The model-year 2014 Audi SQ5 is the best SUV for you if you fantasize about turning a Golf R into a high-performance crossover. With all-wheel drive, a sport-tuned suspension and unique details, this offering is a lot like a jacked-up version of the hottest hatchback from Audi’s parent company, Volkswagen.
Of course, the SQ5 has a supercharged V-6 with 354 horsepower—that’s two more cylinders and 50 more horses than the Golf R. And it shares some of its design with a new Porsche. No Golf does that.
This is the first SUV to merit Audi’s performance S designation. It tops a Q5 roster of less powerful four- and six-cylinder models, a diesel and a hybrid. Think of the SQ5 as a sort of early farewell to this first-generation Q5, which debuted for 2009. A redesigned version is due in early 2016.
To create this SUV, the automaker takes the supercharged three-liter V-6 used in its car line—including in the S4 and S5 models—and pumps it to 345 horsepower and 347 pound-feet of torque. That’s 14 more horses and 22 more pound-feet than in any Audi car. Credit a big grille for some of the extra power—it lets in more air than the car grilles can.
The transmission is a well-behaved eight-speed automatic with steering-wheel paddles for manual-type shifting. And like all Q5s, the SQ has Audi’s quattro AWD. It keeps 60 percent of the power at the back wheels for a sporty rear-drive feel, and then feeds it forward if a tire slip is sensed.
European SQ5s ride more than an inch lower than standard versions. The American version isn’t lowered but does have a firmer suspension and larger front brakes than others. And it comes with summer performance tires on exclusive 20-inch or optional 21-inch alloy wheels. It also gets the horizontal-blade grille and aluminum mirrors that identify all S Audis, quad tailpipe outlets and, of course, SQ5 badges.
Inside are unique instrument faces, aluminum pedals and the thick-rimmed, flat-bottom steering wheel found in other performance Audis and VWs. A panoramic sunroof is standard, as are leather upholstery and sport front buckets. Also aboard is the $7,500 Prestige package that includes a Bang and Olufsen sound system and navigation with Google Earth capability.
Like every Q5, this is a spacious compact wagon, with plenty of passenger room front and rear. Cargo volume is a little above the class average, at 30 cubic feet behind the back seat and 57 with it folded.
In all, this is one quick crossover. It takes just 5.1 seconds to get from 0 to 60. More impressive is the thrust from midrange speeds. Carried along on an intoxicating roar from the exhaust, you’re into triple-digits before you can say, “Sorry, officer.”
This vehicle handles better than any SUV has a right to. You can adjust suspension, steering and even shift points, and the result always seems to be terrific grip, little body lean and steering response so sharp you’ll need to recalibrate your inputs for the first few miles.
The strong brakes are wonderfully progressive, though a trace of lag tarnishes some low-rpm throttle applications. In addition, the vehicle will understeer if you’re ham-fisted in a tight turn. We’d like more lateral bolstering from those sport buckets, and the main dynamic compromise is a stiff ride that can be jarring on bad pavement. Then there’s the fuel economy rating of 19 mpg city/highway combined. It’s the lowest in the compact crossover class.
Starting just under $54,000, this is the costliest Q5. Absent are features available on newer rivals and even on some younger Audis, like writing-recognition software and adaptive cruise control. But for a compact crossover to match its performance you’ll need to go elsewhere within the Volkswagen family, to Porsche. Its new Macan appropriates the Q5’s basic structure, though with Porsche styling, interior, suspension and powertrains, including V-6s of 340 and 400 horsepower. It also has Porsche-level pricing.
The SQ5 is obviously of limited appeal but it does deliver all the performance it promises and more utility than any hot hatch. On a purely rational basis, it’s the last version of the Q5 we’d recommend. Of course Audi didn’t build a 155 mph SUV to appeal to our rational side, did it?