When Audi first launched the SQ5 in the US in 2015, I had to have one. Big brakes, supercharged V6, sport seats, great exhaust note and plenty of cargo room. What’s not to love?
When I had purchased my 2010 S4, I wanted an S4 Avant. A few years later the SQ5 was about as close to an Avant that I could buy. I took a gamble and ordered one as soon as I could without a test drive. It arrived just as the snow in New England was starting to fall and I immediately swapped the 21-inch summer tires for a set of 19-inch snow tires. The SQ5 was a lot of fun in the snow with its ground clearance and 354-hp supercharged V6. Come springtime and the switch back to the summer tires I began to push the SQ5 a bit more and find how capable it was. For an SUV that is pushing 4,400 lb it felt quite nimble and had lots of grip.
However, I started to miss the sport differential and adaptive damping suspension that my S4 had. The first generation SQ5 felt fantastic on the highway; it ate up the miles very comfortably and quickly. Back home in Boston at slower speeds, the suspension was a bit jarring with all the post-winter potholes. After a year and a half, I decided to move on to my current car. A 2016 S6 with its adjustable air suspension, sport differential, and twin-turbo V8.
Fast forward to 2017, and we are in Victoria, British Columbia, to drive the all new 2018 Audi SQ5. The things that left my SQ5 feeling inadequate are now optional. Adaptive damping suspension is now standard, and the optional S sport package adds air suspension and the sport rear differential. The new SQ5 now checks all the necessary boxes. It is comfortable, economical, fun to drive, handles any weather and can even handle light off-road driving. We even got a ride in an Atleo Air Helicopter and went on a glacier safari!
The new SQ5 shares most of its powertrain components with the new S4. Even the brakes are the same between the two. Unlike the S4, the SQ5 has standard continuous damping suspension. The suspension integrates with the Audi Drive Select system along with the engine, steering, transmission and the optional sport differential.
After a brief stint with supercharging, Audi has gone back to its V6 turbocharged roots. The engine still displaces the same 3.0 liters as its predecessor, but that’s where the similarities end. Gone is the supercharger and in its place is a twin-scroll turbo mounted in the V, with each scroll feeding a separate bank of cylinders.
The new engine’s ability to deliver torque instantly from 1,300 rpm is impressive. The torque delivery is even better than what Audi achieved with the previous supercharged engine. Superchargers provide excellent low-end power delivery since they are not dependent on exhaust gas build up like the turbos. However, Audi has designed a turbo engine with the near-instant and smooth delivery of power with minimal lag.
The turbocharger is a twin-scroll design with separate exhaust branches for each cylinder bank feeding the turbo. The turbocharger placement inside the 90-degree V of the cylinder banks allows a shorter travel distance for the exhaust gas to flow with minimal loss. Because of the short path for gasses and efficiency of the design, the turbo spools up almost instantly, making all its torque available at low RPM and responding very quickly and directly to throttle inputs. The engine delivers peak torque from 1,370 to 4,500 rpm while reaching peak power from 5,400 to 6,400 rpm. Audi valve lift system resolves the conflict between efficiency and power goals, and the smooth eight-speed automatic transmission – a carryover from the first generation SQ5 has been updated to optimize performance and economy.
The SQ5 that Audi provided to us for our journey from Victoria to Tofino, British Columbia, came optioned with the S Sport package. The S Sport package adds the Sport adaptive air suspension and the Sport rear differential. The adaptive air suspension provides up to five modes with 100 mm of ride height adjustability.
Comfort/Auto mode provides 7 inches (178 mm) of height and is the standard ride height. The Allroad setting levels at 8.2 in. (208 mm) and is also the fixed ride height of the SQ5 and Q5 standard suspension. In Lift/Offroad mode the SQ5 sits at 9 in. (228 mm). Dynamic mode sits at 6.4 in. (163 mm). There’s a switch in the cargo area that when pressed will drop the SQ5 a couple inches (50 mm) to make it easier to load and unload items in the trunk. The ride height adjusts automatically based on the mode and the speed that you are traveling.
The standard adaptive damping suspension has three modes, comfort, auto and dynamic to go along with that 8.2-in. (208 mm) ride height.
How does it drive?
The SQ5 quickly ate up the 195 miles between the rapidly growing city of Victoria to the beautiful town of Tofino. We got to experience all types of driving conditions from city traffic to two-lane empty roads that snake through some of the most beautiful landscapes that I’ve ever seen. This time allowed us to try out the Audi Drive Select modes and get a sense of what the SQ5 would be like to live with every day.
Switching from Auto to Dynamic wakes the SQ5 up right away. The air suspension lowers, the throttle response quickens, steering weight increases and it’s just so much fun to push the SQ5 hard. Diving into tight turns feels great, and the new turbo engine and transmission are always in sync and ready to blast out of the corner. Overtaking vehicles driving under the speed limit was effortless. Once we really got out into the countryside and the switchbacks the SQ5 was a blast to drive and I enjoyed every minute of it. You might even lose track of who your passengers are and get carried away as it’s so easy to do so.
In Comfort mode, the SQ5 rises a bit, and the steering and throttle response dial back and become more subdued. The throttle becomes a bit spongy, and the steering relaxed. You could almost steer with just your pinky. But for long drives, it’s exactly what you need.
For me the best setting is Individual. I leave everything in Dynamic but the suspension I set to Auto. If you want to switch the transmission from Sport mode, pull back on the gear selector and the car is back in Drive. But the rest of the car’s systems they are all in Dynamic, and it feels great.
I didn’t have the time or place to experience any sort of soft off-roading but I did switch the suspension to the Off-road mode during one of our driver changes, and the level of lift is very impressive. I imagine the SQ5 with a proper set of snow tires will be an incredible winter vehicle. Especially if you want to make the drive from Victoria to Tofino again during the colder months.
The refined interior and the air suspension diminishes the sense of speed that you feel when traveling down the highway. With each new vehicle revision, it gets easier to have conversations without shouting at your passengers. The Audi engineers have done a great job with reducing the wind noise even further. Meanwhile, the brilliant B&O 3D sound system fills the cabin with immersive music and there’s little outside interference to intrude on it.
The new seats are an upgrade from the original SQ5 seats. The seats are probably the most important part of a vehicle during a long drive. These diamond-stitched leather seats are more supportive, and after a few hours, I still felt great. If they are uncomfortable, fatigue will start to set in early. Though my only complaint was getting the headrest adjusted. It took a few tries to find the right depth adjustment, but overall I was very happy with them.
Like the rest of the new vehicles in the Audi lineup, the SQ5 gains the gorgeous Audi Virtual Cockpit, and like other S models, it comes with a unique Sport Display mode. The Sport Display mode puts the tachometer front and center with customizable information flanking it, literally pushing navigation and turn-by-turn directions to the periphery. The help navigate the MMI, there are steering wheel controls, a touchpad just above the gear selector and voice command. The touchpad is unique to the Q5, SQ5 and Q7 and it is very easy to use.
The SQ5 also has an increased wheelbase. This increase translates to more front headroom, more rear legroom and cargo space. There is a maximum of 60 cu-ft of cargo capacity when the 40/20/40 rear seatback fold down.
Audi optioned our $65,000 SQ5 with the Prestige Package, Fine Nappa leather package, S Sport package, dynamic steering, 21-inch wheels and carbon atlas inlays. The Prestige Package includes the dual-pane acoustic glass for the front windows, head-up display, interior lighting, Bang & Olufsen sound system, navigation and top-view camera system.
The $4,200 Prestige package is great value for the money. With the Navigation package listing for $2,600 and the B&O $950. That leaves $650 for the other four options in the package and they are not even an option with the Premium Plus package.
For me the only necessary option is the S Sport package. The Sport adaptive air suspension and Sport rear differential are must-haves. The extra ground clearance and comfort provided by the air suspension is well worth the cost. The Sport differential helps the SQ5 feel a little bit lighter than it actually is. The ability to enjoy the SQ5 in twisty mountain roads increases exponentially, as does its handling in the snow. The sport differential allows the Quattro system to shift the rear power delivery left to right.
Take it or leave it?
Today, the new Audi SQ5 is entering a very competitive market. 1-in-4 of all premium vehicles sales are SUVs. Consumers have lots of choices when it comes to buying a new vehicle, and it’s getting tougher to stand out. While the Q5 accounts for 24 percent of all Audis sold in the US and brought over 194,000 new customers to Audi, the momentum needs to continue.
When shopping for a new sporty vehicle even if you are not looking for an SUV, the 2018 Audi SQ5 is worth the test drive. The handling characteristics combined with the engine’s power and cargo capacity is certainly the perfect combination. While the roughly $10,000 price increase over the regular Q5 might seem like a lot, the extra power and handling are well worth it for someone looking to stand out a bit more from the crowd and most certainly for the customer who enjoys pushing their vehicles harder than most. Would I buy another one? Absolutely, especially with the new options and engine. But right now I have my eyes on new two-door model that will be arriving next year.