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Test Drive: 2018 Audi SQ5

Test Drive: 2018 Audi SQ5

By Christian Wardlaw, January 24, 2018
There are two distinctly different kinds of 2018 Audi Q5 that you can buy. The first is the most popular, the Q5, available in three trims and powered by a turbocharged, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. It’s a nice SUV, but people who love to drive will quickly tire of its overactive stability control system on a twisty road.

If you’ve got rubber burning in your veins, the Audi SQ5 is the one you want to drive. This one is available in two trims and is powered by a thrilling, turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 engine. Additional highlights include standard 20-in. aluminum wheels, summer performance tires, adaptive damping suspension, bigger brakes, and design modifications that set it apart from the standard Q5.

Audi recently invited me to sample the 2018 SQ5 on some of the best driving roads in Southern California, which also happen to serve as a regular vehicle testing stomping grounds. As a friend of mine likes to say, long story short, the 2018 Audi SQ5 is an unmitigated blast to drive.

Styling and Design
If a standard Q5 is too plain for you, perhaps the SQ5 will excite your eye for design and detail. Differences include a more intricate grille, bolder fascia detail, unique wheels, aluminum-optic side mirror caps, revised lower body detailing, and a rear diffuser panel tucked between design elements styled to resemble a quad exhaust system (they’re for show). Thanks to these subtle changes, the SQ5 looks appreciably different from the standard Q5, while adding a sense of style the standard SUV lacks.

Inside, the SQ5 benefits from a flat-bottom steering wheel, stainless steel pedal covers and doorsill trim, and aluminum dashboard inlays. Sport-bolstered seats are covered in leather and Alcantara suede, providing a proper spot from which to exercise the turbocharged, 3.0-liter V-6 engine.

Comfort levels impress, though four adults will be happier than five will. Cargo space is aligned with competitors in the small luxury SUV segment, measuring 26.8 cu. ft. behind the rear seat and 60.4 cu. ft. with the rear seat folded down.

Features and Controls
Two trim levels are offered for the 2018 SQ5: Premium Plus and Prestige. The latter adds Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation, head-up display, navigation system, handwriting-recognition technology, premium Bang & Olufsen sound system, and a 360-degree surround-view camera system. Audi also throws in 6 free months to Audi Connect Plus and Audi Connect Prime subscription services.

My test car was loaded up with Prestige trim, Daytona Gray Pearl paint, Magma Red Nappa leather with exclusive diamond-pattern stitching, Carbon Atlas dashboard inlays, and 21-in. Audi Sport aluminum wheels. Additionally, my SQ5 came with every option except rear-seat side-impact air bags and a Warm Weather option package. The price rose from the SQ5’s base number of $55,275 to $68,350, including the $975 destination charge.

As far as the control layout goes, the 2018 Audi SQ5 includes a new electronic shifter that takes some acclimation, as well as a new version of the company’s Multi-Media Interface (MMI) infotainment system, which includes a redesign of the center console controls. Now, the transmission selector acts as a wrist-rest when using the MMI controller, main menu buttons, and handwriting-recognition pad. The volume knob is separate, off to the side.

This new approach successfully divorces the MMI controls from the cupholders, which reduces the chance that you’ll spill a sticky drink on them. However, I don’t find the new arrangement as easy to visually reference. Over time, this is not an issue because owners will know by touch what is located where. When you’re new to the SQ5, however, it is a bit of a challenge.

Safety and Technology
Prestige trim adds several popular equipment upgrades, all but the handwriting-recognition technology of genuine use (it often did not recognize the letters I drew upon it). Most are offered as options for the Premium Plus version of the SUV.

Beyond these features, the SQ5 Prestige is available with an exclusive Driver Assistance package containing adaptive cruise control with traffic-jam assist technology, automatic high-beam headlights, active lane-assist system, and traffic sign-recognition technology.

It is easy to live without the Driver Assistance package. The Prestige’s other systems, however, are key drivers of satisfaction with the Audi SQ5. For example, while digital instrumentation is becoming as commonplace as it was in 1980s-era Buick showrooms, Audi’s lushly rendered Digital Cockpit gauges and information panels lead the industry in terms of design and appearance, and in the SQ5 model it includes a special Sport display mode. The Bang & Olufsen premium sound system is terrific, too.

As far as safety ratings are concerned, the Audi Q5 is just a set of decent headlights away from earning an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) “Top Safety Pick” rating for 2018. The IIHS has not applied this rating specifically to the SQ5, and the federal government has not tested the new Q5 or SQ5 for crash protection.

Driving Impressions
Audi claims that the SQ5 speeds to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, and it sure feels like an accurate figure. The turbocharged V-6 whips up 354 horsepower, and its 369 lb.-ft. of torque is available from a ridiculously low 1,350 rpm up to 4,500 rpm. An 8-speed automatic transmission and rear-biased Quattro all-wheel-drive system are also standard.

My test car had the optional S Sport option package, which installs a sport rear differential that adds torque-vectoring capability, along with red-painted brake calipers and a sport-adaptive air suspension. The suspension adjusts as the driver cycles through the SQ5’s different driving modes: Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, Individual, and exclusive to the air suspension, Allroad and Lift/Allroad.

Given the SQ5’s mission, which is maximum velocity on paved roads, I had no need for those latter settings. Instead, I selected Dynamic, pointed the optional variable-ratio Dynamic Steering toward Mulholland Highway in the Santa Monica Mountains, and proceeded to sample the SQ5’s limits of grip.

Calling this Audi fun to drive doesn’t do it justice. No SUV should handle the way this loaded SQ5 Prestige did. And the exhaust adds a pleasing soundtrack to the proceedings, especially when the driver elects to use the transmission’s paddle shifters.

Furthermore, where during a morning drive the standard Q5’s stability control system engaged no less than four times for no particular reason at all on this stretch of road, the SQ5’s setup is clearly tuned for greater handling thresholds, interrupting the fun not once.

Once you’re finished goofing off and heading back to civilization in Auto or Comfort mode, the SQ5 is remarkably civilized. The ride is compliant, the steering makes quick work of parking, the exhaust replaces its barking and burping for a quieter drive, and unless onlookers are paying close attention, few would guess that the SQ5 is capable of blistering performance.

Built for maximum driving enjoyment, but suitable for comfortable daily driving, the new Audi SQ5 represents the best of all worlds. This SUV offers appealing design, a luxurious cabin, plenty of utility, and gobs of performance. If you find the price to be right, you’re certain to love owning the new 2018 Audi SQ5.

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