First Drive: 2014 Audi SQ5

The Audi SQ5 is the perfect for the man who wants to feel like he’s got a no-compromise German sports crossover but who in reality will never push the car to its limits.

When I asked Audi North America General Manager of Product Planning, Barry Hoch, whom this sport crossover was for, he calmly said, “It’s for me.”

I paused a moment and expected him to crack a smile, but he didn’t. “It’s for me. I have an S4 but my family has outgrown it. This car is for me,” he said unperturbed.

I know he didn’t mean that Audi imported this car for specifically for him (I hope). But rather, the performance-obsessed German brand brou­­ght the SQ5 Stateside for a small group of men who still crave the driving dynamics of a sports sedan but who also require the cargo and towing capacity of a luxury crossover.

And in that sense, Audi has succeeded – but just.

Turning the Q5 into the SQ5 involves more hardware changes than visual revamps. Designers tweaked the front fascia slightly, added the requisite badging, and bolted up chrome-tipped exhaust tailpipes. Aside from that, however, you might not know you’re looking at a $60,000 sports CUV.

2014 Audi SQ5 steering wheel macro

It’s underneath the bodywork where the real changes lie. The supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine is bespoke to the SQ5. It has an upgraded crankshaft and new exhaust system that features valves near the tailpipes that let out a loud burble when shifting gears.

The cooling capacity of the tuned 3.0 has been embiggened as well. The radiator is more voluminous than the standard Q5. Heck, it’s even larger than that of the S4.

The new exhaust sounds very good, too. It’s not throaty like many Audi S variants but rather a bit more baritone. It’s not high and it’s not deep. It’s in that middle range. Although it sounds rather sporting, I imagine it more at home in a small-bodied TT than a bulbous family hauler.

Engineers have also tweaked the eight-speed standard automatic transmission, giving it the shifting characteristics of the seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic gearbox bolted to the RS 5. Pop the shifter down into Sport and hammer the skinny pedal. It’ll throw you back into your seat and kick you through every single one of the eight speeds. It gives a slight pause at each shift, an exhaust grumble, and a sharp kick as it grabs the next gear.

I reckon it’s those transmission shift characteristics that will sell the SQ5 on dealer test drives. By the time the driver gets to it up to third, he’ll want to circle back and sign the papers. It’s that enrapturing.

When not in the switchbacks, the SQ5 is at home on light curves and rolling hills at speeds well in excess of the Federal speed limit.

The outcome of all these powertrain revisions is a total power output of 354 horsepower and 346 pound-feet of torque – an 82-horsepower increase over the Q5 3.0T model.

All those ponies and torques are sent to all four wheels through Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive. Put it to the pavement and the SQ5 will do a 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds, which isn’t bad, considering the SQ5 weighs around 4,500 pounds.

While the grunt and the go are both rather winsome, there is a place where the SQ5 begins to lose me, though.

Hammering it through the mountainous switchback roads outside Durango, Colorado, I found myself underwhelmed with the handling.

Come into a corner hot and the suspension wallows a bit, unsure of what it’s supposed to do before it finally weights up and reacts. In that time – for a split second – you hear the light whine of tires as you drift sideways, and wonder if you’re going to go off.

Suddenly, though, the SQ5 reacts. It remembers that it’s not actually an eagle, free on the wind but rather a tall, heavy crossover and it needs to make this corner in order to live to see another filling station.

When not in the switchbacks, the SQ5 is at home on light curves and rolling hills at speeds well in excess of the Federal speed limit. Once the suspension hooks up, the SQ5 is a handling masterpiece.

That night, I found out why the SQ5 dances through the corners. Sitting around the dinner table, again with Barry Hoch, I learned that the SQ5 was designed for Germany, for German sensibilities. Its suspension was originally designed to be 30 mm lower than it is on the American version.

Why the ride-height hike? In order to meet light-duty truck status here in the States, the SQ5 had to retain the ground clearance of the standard Q5. And why must a car-based sports crossover be Federally designated as a truck? So that Audi North America can avoid emissions penalties for its entire U.S. lineup.

You’d hope, then, that the Germans went back to the drawing board and re-worked the chassis for the lofty American ride height on the SQ5. The answer is a resounding: nein.

No, everything about the euro-spec SQ5 suspension remained unchanged: shocks, dampers, etc. Except, Audi bolted up the standard Q5 springs in place of the lowered European units and sent it to showrooms.

The result is a very quick, very good-looking crossover (light-duty truck if the EPA is reading this) that handles brilliantly. That is, once that extra spring slack is squeezed out.

Getting there, though, is a bit scary.

Highs

  • Excellent acceleration
  • Terrific baritone exhaust note
  • Well-controlled automatic transmission shifts
  • Tasteful yet sporty exterior improvements

Lows

  • Easily overwhelmed by sharp cornering
  • Insufficient seat side bolstering
Product Review

Audi built an electric SUV for buyers who want gasoline-free to mean stress-free

We finally got to spend time behind the wheel of the electric 2019 Audi E-Tron bustling cities and arid desert of the United Arab Emirates to see how it compares with Jaguar and Tesla's competitors.
Home Theater

Here’s why you’re not getting Netflix in HD or 4K, and how to fix it

Are you having trouble watching your favorite movies or TV shows on Netflix in HD or 4K? We explain why loading takes so long, why the picture quality fluctuates, and what you can do about it.
Mobile

Free yourself! How to unlock a phone from the icy hands of your wireless carrier

Do you want to know how to unlock a phone through your carrier or a third-party service like DoctorSIM? Regardless of which way you want to go, we've compiled a list of requirements and methods for doing so.
Cars

Did that car just wink at you? Daimler previews car-to-pedestrian signals

Eager to show off progress with autonomous cars and perhaps do some consumer softening as well, Daimler and Bosch previewed car-to-pedestrian communications. A sensor-loaded Mercedes S appears to wink to acknowledge a pedestrian's presence.
Cars

Uber is about to restart self-driving car tests but on a reduced scale

Uber is reported to be on the verge of restarting its autonomous-car test program. The company halted it in March 2018 following a fatal accident involving one of its vehicles, but its cars could be back on the road within weeks.
Cars

Bosch is developing a Rosetta Stone for autonomous and connected cars

Bosch and start-up Veniam want to create a common language that autonomous and connected cars can use. The two firms have developed a connectivity unit that transcends the national boundaries of technology.
Cars

Aston Martin bets classic car owners will choose volts over carburetors

Aston Martin has converted one of its most sought-after classic models to run on electricity instead of gasoline. The roadster uses electric components sourced from the upcoming Rapide E sedan.
Cars

Volkswagen may be planning a tougher challenge for its all-electric I.D. R

The Volkswagen I.D. R electric race car may head to the Nürburgring in 2019 for a lap-record attempt, according to a new report. Volkswagen will reportedly aim to set the quickest lap time ever by an electric car.
Cars

600-hp, $155K Polestar 1 is the alluring Volvo coupe you’ve been waiting for

Volvo's return to the coupe segment just took an interesting turn: the model will join the Polestar lineup, and it will get a 600-hp plug-in hybrid powertrain. The Polestar 1 will be built in China starting in 2019.
Cars

The Aston Martin Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake is the sexiest wagon ever

Aston Martin has revealed new photos of the limited-production Vanquish Zagato Shooting Brake. The Vanquish Zagato line now includes the Shooting Brake, Coupe, Volante, and Speedster, each with bespoke styling.
Cars

Nissan and Italdesign’s GT-R50 concept will become a $1.1 million reality

The Nissan GT-R50 is a customized sports car built to celebrate the 50th anniversaries of both the GT-R and design firm Italdesign. Underneath the sleek bodywork sits a 710-horsepower engine fortified with race car components.
Cars

Ford’s new Shelby GT500 Mustang will have 3D-printed brake parts

Ford's new $45 million Advanced Manufacturing Center will focus on emerging technologies, including 3D printing. One of the staff's first jobs is to print parts for the 700-horsepower Shelby GT500 Mustang.
Mobile

Car-branded phones need to make a U-turn if they ever want to impress

Your car and your smartphone are becoming one, yet smartphones branded or co-created by car companies are a problem. We look at the history, some examples of the best and worst, then share hopes for the future.
News

World’s fastest electric race car to display at Petersen Museum

The Volkswagen I.D. R Pikes Peak race car smashed the all-time record at the hill climb for which it was named. The all-electric VW record-holder will be on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles until February 1, 2019.