If Vancouver Island isn’t God’s country, it’s at least within the county lines. The idyllic emerald isle is the type of land you never forget driving through, and Audi’s decision to set the launch of its SQ5 crossover in this part of the globe borders on brilliant. To make it from the British Columbia capital of Victoria to the remote west coast hamlet of Tofino, we experienced a good blend of Trans-Canada highway with more remote two-lane roads — aptly challenging the SQ5’s handling and performance acumen.
This high-performance variant of the Q5 isn’t singularly critical to the Four Rings’ success, but as the top-of-the-line model for Audi’s now best-selling vehicle — the Q5 surpassed the A4 sedan in total units moved last year — the SQ5 is a quasi-halo vehicle for Audi’s exploding crossover division. With added luxuries, improved powertrain, tons of standard amenities and a more aggressive demeanor, the SQ5 aims to shatter the soccer dad stereotypes that have calcified the luxury crossover market.
Second Generation Improvements
While most luxury manufacturers are just releasing their first wave of SUVs, Audi is on to gen two with their Q5 and its subsequent SQ5 high-po variant. This means a lot of things, but mostly it means they’ve logged countless miles of real-world driving and are on to improving their product, not simply engineering it.
The two biggest advances in the 2018 SQ5 are its powertrain and all-new MLB chassis. Let’s start with the powertrain, anchored by a 3.0-liter TFSI V6 that generates 354-hp and 369-lb-ft of torque. Although that’s the same amount of horsepower as the last gen 3.0-liter V6, the new engine supplies 23 more lb-ft of torque. And it gets to all that torque more quickly, as soon as 1,370 rpm. This newfound punchiness is a bit of a surprise, given that the all-new engine — the same found in the S4 and S5 — has swapped out a supercharger for turbos. But it’s more than welcome: anywhere under 6,000 rpm the SUV is eager to pop. Despite its greater torque numbers, its 0 to 60 click of 5.1 seconds remains the same as the last gen.
The second categorical improvement of the SQ5 is the MLB chassis. That’s the same architecture that frames Audi’s flagship Q7 SUV, which means no expense was spared in its development. With a greatly improved suspension — more on that later — the 2018 SQ5 feels incredibly solid on asphalt, almost like a large sedan, especially in performance modes. The SQ5 doesn’t feel heavy or lethargic, just superbly well put together.
If you’re intent on improving performance over the Q5, then you want to tick the optional S Sport package box. Sure at $3,000, it’s not cheap, but it brings a lot of improvements to the drive of the SQ5. Foremost is the mechanical rear differential with torque vectoring. In straights, it portions power off equally between the two rear wheels, but while cornering it delivers more to the outside wheel to help the SQ5 push around turns. All our test vehicles had the S Sport package installed, so we weren’t able to test a vehicle without the mechanical rear differential to get a sense of what it brings to the table. Regardless, no Q5 before this model even offered a rear differential, so it’s a marked improvement.
Besides red calipers adding a pinch of sporty flair to the visuals, the S Sport package also adds adaptive air suspension.
The Air Up There
Besides the new powertrain and chassis, the biggest leap the SQ5 makes in 2018 is the availability of Audi’s superb adaptive air suspension, only offered with the previously stated S Sport package. What the air suspension does, depending on the driver’s priorities is allow the SQ5 to greatly raise or lower its ride height via five suspension modes.
The default position, Auto, keeps the SQ5 at 7 inches high (same as Comfort). Use Allroad to raise the suspension to 8.2 inches if terrain demands. Are you getting into the weeds? Well, the SQ5 is never going to challenge a Land Rover in the dirt, but setting the suspension to Lift/Off-Road offers a 9-inch ride height — that’s two inches taller than the default mode, sparing the undercarriage from unwanted boulder abuse.
But let’s be honest: if you’re considering purchasing an SQ5, it’s more likely you’ll be selecting more high-performance modes than off-road ones. For that, you’ll want to scroll through the five modes to Dynamic. Dynamic drops the vehicle more than half an inch to 6.4 inches, lowering its center of gravity and allowing the SQ5 to more closely hug the road. Match that lower ride height with stiffened dampers, the mechanical rear differential, and the all-new MLB chassis, and the SQ5 offers a surprisingly well-handling crossover. No, it’s not an R8, but when the road got most squirrely — especially as we broke into the dark forests that bring you to the remote rocky shores of Tofino — the SQ5 didn’t budge or roll. It felt surprisingly firm, dare I say Porsche-like.
That said, while Dynamic mode was a lot of fun, the damper setting was also less forgiving. If you find yourself on highways, or long stretches where handling is not tested, it’s best to leave the suspension set on Auto or Comfort.
Even if you don’t opt for the S Sport package and its adaptive air suspension, every SQ5 comes with adaptive dampers that allow you to modulate the tautness of the ride (this is only an option in the Q5). In this case, the SQ5 remains at a constant ride height of 8.2 inches, or that of the air suspension’s Allroad mode. From there you can shift between Comfort, Normal and Sport depending on whether you want to prioritize handling or a cushy ride.
Designed with Restraint
While the SQ5 clearly offers some technical and engineering performance advancements over its more pedestrian Q5 sibling, it’s not set on pure terror alert. More like a Q5 that’s been training CrossFit for a good half year and wants to show off its lean muscles with a reined-in performance design package. Think restraint with just a touch of flair, such as a greyed-out version of its signature Singleframe grille, aluminum capped side mirrors, 20-inch rims (21-inch optional), a roof-mounted rear spoiler and LED head- and tail-lights.
The interior benefits most from the Prestige package (+$4,200) that offers full-color HUD, Bang & Olufsen 3D surround sound system, MMI touchpad, Virtual Cockpit, a birds-eye camera system for easy parking, and dual-pane acoustic windows for front passengers. Buttery black Nappa leather seats with Audi’s exquisite diamond stitching can be had for $1,250 more. A three-spoke flat-bottom steering wheel comes standard with the SQ5.
There are several performance improvements and standard luxuries in the SQ5 that make it a superior vehicle to the Q5 — especially with the optional S Sport package and its sundry of goodies. The million-dollar question is are these marked improvements worth the added $12,800 to the price tag of the Q5 ($42,475 vs. $55,275, base)? That’s a significant 30% bump in cost, further underscoring your priorities: are you looking for simply the highest-level trim from your SUV? Do you truly care about performance in a crossover? Or is value your top priority? We would argue that for the first two options, the SQ5 delivers, and is worth paying the extra coin for the added joy and niceties it brings to daily commutes. But if you don’t put a premium on performance, the already excellent Q5 will give you more return for your dollar.
For more information, options, and pricing, please visit our 2018 Audi SQ5 page on AutoWeb’s search and configure site.
Photo Credit: © 2017 Audi