The front end of the spiced-up version is aggressive, but it’s the rear where things begin to take shape. Alvin Thomas zips past the Salalah streets on the all-new SQ5 with a knowing smile on the face.
Photos: Alvin Thomas and Audi Middle East
The automotive industry has become one stale locus: there’s nothing exciting or stupefying happening. Car manufacturers keep rolling out their products in large numbers to satisfy us, and we keep buying these without even blinking an eye.
Let me ask you this: when was the last time you looked at a car at a launch event and said: “Oh, yeah! I did not see this one coming.” Mind you, I am not suggesting that there aren’t any exhilarating cars to drive; I’m telling you that there’s no element of surprise anymore; a zing, if I may point out.
While most of it can be donned on to the fact that cars (not supercars, just cars) of today are made for sales numbers and targets – as opposed to dropping the jaws of boisterous teenagers and residing on the walls as posters – I have noticed that engineers are slowly vying for prominence over their overly conspicuous accountants – it’s a war that’s bringing back the fun in cars.
Oddly enough, one of the candidates of this metamorphosis is Audi.
That’s right, the boffins from Germany have just rolled out the SQ5 – a spiced-up, hardcore version of the regular Q5 SUV that was launched recently.
It’s nothing short of a bombshell; a real surprise for all of us keeping track of the automotive world.
You can tell it’s a different car just by looking at it. Let’s get the obvious out of the way: much like the Q5, the SQ5 looks magnificent!
There’s not much in line of cosmetic changes between the two SUVs except for some red “SQ5” badging and brushed aluminium-covered side mirrors. My tester had also received the chrome treatment upfront, which I quite liked. However, I hear you can black out the panels for a much stealthier look.
The fascia is very much in tone with Audi’s lineup of cars: you still get the large hexagonal grille upfront, which is complemented by the sharp headlamps with Matrix LEDs built in. There are also massive air intakes on either side of the front bumper; it fits in perfectly with the design of the SQ5.
Overall, the front end is aggressive.
The side profile of the SQ5 is elegant but subtle. If it weren’t for the attractive 10-spoke 54cm alloys and the “V6 T” (which presumably stands for the turbocharged V6), not many could distinguish between the regular and the spruced-up brother.
On the plus side, the Q5 gains a whole 3.3cm of length over its predecessor, thereby translating to better legroom in the interior.
The posterior, however, is where things really start to take shape. For starters, you get a massive, chiselled spoiler on top of the tail gate, beautiful rear tail lights that wraps around the C-pillar, and a grey-coloured strip that runs throughout the bottom end of the SQ5. Ironically, this strip is designed to look like faux quad-exhausts. The real exhausts are buried under the bodywork.
The latter is a shame because I feel that the SQ5 has a symphonious exhaust note.
During my drive in the open and picturesque twisty roads of Salalah, I was able to push the SQ5 to its limits. Powered by a smooth-as-silk 3.0-litre ‘TFSI’ turbocharged V6 pumping out a stout 354hp and 500Nm of torque (!), the SUV is far ahead of its less-endowed brother (the Q5).
I found the car to be very punchy – with torque cranking its way to the wheels from a mere 1,200rpm (or so) all the way to the 4,500rpm range. The gearbox – an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission – is mighty quick to respond to gear changes. It’s quite brutal in its shifts when set in “Dynamic” mode but settles down and short-shifts when set in “Eco” or “Comfort” modes.
Nevertheless, I was able to hit the 100kph mark – on a straight stretch of road – in a mere 5.8 seconds! Now, if that isn’t impressive, I don’t know what is. Think of the SQ5 as a wolf in sheep’s clothing – and with the MLBevo platform that the SUV is based on, the SQ5 drives and takes off like a sedan, more than an SUV.
Audi’s Quattro system comes as standard on the SUV but it graciously switches power between wheels, when required. Thankfully, the system is designed to send up to 85 per cent of the power to the rear wheels, which should translate to a lot more smiles and rubber marks on the road during vigorous driving.
Of course, since this was a regional launch event with high-profile guests, I decided against leaving rubber marks on the road… at first. When I did get the opportunity to slam the pedal to the metal, however, I was surprised by the initial tip-in of torque by the engine. This makes accelerating a momentous affair every single time.
On Dynamic mode, the SUV takes bumps hard but manages to keep things in check within the cabin. On the up side, the harder suspension means there is very little body roll when you take corners.
The car grips like glue to the road, because power is being shifted between the front and back wheels. I suppose you can only slide the car around after switching off the traction and stability controls. I refrained from doing so, though.
Nevertheless, as is characteristic with most all-wheel-drive cars, the Audi SQ5 tends to understeer upon breaking the limits of grip. Ah, but you see, the limit is well beyond the 80kph mark, so you would have to take sharp corners at really high speeds to find yourself straying past line. Albeit, a dab on the brakes should pull you back into the corner.
The steering rack is electric, as is the case with most cars of today, but it is dynamic; meaning, it adapts its ratios based on the driving speed and steering angles. It was a bit preternatural at first but it grew on me with time. What this means is that you now get better straight line stability at higher speeds, while still maintaining a direct steering ratio at low speeds to help increase steering response. This should make parking and manoeuvring tight corners easier.
Gimmick? Possibly, but it could come in handy for some.
The brakes are incredibly progressive, just like what I had expected. The pedal feel is great and the ABS isn’t too intrusive like that of its competitor from Italy.
Unlike its Italian and American rivals, though, the SQ5 comes with numerous tech toys; starting with the brilliant 32cm-wide Audi virtual cockpit and the neatly-laid-out heads-up display.
I don’t intend to sound corny, but it’s the sort of graphics you would find on superhero Iron Man’s helmet. It’s pretty darn good. Apart from that, you also get a large 22cm screen in the middle of the dashboard for your infotainment and navigation needs.
The interior of the SQ5 is a nice place to be. There’s plenty of real estate – both head and knee room – for five full-sized adults. Seats upfront are comfortable and supportive, with excellent lumbar support, and shoulder and hip bolstering. However, I must point out that I found the seats to hug my shoulders too tightly, although that could be because the seats were new and not broken into (worn in).
The boot is sizeable, and the seats should fold into segments to make way for more storage space. Audi’s engineer told me that there is a good 610 litres of space for stowing away your goods – which makes it quite the all-rounder.
Audi’s all-new SQ5 may come as a revelation to all of us in the automotive industry; not simply because it was received well last time around, but because the new (regular) Q5 is also a phenomenal SUV to drive on a day-to-day basis.
Still, the new SQ5 scores in all-round performance and driving sensation.
It may not be as competitive as its cousin – the Porsche Macan – around a racetrack, but it is nearly up there.
Outlandishness is not built into the SQ5’s DNA, but I’ll tell you this: the overall feel you get while behind the wheel or as a passenger is much, much more rewarding. And this is exactly why Audi – in my opinion – will continue its success story with the SQ5… again.