Long-term test (Introduction): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
Sporty SUVs. They’re now most certainly a thing. Indeed, this SQ5 finds itself scrapping for attention in an increasingly crowded (and shouty) segment that includes the Mercedes-AMG GLC43, the box-fresh BMW X3 M40i and, of course, the Porsche Macan S with which the Audi shares a number of oily bits.
But, unlike these harder-edged rivals, Ingolstadt’s flagship Q5 spreads its talents rather more broadly, lending it the aptitude to fulfil more roles, more of the time (life isn’t always a dead-quiet mountain pass, after all).
Whether this malleable personality will leave the SQ5 feeling any less special to pilot once the new-car smell has faded is something I’m keen to discover as this test progresses. Still, I didn’t have to wait long to become properly acquainted with this Ibis White example, since it sashayed into the CAR garage mere days ahead of a long-planned getaway.
So, with my daughter’s child seat securely in place thanks to one of the impeccably finished cabin’s three Isofix arrangements and the luggage compartment crammed with items my wife insisted we’d need, the SQ5 was soon pressed into action, whisking us away on a five-day jaunt to the Overberg.
The SQ5’s turbocharged 3,0-litre V6 petrol engine, shared with Audi Sport's S4 and S5, boasts sportscar-like poke at 260 kW and 500 N.m. But it’s on the open road that this deceptively rapid SUV’s powerplant does its best work. Its remarkable in-gear acceleration allowed us to safely pass the odd slower-moving vehicle with little more than a nudge of the loud pedal as we nosed along the N2, savouring the surprisingly compliant ride. Still, even with this generally relaxed approach, the six-cylinder’s liking for unleaded quickly became apparent, with consumption settling above 11,0 L/100 km.
Granted, though, the journey included some fuel-chugging gravel sections – varying in finish from fairly smooth to downright lunar-like – which the SQ5 took in its stride. The optional air suspension (one of 13 boxes ticked on the options list) played a key role here, hiking the ride height appreciably once the dedicated off-road mode had been selected, although the relatively low-profile rubber wrapped around those optional 21-inch alloys at times compelled me to slow to a crawl.
Overall, though, the SQ5 passed its first test with flying colours. Safely back in Cape Town (with the foldable tow hitch handily hidden from serial caravan- hauler, Nicol), I’m eager to learn how the SQ5 – or, perhaps more importantly, its potentially thirsty heart – will handle my traffc-infested daily commute.
It’s early days but the SQ5 has settled in as an ideal all-rounder, coupling comfort, practicality and refinement with a wicked turn of speed. Next up? A hunt for that deserted mountain pass.
After 1 month
Current mileage: 1 099 km
Average fuel consumption: 12,78 L/100 km
We like: brawny in-gear acceleration; supple ride
We don’t like: frequent trips to the petrol station
Long-term test (Update 1): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
Like most self-respecting premium vehicles wearing a German badge, our SQ5 boasts a fairly lengthy list of options adding R125 000 to its seven-figure sticker price. While the 21-inch alloys and panoramic sunroof are the priciest extras specified on our unit, the R13 618 adaptive air suspension isn’t far behind.
Question is, should you place a tick in this particular box, especially considering the SQ5 we tested in December 2017 delivered a compliant ride on the standard sports suspension?
Well, if you plan on doing even a smidgen of gravel-roading, the answer is a resounding “yes”. You see, the air suspension setup allows the driver to not only adjust the SQ5’s damping, but also vary its ride height over as many as five stages. Specifying this option adds two modes – lift/off-road and all-road – to the Audi Drive Select bouquet.
This essentially affords the driver the best of both worlds, with the Mexico-built SUV hunkering down 15 mm lower than standard in its angriest setting and hiking itself a whopping 45 mm over default mode in its off-road setting.
Furthermore, to render the loading of substantial items into and out of the generous luggage compartment a mite simpler, the rear of the vehicle can be lowered by some 55 mm with a prod of a dedicated boot-mounted button. Don’t jab too hard, though, or like me you might see the button disappear into its housing (a problem thankfully remedied by simply popping the switch back into place ... once you’ve located it).
In short, air suspension has already proven the most useful of the 13 extras fitted to our SQ5. So, in the context of this premium midsize SUV's price tag, is this option worth the cash? Without doubt.
After 4 months
Current mileage: 4 563 km
Average fuel consumption: 13,51 L/100 km
We like: air-suspension versatility
We don’t like: hefty fuel consumption
Long-term test (Update 2): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
How much power is enough? The answer to this often-asked question will, of course, depend largely on the type of vehicle in question (and, to a degree, on the foolhardiness inherent in its driver). You could, for instance, make a compelling argument there is such thing as too much oomph in a front-wheel-drive hot hatch. But what about an SUV? Well, here the line becomes a little blurrier, chiefly thanks to the effects of added weight and the security of all-wheel drive.
Indeed, there are a number of high-riding machines on offer in South Africa boasting peak outputs well north of 400 kW (like the Cayenne I drive on page 60), with more to come as the inevitable “power wars” – which have since spilled over into the double-cab bakkie segment – intensify. Overkill? Perhaps, although most are an absolute hoot to drive.
Yet, each time I alight from another performance vehicle (traditionally shaped or otherwise) and slot back in behind the SQ5’s now familiar flat-bottomed tiller, I’m further convinced this powertrain – as thirsty as it is proving – is close to perfectly judged and the highlight of a remarkably well-rounded package.
Sure, Ingolstadt’s flagship Q5 – which packs 260 kW courtesy of Audi Sport’s turbocharged 3,0-litre V6 petrol heart – is short a small handful of kilowatts compared with similarly priced rivals such as the BMW X3 M40i and Mercedes-AMG GLC43 but, in an everyday setting, where the Audi excels at serving up fuss-free pace rather than acoustic or dynamic theatrics, this matters nought.
For the first six months of this test, I haven’t once found myself longing for more power from the SQ5, whether I’m blasting along a quiet strip of tarmac, cruising down a highway, negotiating a gravel road or sitting in soul-destroying traffic. And I simply can’t see that changing over the next six.
After 6 months
Current mileage: 7 041 km
Average fuel consumption: 13,39 L/100 km
We like: fuss-free pace
We don’t like: mounting fuel bill
Long-term test (Update 3): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
One of the most memorable roads of Performance Shootout 2017 was Pakhuis Pass, a stunning strip of tarmac outside Clanwilliam, peppered with switchbacks. A family getaway to nearby Citrusdal afforded me another taste of this quiet mountain pass, this time from behind the wheel of an Audi Sport relative of that year’s overall winner.
With the (optional) air suspension ensuring a suitably hunkered-down stance, the SQ5 displayed an athleticism belying its considerable heft, while the rear-biased all-wheel drive arrangement served up heaps of grip. A mile-munching holiday chariot and brutally efficient corner-carver in one.
After 7 months
Current mileage: 8 101 km
Average fuel consumption: 13,34 L/100 km
Long-term test (Update 4): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
During a recent trip to the filling station, a pair of petrol attendants panned the SQ5 for its most controversial styling cue: those fake exhaust outlets. Yes, the quartet of chrome-edged orifices you see here are in fact not orifices at all and are instead blanked off with black plastic (Audi isn’t the only brand guilty of this trick). Drop to the floor to peer behind these faux exits (as said attendants did) and you’ll spy a single modest pipe at each end. Street-cred issues aside, the SQ5’s exhaust system delivers a broad aural range spanning from open-road refinement to full-throttle vigour.
After 8 months
Current mileage: 9 613 km
Average fuel consumption: 13,24 L/100 km
Long-term test (Update 5): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
On the odd occasion a colleague manages to pry the SQ5’s keyfob from my vice-like grip, I ask for a little feedback in return (a fresh pair of eyes and all that). The latest comment? That the design of the Audi’s facia – while it is still class-leading in terms of fit and finish – is starting to date. It’s a fair point considering Ingolstadt’s newest models have ditched the 8,3-inch display sitting proud on the dash for larger screens stacked in the centre console. Still, I prefer the SQ5’s MMI controller to a touchscreen, while the optional Virtual Cockpit offers an ideal mix of elegance and functionality.
After 9 months
Current mileage: 10 448 km
Average fuel consumption: 13,19 L/100 km
Long-term test (Update 6): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
As you would no doubt have gleaned from previous updates, Audi’s polished SQ5 has done little wrong in the 10 months I’ve been its custodian. It’s deceptively rapid, surprisingly comfort- able (considering the low-profile Pirelli P Zero rubber wrapped round those optional 21-inch alloys) and boasts a top-drawer interior. Indeed, the only major criticism I feel justified in lobbing its way involves the 3,0-litre V6’s proclivity to guzzle unleaded.
And that had me thinking: why did the Ingolstadt-based automaker opt to engineer
this current-generation SQ5 in petrol form when the preceding iteration was offered – locally, at least – in oil-burning guise? The most likely answer, of course, centres on the VW Group’s diesel emissions scandal, but it’s still a question worth considering.
You see, as the first diesel- powered S model from Audi, the previous-generation SQ5 TDI developed quite a following both here in South Africa and on the global stage. And for good reason, too; it served up a tough-to- resist mix of grunt and efficiency.
In fact, that 230 kW biturbo- diesel unit directed a whopping 650 N.m (150 N.m more than our 260 kW V6 petrol mill) to all four corners, facilitating a sprint from standstill to 100 km/h in a claimed 5,1 seconds. For the record, that’s some 0,3 seconds quicker than the model pictured here.
While the German firm’s fuel- use claim of 6,8 L/100 km might seem optimistic, the diesel- powered SQ5 was certainly capable of impressive frugality in real-world scenarios, with reader Kevin Lee writing to tell us he achieves “less than 8,0 L/100 km in mixed driving” in his 2015 SQ5 TDI. Colour us jealous.
So, would this latest model have been better off sipping from a diesel tank? Perhaps, although there’s also an argument to be made that a lighter foot would see the petrol-flavoured V6 taking more measured swigs, as suggested by colleague Wilhelm, who reported an indicated 8,6 L/ 100 km after a 50 km commute.
After 10 months
Current mileage: 12 164 km
Average fuel consumption: 13,08 L/100 km
We like: refinement at pace
We don’t like: V6's continued thirst
Long-term test (Update 7): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
In 2018, Audi’s Q5 range was handed the Top 12 Best Buys crown in the premium midsize SUV/crossover category, proving one of the easiest awards to call. And this year? Flick to page 54 and you’ll notice Ingolstadt’s classy crossover has been relegated to third.
So, what’s changed over the past 12 months? Well, Volvo’s frankly excellent XC60 has joined the fray, while BMW has shrewdly expanded its line-up
of locally built X3 derivatives, catering to a broader audience. Placing the Q5 behind these two capable competitors certainly wasn’t a unanimous decision, though, with the close vote preceded by animated debate. Indeed, once raised hands were tallied, there were a few furrowed brows around the table.
And they were entirely justified. You see, the Q5 range does very little wrong. In the case of this flagship S-badged model, the 3,0-litre V6 serves up a brutally effective, although deceptive, turn of speed. It may not be quite as involving to drive quickly as the updated Porsche Macan S, not quite as boisterous as the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 (never mind the V8-powered, 63-badged version) nor quite as hard-edged as the BMW X3 M40i, but that’s essentially its key strength.
With an ability to spread its talents more broadly than most rivals, the SQ5 can successfully slip into any number of roles. This is something of which I’ll take advantage as I point the Audi towards Plettenberg Bay for one last road trip before its time with us draws to a close.
I’ve come to appreciate the understated SQ5’s keen balance of comfort, versatility and, when needed, its easily accessible pace. And while it’s fairly common to develop a soft spot for a vehicle placed in your care for an extended period, that simply hasn’t been the case with this SQ5. Why? Because soft spots are for underdogs and the Audi is certainly no underdog, even if it now occupies the lowest step on the podium.
After 11 months
Current mileage: 12 858 km
Average fuel consumption: 13,16 L/100 km
We like: broad spread of talents
We don’t like: time's running out
Long-term test (Final report): Audi SQ5 3,0T FSI Quattro Tiptronic
15 411 km
12,99 L/100 km
By definition, the performance SUV is a bit of a compromise. Thanks to its inevitably high centre of gravity and inescapable heft, it’s unlikely to thrill drivers over a mountain pass in quite the same manner a well-sorted, low-slung sportscar might. And, since the typical hot SUV sacrifices a degree of comfort at the altar of sportiness, it’s not as easy to live with on a day-to- day basis as a softly sprung crossover loping along on plump tyres. Jack of all trades, master of none, you might say.
In the case of this year-long test, that compromise is as close to perfectly judged as it possibly could be. Twelve months behind the wheel has simply reinforced just how broadly Audi’s SQ5 is able to spread its impressive array of talents, morphing from comfortable family cruiser to deceptively quick corner carver at the mere prod of a button and flex of an ankle.
Audi Sport’s familiar single- turbo, 3,0-litre V6 is at the heart of this malleability. Shared with the S4 and S5 ranges, the creamy six-cylinder mill serves up a hearty 260 kW between 5 400 and 6 400 r/min, allowing the flagship Q5 to complete the obligatory sprint from standstill to three figures in a claimed 5,4 seconds (for the record, we managed a time just 0,3 seconds slower on our test strip).
While not the most sonorous (rivals from Mercedes-AMG and BMW M, for instance, deliver markedly more intense soundtracks), the Ingolstadt-based brand’s S-badged Q5 nevertheless offers a broad aural range spanning full-throttle verve – albeit electronically enhanced – to pleasingly hushed open-road refinement.
Unfortunately, the four chrome- edged apertures integrated into the lower section of the rear bumper are not tailpipes at all; instead, they hide a pair of modest, downturned exhaust outlets positioned at each corner. Tailpipe trickery aside, the smooth-revving T FSI unit – with some help from a rear-biased all-wheel-drive arrangement – grants the big Audi a wickedly deceptive turn of speed, both off the line (despite the lack of launch control) and during the sort of in-gear acceleration required for swift overtaking.
With the ever-present temptation to send the needle whirling towards the upper regions of the tachometer, there’s seldom need to absolutely bury the right pedal, with the V6’s healthy torque peak of 500 N.m spread as low as 1 370 all the way through to 4 500 r/min. The slick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, too, plays an important role, with its smartly spaced ratios affording the driver easy access to that generous slab of twisting force.
As wonderful as this powertrain is, there is a slight, if predictable, downside. The burly V6 has a tendency to guzzle unleaded, draining its 70-litre tank in double-quick time (despite the integration of a stop/start system, plus a transmission featuring a clever freewheeling mode and decidedly tall upper ratios) even when its pilot manages to drive with a modicum of restraint. While that’s the case with most performance vehicles, it’s worth noting that, earlier in 2019, Audi unwrapped a second-generation TDI-badged SQ5 (boasting a whopping 700 N.m). It not only offers even more impressive performance than its petrol-powered sibling, but also takes far smaller sips of fuel. Sounds intriguing.
The SQ5’s ability to balance seemingly opposing talents extends to the way it rides and handles. Over the course of a year, punctuated with the odd family getaway, fairly frequent weekend day trips and the unavoidable traffic-infested slog to the office, I experienced the Mexico-built SUV on a variety of road surfaces. Despite the presence of those eye-catching 21-inch, five-spoke alloys (at R21 789, the most expensive option fitted to this particular vehicle), the suspension was seldom caught out, lending the SQ5 a sophisticated ride further amplified in comfort mode.
Of course, the optional adaptive air suspension makes a marked difference, allowing fine-tuning of both damping and ride height, the latter across five stages. Ticking this R13 618 box adds two modes– lift/off-road and all-road – to the familiar Audi Drive Select bouquet, which proved useful on gravel. Still, the larger wheels and the expensive, relatively low-profile Pirelli P Zero rubber render progress over rough surfaces measured rather than outright meteoric.
Even though the standard setup (boasting electronically controlled variable dampers) delivers good pliancy, the air springs are worth the extra outlay, as they add the ability to drop the ride height 15 mm lower than standard in the most dynamic setting. The system also affords easier access to the generous luggage compartment; the rear of the vehicle can lower by 55 mm with a press of any of the boot-mounted buttons. It’s particularly useful when loading heavy kit into the vehicle and when attaching a child-seat’s top tether to the rear of the bench.
While the air suspension system proved the most useful of the 13 extras, there are one or two other items in the lengthy list worth considering. My young daughter enjoyed the panoramic glass roof (R20 400), as well as the spacious rear quarters and standard three- zone climate control. The R7 061 Audi Virtual Cockpit is an absolute must from a driver’s perspective. Matrix LED headlamps – which include striking dynamic turn signals (front and rear) as well as a clever function that automatically dips part of the main beam when it detects another vehicle ahead – are tempting at R6 254. Sliding and reclining rear seats (R4 943) are another useful addition.
Audi’s newest models boast two large screens stacked in the centre console but the SQ5 employs an older 8,3-inch display that sits proud of the facia. While the latter looks less modern, I still prefer the intuitive MMI controller to a touchscreen, from both an ease-of- use standpoint and a safety perspective. As we’ve come to expect from the folks from Ingolstadt, fit and finish are class-leading, with no creaks or rattles after 12 months of daily use.
So, are there any blemishes to report? Well, the programmable button on the steering wheel occasionally refused to function, although the problem would always resolve itself the next time the vehicle was started. I had set it up to scroll through the various drive modes since the dedicated controls are positioned on the passenger side of the centre console. The aforementioned air-suspension buttons in the luggage compartment disappeared into their housing once but fishing them out and popping them back into place was simple enough. Towards the end of the test, the standard rain-sensing windscreen wipers sporadically activated despite a distinct lack of precipitation.
When I took the SQ5 to Audi Centre Claremont for its first annual service, the experience was largely pleasant; the staff was both friendly and efficient. In addition to the standard service items, a “51G2” update was listed in the paperwork. While the service consultant wasn’t able to explain exactly what this meant, a quick Google search revealed it to be a patch to the software controlling the powered tailgate. Some customers had reported random opening of the boot but thankfully I didn’t ever encounter this problem.
Thanks to its tremendous ability to balance comfort and pace while offering more than adequate family space, the understated SQ5 will be sorely missed. It’s a genuinely easy vehicle: the flexibility of that silky powertrain will remain the overwhelming highlight for me, in spite of its relatively heavy consumption.
Sure, some rivals offer more grunt, drama and a sense of occasion, but with that comes a harder edge that some days you wish wasn’t there. From where I’m sitting, none strikes as perfect a balance as the SQ5. Compromise? More like a happy medium.
After 12 months
Current mileage: 15 411 km
Average fuel consumption: 12,99 L/100 km
Best fuel consumption: 10,31 L/100 km
Worst fuel consumption: 16,85 L/100 km
We like: ample power; classy cabin; malleable personality
We don’t like: thirst for unleaded; that we had to give it back...
See Full Audi SQ5 price and specs here