The new Audi SQ5 is a sleeper. You have to look hard at the details, like the quad exhaust pipes, wider wheels and tires and silver-toned trim to see
there's something special here. But realize the SQ5 is pretty special.
Behind the grill is a massaged version of the robust 333 hp supercharged 3.0-liter V6 from the Audi S4. But here they've dialed-up the boost and bolted on
a new intake and exhaust system to deliver 21 more horsepower and 22 more lb-ft of torque.
Yes, the V6 is paired to the ZF 8-speed automatic and not a version of the company's fun-loving dual-clutch gearbox. But the ZF automatic has been re-tuned
to deliver crisper shifts and quicker downshifts.
And when pressed hard, this is a mean beastie. Audi says the SQ5, which starts at $52,795, will hit 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. Now you'd have to spend about
ten grand more to whip an SQ5 in a drag race with another crossover or SUV. Yes, the $63,660 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8 with its monster V8 could do it. And
so could the Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG. But when it comes to the Porsche Cayenne, only the $110,000 turbocharged model is quicker than the SQ5.
Audi has uncorked the blown six to deliver a sweet, turbine-like howl right up to and past 6000 rpm. It feels silky and sounds expensive. The thrust is so
linear that the SQ5 never clobbers you with a giant wallop of torque or a crescendo of horsepower—it just serves up speed effortlessly and smoothly.
As the transmission rips through upshifts under full throttle, the exhaust flaps actuate to create a wonderful snap from the pipes. It's like 6/10ths of
the growl and pop of an AMG exhaust. So around town that's just about perfect.
What's the best way to experience the SQ5? Customize the settings to all read "Dynamic" except the steering. You want to hear that intake and exhaust. You
want the transmission to be at it's most responsive. But the steering is best left in "Auto" mode because the added heft of "Dynamic" mode really doesn't
equate to better steering—just unnecessarily heavy steering.
The best part about the SQ5 is that it really shrinks around you as you drive it hard. The whole experience feels very solid, taut and controlled with
little roll and little sense you're in a crossover; it feels more like a large hot hatch.
For a moment, we left the unblemished Colorado mountain roads of this test drive in search of potholed dirt two-track. We found one and those brilliantly
sticky 21-inch summer tires might be too extreme for really bad roads. So if you live in NYC, LA or the D, the standard 20-inch tires might equate to a
little less morning coffee spilled on the trousers.
The SQ5 might be small and quick, but it's predictably useful, too. There's enough space in the cargo hold for a family's luggage and room in the rear seat
for a pair of baby seats—or six footers—to road-trip comfortably. And if you need to load more stuff and decide ,
sensors in the rack tell the ESP system to recalibrate and compensate for the extra weight up high. Smart.
As much as we dig the SQ5, we won't get the best one. European versions pack a 313-hp twin-turbocharged diesel with 479 (!) lb-ft of torque. And just to
make us extra crabby, the Euro SQ5s also get a lowered suspension and get better highway mileage. Boo.
The SQ5 is probably the most entertaining of all the small crossovers. It's combination of underhood punch and subtle performance details will make it a
stoplight shocker when it lines up against more obvious performance machines. But like most German luxury vehicles, it isn't hard to add lots of expensive
goodies and raise the SQ5's sticker north of $60,000.