Super-fast diesels with four-rings on the nose are nothing new. The A8 and Q7 have featured rapid V8, and even V12, oil burners for years. But only now has Audi put together the underbonnet hardware to tackle BMW’s epic 35d engine in its volume mid-range cars.
First sampled in the new A6 late last year, the 3.0-litre V6 bi-turbo instantly upped Audi’s game in the executive market, and paved the way for the company’s first S-badged derv drinker.
Audi SQ5: the vital stats
And this is it, the SQ5, a 309bhp posh-roader that comes to the UK in early 2013. Based on the facelifted version of Audi’s phenomenally successful Q5, the SQ5 takes the bi-turbo engine straight from the A6 with no extra power or torque liberated on the way. Well, when you’ve got an engine that delivers 316bhp and 479lb ft of tyre terror straight out of the box, you don’t need to worry too much about tuning. Mash the right pedal at the lights and you’re pushed firmly into a comfort-fit Recaro on the way to 62mph in 5.1sec. Though that number suggests otherwise, it often feels far quicker than the RS5, which is fitted with Audi’s 135bhp-stronger 4.2-litre petrol V8. And it isn’t only the performance that’s petrol-like. The noise does a pretty good impression too, thanks to a sound actuator in the exhaust back box that gives a real chug-chugga V8 rumble at idle and meaty roar on the road. However, the bi-turbo A6 Avant I left in the airport car park has the same gadget, and I’d swear it sounds even better.
The A6 trails by 0.2sec to 62mph, but gets its own back at the pumps, returning 44mpg to the SQ5’s 39mpg. Of more relevance, BMW’s X3 35d - in the absence of a right-hook Mercedes GLK or usefully punchy Evoque, the Audi’s only real rival - can do 46mpg, but also gives away 0.7sec at the dragstrip, and everything in the style showdown.
How does the SQ5 differ visually from other Audi Q5s?
Already a handsome chap, the facelifted Q5 gets new LED daytime running lights that outline the entire lamp unit, while the SQ5 adds silver-coloured mirrors, 20in wheels and a grille featuring prominent horizontal bars, rather than vertical, as in the regular car. The cabin features lashings of leather and, as an option, some unusual striped wood that looks like Alan B’stard’s suit has been pasted to the dashboard and door panels. There’s a surprising amount of space inside and predictably, it all feels as if it will survive a nuclear attack.
Right then, what's the driving experience like?
But enough of the details, I know what you’re thinking. Fast Audis are a hit miss breed and you want to know which this is. I enjoyed our old long term S4, hear good things about the RS4, but found the RS5 from which it is derived thoroughly disappointing. But each of those cars carried a huge weight of expectation, something the SQ5 somehow avoids because it is an SUV. So while it isn’t particularly involving to drive, while the ride – on passive dampers with no magnetic-ride option – struggles to deal with expansion joints, and the new electromechanical steering now fitted to all Q5s seems to lack the vim and verbosity you just know the inevitable Evoque rival will have, it remains an enjoyable car. It’s quick, grippy and has sufficient body control that it doesn’t fall apart when the road bends left and right or up and down, or even both.
There’s no clever S4-style rear diff to make it feel anything more than understeery at the (lofty) limit, but you can carry some pretty big speeds across country, and while you won’t be grinning like a fool at the other end, you’ll certainly not be glum. Other fast SUVs, including BMW’s X6 and the Porsche Cayenne are more satisfying to drive hard, but you’ll pay far more than £43k for the privilege.
Think of the SQ5 as most owners likely will, as refined and rapid transit for four, and you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Unlike some of Audi’s other quick cars, this one’s pretty honest about its sporting ability and isn’t ruined by an engineered-in artificial sportiness. What it does have in spades is showroom appeal and the makings of a really satisfying ownership experience.
Interestingly, despite its power characteristics being perfectly suited to the US market, Audi will likely create a petrol-powered SQ5 for the States that won’t be coming to Europe. But you can guarantee that a steady stream of other S diesel models from Audi will be finding their way into showrooms. This is a great engine, and perfectly suited to a quick Audi. How about a bi-turbodiesel S4 Avant? Here’s hoping.