-wheel drive in dry weather.) To further crank things up, Audi also offers up a torque-vectoring mechanical limited-slip differential as part of the $3,000 USD S Sport package, giving the SQ5 the capability to send nearly 100 percent of its power to a single rear wheel if need be. It can also drift in low-friction situations.
Power is only one part of the SQ5 equation—the other involves the chassis. Audi was able to give the SQ5, which rides on the Volkswagen Group’s lightweight MLB Evo platform, a stiffer, more refined chassis than before. MLB Evo also allowed Audi to increase the crossover’s wheelbase by 0.5 inch (0.7 for the SQ5) and overall length by about an inch to improve cargo capacity and interior space while keeping the overall curb weight steady at about 4,400 pounds (1,996 kg).
The 2018 SQ5 suspension has a fixed ride height of 8.2 inches but features an adaptive damping system that firms up or softens based on driving conditions and which of the five drive modes are selected: Auto, Comfort, Allroad, Sport, or Individual. There’s also a sport adaptive air suspension as part of the aforementioned S Sport package. The air suspension gives the SQ5 a lower standard ride height for better handling (7.0 inches) and allows the same damping adjustment as the steel-sprung suspension. Its variable ride heights and off-road drive mode allow the air suspension to rise to 9.0 inches and lower to 6.4 inches of ground clearance. There’s also a loading level, accessed by pressing a button located in the cargo area, that drops the SQ5 down to 5.0 inches of ground clearance, lowering the trunk’s lift-over height to just above knee level on my 6-foot frame. It made loading and unloading easier.
Cruising Canada’s Vancouver Island, the SQ5 package proves to be quite compelling. The Audi’s new sheetmetal, further differentiated from the Q5 with a more aggressive front fascia, spoiler, and rear diffuser, looks sharp against the green Canadian rainforest. The new turbocharged V-6 fires up with a guttural roar but is otherwise quite docile when driving around town. With peak torque available at 1,370 rpm through 4,500 rpm, the engine never really needs to rev to make power, so the eight-speed auto works smoothly in the background to keep the V-6 running efficiently below 2,000 rpm, with the standard auto stop/start system shutting the engine down as you come to a stop. The auto stop/start system is rather rough when firing up, but there’s no denying its benefits—the 2018 SQ5 is EPA-rated at 19/24/21 mpg (12.4/9.8/11.2 L/100km) city/highway/combined compared to the old SQ5’s 17/24/19 mpg (13.8/9.8/12.4 L/100km) rating.
Although easygoing in city traffic, the SQ5’s powertrain is quick to wake up with an open road ahead. Firewall the throttle from a standstill, and the SQ5 rockets forward and into triple-digit speeds. Audi estimates 0–60 mph will take the new SQ5Porsche
I initially expected the new SQ5’s engine to lose the charmingly unhinged, instantaneous response of the old supercharged mill, but I’m happy to say I’m wrong. The new SQ5 still knows how to have fun. With all that torque available down low, there’s no noticeable turbo lag from the engine. With near instantaneous throttle response, the SQ5 gets moving quickly, and once the tach needle swings past 1,400 rpm, the scenery starts flying by noticeably quicker—the transmission firing off quick upshifts, with a burp from the exhaust for good measure.
The SQ5 also remains a willing dance partner through the corners. With the S Sport package’s suspension in its dynamic setting and the rear diff working out back, the SQ5 is light on its toes. It hunkers down through corners, with the diff shuffling power around to get the Audi’s nose turned quickly. Although ultimately an improvement over the last SQ5, the new model offers up little in the way of real steering feel or feedback from the road. There’s a nice heft to the flat-bottomed steering wheel, but it doesn’t have the precision or delicacy of some of its competitors, such as the Jaguar F-Pace S, Porsche Macan, or Mercedes-Benz GLC43. There’s an available dynamic steering package that my test vehicle didn’t have, which might help improve steering feel.
With the Audi happily humming along at 75 mph (121 km/h) on the open highway, I had the chance to take stock of the rest of the SQ5’s package. The cabin is quiet. Fit, finish, and materials on my nearly loaded $65,800 USD SQ5 Prestige (prices start at $55,275 USD) are all stellar. The few hard plastics in the cabin are hidden away, and all the touch points—from the metal accents to the optional carbon-fiber trim and Nappa leather—look great and are nice to the touch. The SQ5 also leads the pack when it comes to technology. Audi’s MMI system, when paired with the virtual cockpit instrument cluster, can be easily dismissed as “Google Maps on your instrument cluster.” But it puts every conceivable navigation, entertainment, and driving function within a thumb’s reach. The driver’s hands needn’t ever leave the wheel. As for the rest of the occupants, seats front and back are comfortable, with the wheelbase stretch giving the SQ5 an adult-friendly back seat.
It might ultimately appear that those well-heeled millennials out there have an easy choice on their hands with the SQ5 and its jack-of-all trades demeanor, but the truth is their choice will be anything but. Although Audi says its average SQ5 buyer purchases the SQ5 for its performance and handling, the competitive set makes the choice difficult to make.