Audi SQ5 (2017) review: Fire-breathing, premium SUV
The Audi SQ5 is the modern SUV. It’s not as big as SUVs of the 1990s and 2000s. Instead, it’s more like a saloon that’s been working out. Actually, that’s a good metaphor for the Audi SQ5 in general, so we’ll stick with it.
The headlines for the 2017 SQ5 are a V6 supercharged petrol engine; Audi’s new Virtual Cockpit dashboard; and advanced driving-assist tech that makes driving safer and less stressful at the same time.
Audi SQ5 (2017) review: Design
As expected, the SQ5’s design is very similar to that of the regular Q5. Almost identical, in fact. But that’s not a bad thing, because pretty much every Audi that’s been released in the past three years looks great to my eyes. Unique? No, but stylish nonetheless. In that sense, the SQ5 fits into the rest of the modern Audi range perfectly.
With that in mind, you can almost guess what the front of the SQ5 looks like. The front of the car is dominated by the now-traditional eight-point grille and a bonnet that appears to borrow its curves from a bottlenose dolphin.
Audi SQ5 (2017) review: Interior
The Audi SQ5 may look like a sporty saloon from the outside, but once you’ve climbed up to the elevated driver’s seat and shut the door behind you, it feels as if you’re in a totally different car. The SQ5’s interior feels huge from the inside, and it’s a Tardis-like quality that’s noticeable on the Q5, too.
How Audi’s design team has managed this is slightly confusing, even after a week with the SQ5. Take a look around the cockpit and you’ll notice that you’re totally surrounded by electronics and in-car tech. From the driver’s seat, you can push, flick and scroll through more than 80 different buttons, levers and wheels. This may sound daunting, but in reality, it’s not. Everything is laid out in the same logical, utilitarian way we’ve come to expect from Audi (even the coffee cup holders are within reach). That means every bit of switchgear works exactly as it should, and is placed exactly where it ought to be.
Audi SQ5 (2017) review: Performance
Just like the Q5, the SQ5 has Audi’s still impressive infotainment. Let’s start with the two screens. Well, three, in fact, if you count the heads-up display (HUD). On the dashboard, you’ll find a huge 12.3in TFT Virtual Cockpit screen that replaces the traditional analogue dials. Instead, you’re offered three different menus: one traditional dashboard layout with speedo and basic engine information at centre stage; another with more detailed engine information; and a third (my personal favourite) that shows a zoomed live map of your journey, with speedos pushed out to either side.
The HUD also offers essential information in the form of satnav guidance, road layout info and local speed limits. This projection can be adjusted to fit all heights and driving positions, and is designed to maximise the time your eyes are kept on the road ahead.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
For a more detailed view of the car’s media and smartphone pairing options, the SQ5’s main 9in screen (1,400 x 540) takes over. Here you can bring up both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, or use the Audi’s equally efficient onboard entertainment/guidance system.
The display is controlled by a touchpad and input wheel located on the centre unit, which is great for Audi’s own infotainment menus, but slightly more awkward for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as both of those are designed for touchscreens. However, once you’ve trained yourself not to use the display as a touchscreen, using the input wheel is pretty painless.
Audi SQ5 (2017) review: Connectivity
Pairing your phone is easy and can be done via Bluetooth, or by plugging a (compatible) phone into one of the car’s two USB slots. Audi offers a one-stop shop in the Q5 called the Audi Phone Box, which pretty much does everything you’d want in the way of connectivity. Placing your mobile phone in there will see it automatically connect to the Q5’s hands-free system, and it will also use the car’s integrated antenna to boost its signal. If you own a compatible phone, the Audi Phone Box will also wirelessly charge your phone, although this feature isn’t available on Apple iPhones just yet.
Audi SQ5: (2017) review: Ride, handling and engine performance
The previous SQ5 featured a TDI engine that wowed with its huge vaults of torque. Audi has swapped this for a new turbocharged petrol V6 that boasts 349bhp and 500Nm of torque.
And you can really feel it when you put your foot down, the 2017 SQ5 takes just 5.4 seconds to go from 0-62mph. One minor flaw is that the eight-speed automatic gearbox isn’t as responsive as you’d hope when you put your foot down. But gear changes are very smooth once the car is moving.
Audi SQ5 (2017) review: Driving assistance
As I’m based in London, I was very keen to test out the driving-assistance features of the SQ5, particularly traffic-jam assist. I wasn’t disappointed. This feature uses ultrasound sensors in conjunction with front-facing cameras to take the hassle out of driving by automatically accelerating and braking to match the car in front (up to speeds of around 40mph).
I spent a good few hours stuck in traffic during my test drive, so had plenty of time to see it in action. The feature largely works as advertised. One quirk is that when traffic comes to a standstill for too long (around five seconds), the engine automatically switches off, rendering traffic-jam assist redundant when the traffic starts to move again.
Audi SQ5 (2017) review: Verdict
It’s impossible to not fall in love with the Audi SQ5. It borrows all the features that make the new Audi Q5 proper so brilliant and then adds some serious performance and extra bite to the engine, to making it more engaging to drive, and a decent handful on country roads. Combine that speed with the practicality of the Virtual Cockpit – as well as traffic-jam assist – and the Audi SQ5 can hold its own against any premium SUV on the road in 2017.
What about the price? It’s not cheap. At £52,000, it’s around £15,000 more than the base Q5, but what you’re getting with the SQ5 is amazing performance in a slimmed-down SUV – with a suite of in-car tech. That’s as good it gets in 2017.