The Audi Q5 has a special place as one of our favorite sport-utility vehicles, year after year. Since the compact Q5 was unveiled about six years ago, few SUVs have offered as much luxury, style, performance, and comfort in a package livable enough for the city and rough enough for the country. With a sweet six-cylinder engine and room for passengers and their cargo, it made for a superb highway cruiser.
Some years on, and the Q5 has spawned five variants, with an engine lineup now composed of supercharged, turbocharged, diesel, and hybrid variants. To save the Q5 from becoming too long in the tooth, earlier this year, Audi introduced the SQ5, in the vein of its S-performance models, to keep the Q5 fresh before the inevitable introduction of an all-new model.
After nearly a week of driving the SQ5, we can safely say that it isn’t a stopgap model for its own sake. The SQ5 is a supercharged shot of Novocain for the brand and drivers alike.
The star of the show is the SQ5’s supercharged, 354-horsepower six-cylinder engine that lurks underhood. Don’t let the “V6 T” badging on the SQ5’s exterior fool you – this is a supercharged unit, not a turbocharged one, and one of the most powerful ones in the segment, to boot. The engine huffs and grunts vigorously under hard acceleration, to keep up forward momentum, which builds quite quickly and with little whine from the supercharger. An 8-speed automatic transmission keeps shifts imperceptible, and as smooth as possible.
The added grunt from the supercharged engine helped the SQ5 scoot around New York City, but with no additional show—in the form of a raucous engine note or an overly loud exhaust, as some of its competitors offer—to match the go. Ride quality is barely compromised by the SQ5’s upsized wheels and performance-oriented tires, and tolerable even on the harsh cobblestones of the West Village. Fuel economy concerns are a non-issue, if you keep off-the-line hooliganism to an acceptable minimum.
But that’s the thing about the SQ5: It’s a sleeper in most senses of the word, thanks to its blend of understated style and high performance. It appeals immediately to the enthusiasts who already know what it comprises, without calling undue attention to its speed credentials.
Take the SQ5’s nondescript exterior, for example: The strongest performing member of the Q5 family is distinguished only by a bright grille treatment, 20-inch wheels, and a smattering of “SQ5” badges on the brakes and side panels. Its interior was restyled with the same light touch. A flat-bottomed steering wheel is one of few additions to the Q5’s already sublime interior, which features some of the best ergonomics and infotainment system, respectively, in the business.
Add to that the SQ5’s qualification as the only high-performance SUV variant in its class, giving Audi an edge over its German competitors. Other than the SQ5, there are few ways to move five people and their gear in quiet, rapid comfort.
But Because the Q5 lineup has expanded so, the case for the SQ5 is harder than ever – sort of. With a base price of over 50-grand, and an as-tested price over $10,000 more expensive, the SQ5 is far from a bargain. Of the aforementioned five models, if it were our money, we’d be hard-pressed to choose the SQ5 over the torquey yet frugal Q5 TDI. Sure, the TDI is not as quick off the line, but it does nick some of the sporty handling and overall solidity from the SQ5.
Would we still have loads of fun driving the SQ5 every day? Absolutely—it’s one of our favorite SUVs made even better.