Audi SQ5 Plus road test and review
ROAD TEST: Audi SQ5 Plus.
THE battle of one-upmanship in the premium SUV world is strong.
No longer is merely owning a luxury lifestyle high-rider enough. Oh no. It must have add-on aero body parts, red brake calipers, highly patterned ventilated leather seats and, this bit is key, extra words after its name, like Premium, Inscription or Portfolio.
My wife reminds me of the fact often, describing battling her Skoda wagon through Porsche Macan Turbos, Range Rover Evoque Autobiographys and Merc GLE Coupes (with endless letters and numbers on the rear) come school drop-off each morning.
Top of wifey's wish list for years has been the Audi SQ5. In graphite please, with roof racks for the bikes and kayaks.
Seems she's not alone. The SQ5 has been a mighty success, Audi shifting almost 3100 of them since their May 2013 launch.
On arrival, the bi-turbo V6 3.0-litre-powered SQ5 was the fastest diesel SUV you could buy, the torquiest thing on the market for under $100k (650Nm) and has made up 30% of all Q5 sales. Little wonder they're bloody everywhere.
To bring exclusivity back we have this: the SQ5 Plus. Retailing at over $17k more than your boggo SQ5 it brings much blackness to the body (roof spoiler, rear diffuser, door handles, mirrors, grille, window surround and roof rails), 20-inch RS-Design 5-V-Spoke rims, racier Dunlop tyres, red brake calipers, unique tail pipes, carbon bits inside and deeply caressing Nappa leather seats with diamond pattern contrast stitching.
It's also race track ready, should you ever feel the need. A quattro Sport differential with active torque vectoring (that's standard on Audi's RS models) is included on this Plus SUV, while Audi has found an extra 10kW and 50Nm over a normal SQ5 thanks to engine remapping, higher turbo boost pressure and higher pressure injectors.
All good news and sure to keep SQ5 momentum going (Audi expects the Plus to make up 20% of SQ5 sales), but time is not on this model's side. The current Q5 range is set to be replaced from early next year, and the cabin especially of even this very special offering looks old compared to recently refreshed Audi models' stunning new Virtual Cockpit-blessed dashboards.
The Audi Q5 in its many guises is a delight for all occupants, but the SQ5 Plus ups the luxury with a sporting bent. The diamond pattern Nappa leather feels as good as it looks, Alcantara door inserts give the required racy touch and Audi's multifunction flat bottom steering wheel is a chunky delight with the required paddles behind. No heating or ventilation for the front seats is a bit stingy for a $100k+ car though.
All Q5s offer excellent dash layout and controls with ease of use, clarity and classy lighting, but this SQ5 Plus is no different to others in the range - despite the cabin brilliance, it is shown up by the newer Audis (Q7, A4, TT, etc.) featuring the quite brilliant Virtual Cockpit display in the driver's line of sight. This only arrives with the next generation Q5 range, so the current screen looks small and a bit dated, even if its functionality is excellent.
On a practical level, it's a sensibly-sized SUV for families not requiring the bulk or seven seats of a Q7, with ample room for rear passengers and 540-litres of boot space via a power tailgate.
On the road
The SQ5 and Plus both sit 30mm lower than a standard Q5 with modified springs and dampers for sportier performance, wider front and rear track and bigger brakes.
You still sit high in the car, but the Plus is up there with the best physics-defying SUVs. Unruffled in the turns the body sits flat, steering is precise and weighty, while grip level from the sporty Dunlop rubber is excellent - you have to work very hard to produce any sort of squealy complaint from them.
Brakes have to work hard considering the car's two-tonne-plus mass, and how quick it gets up to speed - 5.1 seconds to 100kmh remember - but again proved faultless during our on-road test.
Our drive sadly wasn't enough to sample the quattro sport differential properly, but really, unless your SQ5 Plus is track bound owners won't either. The science has the diff directing torque to the wheel needing it most, helping reduce (even totally eliminate) understeer during heavy cornering. As with Audi RS offerings it helps tuck the nose in and give you confidence to power out of corners, but perhaps more pertinently, could save your bacon by mopping up misjudged cornering errors.
Despite the added power and torque of the Plus, performance figures are the same as a normal SQ5. Which is already plenty. The pull from the V6 turbo diesel makes it true sports car quick, and to help excite all senses, a "sound actuator" - a speaker near the rear tailpipe pipe - amplifies the engine acoustics for an additional growly bass noise. It may be a bit cheaty, but who cares when it feels this good, and un-diesel-like, to the ears.
When we last tested the SQ5 we said the ride wasn't the most compliant over rough surfaces, and it's no different with the Plus. It is a firm ride, even in Comfort mode in the Audi Drive Select system, but this is an acceptable sacrifice for the very talented chassis.
What do you get?
All "normal" SQ5s are quite fruit filled with the likes of electric seats, sat nav and tri-zone climate, but the Plus adds the black body styling parts, the trick Sport differential, unique 20-inch wheels shod in sportier rubber, red brake calipers, Nappa leather, leather covered instrument binnacle, carbon fibre inlays, adaptive cruise control with emergency braking and Audi side assist.
Audi says it's at least $13,000 worth of extra kit with the Plus, before you take into account the engine changes.
You can save yourself $17k by choosing the non-Plussed SQ5 ($91,700), or look at the Porsche Macan GTS ($109,500), Range Rover Evoque Td4 Autobiography ($91,905), Infiniti QX70 S Premium ($104,400) or the new Jaguar F-Pace 30d S ($99,940).
A premium model, that 'S' engine and bigger brakes inevitably lead to higher service costs, as will re-booting it in those pricier Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres. For an SUV that cracks 100kmh in 5.1-seconds though - it is still an incredibly fast family hauler - a return of 6.8-litres/100km of diesel isn't too shabby. Our rather spirited test drive saw closer to the 9s, but it's an entertaining way to burn money.
So ubiquitous is the ever-popular Audi SQ5 that there's certainly a business case for this Plus model's existence: there'll always be those seeking greater exclusivity, luxury and bragging rights. Besides, SQ5 buyers are renowned for being quite liberal with their options box ticking habits.
Its extra kit on top of an already talented luxury SUV makes the range-topper's chunkier price seem justified, even if the uber-smart quattro Sport diff will no doubt go unnoticed by 99% of buyers.
With the Q5 up for replacement in early 2017 there's sense in waiting for the next-gen SQ5, but even so, it's hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with this enduringly desirable SUV blessed with Audi's Plus treatment.
What matters most
What we liked: SQ5 Plus's exclusivity and added luxury kit a good fit for the more image-conscious SQ5 buyer, monstrous torque, even stealthier looks over normal SQ5.
What we'd like to see: A "Plus" badge to help differentiate the model, should have been quicker than a normal SQ5, new Q5 arriving early next year will make this model look quickly dated, smart diff probably wasted on bulk of buyers.
Warranty and servicing: Three year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Servicing is every 15,000km or 12 months.
Model: Audi SQ5 Plus.
Details: Five-door all-wheel-drive premium mid-sized SUV.
Engine: 3.0-litre turbodiesel generating maximum power of 250kW @ 4100rpm and peak torque of 700Nm @ 1500rpm.
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic.
Performance 0-100kmh: 5.1-seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $108,900.
Driving experience 16/20
Features and equipment 17/20
Functionality and comfort 16/20
Value for money 15/20
Style and design 19/20