354 horsepower supercharged engine. Eight-speed transmission. Fifteen-inch brake rotors. Legendary Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Bang & Olufsen® sound system. Huge panoramic sunroof. 12-way power heated seats. Great sounding exhaust system. And yet, the most impressive feature is the cupholder.
That’s right folks, this vehicle has a “thermo cupholder” that will keep your beverage warm or cold, depending on your choosing. This, to me, an avid beverage drinker, was mind blowing.
The rest of the car is damn nice, too. It’s not quick – it’s fast, deceptively so. The power is instantaneous, and always available. The automatic transmission is always in the right gear when in sport mode – it needs a second to process when in comfort mode. It handles corners and curves superbly for a sports sedan, and amazingly well for a cross-over utility vehicle that it is.
Like most cars in Audi’s lineup, the SQ5 is a handsome vehicle, and I received numerous compliments on it in the few days that I lived with it. The SQ5 takes the sporty S-line of the regular Q5 and spruces it up with its own grill, trim, side sills, as well as typical S trademarks such as aluminum mirror housings and twin dual-pipe exhaust system. The SQ5 comes with 20-inch, or optional 21-inch, wheels, all of which come wrapped around in 255mm wide summer tires. The vehicle pictured here was wearing 20-inch wheels with 255/45 winter rubbers.
Inside, the steering wheel is right out of the Audi R8, and may actually feel a little small at times. The starter button is oddly located next to the shifter, almost as if it’s a Saab. There is no specific place to keep one’s cell phone other than the other cup-holder, but there is a roof-mounted sunglasses holder.The seats are great, supportive everywhere, adjustable in all the right ways, and heated. There is plenty of room for two in the back, with generous leg and headroom. Three people would be tight on a long long drive, and three child booster seats would not fit, but if you need that much room Audi has the Q7 for you. Trunk space is good, typical for this size vehicle, and the 60:40 split rear bench folds almost flat.
Interesting bit: the roof rack rails are equipped with sensors which are connected to the stability control. When these sensors detect that cross-bars are installed, the stability controls systems changes its magical settings to assume a higher center of gravity. Cool.
When it comes to the infotainment system, things are not as rosy. The screen is small compared to new Lexuses and BMWs, but still shows everything you need to see. The whole thing is operated by a big knob and a handful of hard buttons around it. The volume knob is to the right of the shifter, and while it may seem weird at first, it’s actually ergonomically comfortable. There are auxiliary controls on the steering wheel. Like many systems, there is a learning curve for new drivers, but once mastered it is easy to use.
Interestingly, there are no hard radio preset buttons, no USB port, and no auxiliary input. There is an old style iPhone/iPod connection, but it’s in the glove box and no one is going to jam their phone in there every time they get into the car. My iPhone did connect via Bluetooth, but a USB connection is usually better. If I wanted to charge it, I was limited a single 12v receptacle, which happened to have a cigarette lighter in it. There were two more 12v receptacles; near the rear seat and in the trunk.
The engine is similar to the one found in the Audi S4/S5, but it makes more power, 354hp vs. 333hp. The transmissions are also different, where the S4/S5 are available with a six-speed manual or seven-speed dual clutch, the SQ5 comes only with an eight-speed automatic, a.k.a. Tiptronic®. This automatic transmission, however, when in sport mode, acts very similarly to a dual-clutch transmission, with very quick shifts and none of the typical DCT harshness. Audi conservatively says that the SQ5 goes from zero to 60mph in 5.1 seconds, and has a top speed of 155mph. There are four settings for steering feel, shocks, and engine/transmission response. In daily street driving this is very fast vehicle, and I am confident that it wouldn’t feel out of place on a track.
The SQ5 is the first compact CUV to get the “sports” treatment in recent times (hello GMC Typhoon). It delivers fantastic performance in a tight and efficient package. I consider the X5 M and ML63 AMG to be bigger, despite having room for five, and pricier. The whole time I was driving the SQ5, however, I was inclined not to compare it to other CUVs, but rather to another, very similar, Audi product, the non-U.S. market S4 Avant. Both cars have nearly the same wheelbase and length, powertrain (see above), and features. The S4 is a cooler looking, in my opinion, sport wagon and it is less expensive, too. It’s too bad that most car-buying Americans just don’t like wagons.
The SQ5 is not an inexpensive option, as the same money can buy various sports cars, SUVs, or luxury sedans. The SQ5, however, offers a slick combination all three, while still being priced below the mentioned M and AMG vehicles. Bigger, at least on the outside, but similarly priced, vehicles include the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT and the Infinti FX50S (called QX70 for 2014).
Speaking of price, the SQ5 starts at $51,900. The model pictured is a Prestige model, which for $7500 adds blind spot detection, adaptive headlights, sunshades, B&O audio, camera and parking sensors, and, most importantly, the before mentioned heated/cooled cup-holder which is worth every penny. Spraying your SQ5 in Estroil Blue crystal effect paint will add $1075, full leather will tack on another $1500, and wood trim is $1100, for a grand total of nearly $64,000.
The market is full of compact cross-over utility vehicles but SQ5 is the only performance option, at least until the very similar Porsche Mecan comes to U.S. showrooms. It’s not a car for everyone, but I predict that those who will buy the Audi SQ5 will love it, heated cupholder n’ all.
Disclaimer – Audi provided me with this SQ4. It was given to me clean and with a full tank of gas – I made it dirty, washed it, and made it dirty again, and washed it again. I used up half a tank of gas, too.
[Images: Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Kamil Kaluski]