by Jay Traugott
The luxury performance SUV segment is more competitive than ever, so it takes a fair amount to stand out from the rest of the pack. The 2019 Audi SQ5 is one of those standouts. Not to be confused with the Audi Q5, which looks nearly identical from the inside and out, the SQ5 is a lot more powerful and aimed at buyers who might have been forced to give up their beloved sports car to accommodate a growing family.
The previous Audi SQ5 was very impressive, but the German automaker managed to make vital improvements thanks to an updated platform and a new turbocharged V6 that's not only just as powerful as the old SQ5's supercharged V6, but also more fuel-efficient. And because the SQ5 is a luxury SUV, driver and passengers are treated to plenty of comfort and convenience features. All in all, the 2019 Audi SQ5 is a fantastic package.
2019 ushers in a series of updates for the Audi SQ5. Torque remains the same, but the power output drops by five horsepower to 349 hp as a result of a recalculation from the global kilowatt metric. The performance SUV is also now offered in entry-level Premium trim, making the SQ5 more accessible than ever. The safety equipment has been bolstered by the standard inclusion of last year's Driver Assistance package on the Prestige trim which includes park assist, and the available Convenience package has been updated to include Audi side assist and Audi pre sense rear.
Audi's styling is, as always, subtle but stylish, giving the SQ5 a sleeper quality that to the uninformed could easily be mistaken for a standard Q5. It's differentiated by a more pronounced horizontally slatted front grille finished in Platinum gray, bold air intakes without fog lights, and 20-inch alloy wheels as standard, while bespoke front and rear splitters - the latter housing quad-exit exhaust pipes - satin-finish mirror housings, a tailgate-mounted spoiler, and S badges add to the subtle sense of aggression. Full-LED headlights are a highlight with Audi's signature LED daytime running lights.
Despite being the performance version of the already accomplished Q5, there are subtle differences in the dimensions of the SQ5. It rides on a wheelbase 0.2 inches longer than the Q5 at 111.2 inches and measures 0.3 inches longer at 183.9 inches overall. Height remains the same between the two at 65.3 inches, along with the ground clearance 8.2 inches and the width of 84.3 inches including mirrors. With a larger engine and more advanced running gear, the SQ5 is heavier than the Q5, tipping the scales at a curb weight of 4,321 lbs, about 300 lbs more than the Q5.
The SQ5 almost entirely mimics the exterior color palette of the Q5 entirely, retaining favorites like Azores Green Metallic and Matador Red, as well as more sedate options like Florett Silver and Navarra Blue. It does, however, cut Manhattan Gray and Monsoon Gray from the list, replacing them with the SQ5-specific Daytona Gray Pearl, while also offering two shades of black (Brilliant Black and Mythos Black Metallic) and the classic Ibis White.
Our SQ5 tester came with the optional Navarra Blue metallic exterior paint, a $595 extra. Was it worth it? It really depends on whether the buyer desires a metallic color. From a distance, the Navarra Blue looks pretty much like any other shade of blue, but a closer examination, along with direct sunlight, reveals its deeper character. Considering the only no-charge paint colors consist of Brilliant Black, Ibis White, and Quantum Gray, spending the additional money is probably worthwhile.
In contrast to the standard Q5, the SQ5 gains an extra pair of cylinders, additional power, torque, and a new transmission, but compared to last year's SQ5 it's down by 5 hp. Fortunately, the torque figure remains the same, which enables the SQ5 to sprint from 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds before stretching on to a top speed limited to 155 mph. That's 0.8 seconds quicker than the regular Q5 to 60 mph and 25 mph faster at the top end, but the SQ5 still falls behind segment rivals like the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 and BMW X3 M40i. The BMW achieves the obligatory sprint in 4.4 seconds while the GLC 43 accomplishes it in 4.7 seconds. Fortunately, the Audi offers usable performance with a higher towing capacity, towing up to 4,400 lbs compared to the GLC 43's 3,500 lb maximum. As is the standard in the segment, the SQ5 makes use of permanent all-wheel-drive to ensure power is put to the ground effectively, but don't expect any off-road ability, this is purely a road-biased system.
Doing duty under the hood of the SQ5, Audi has shoehorned a 3.0-liter V6 gasoline motor, boosted with a twin-scroll turbocharger to develop 354 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to all corners via an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic gearbox sourced from ZF - the same unit that does service in a number of BMW, Jaguar, and Audi models.
The previous SQ5's supercharged 3.0-liter V6 is gone, replaced by a new turbocharged 3.0-liter V6. Although horsepower remains the same at 354 hp, torque increases by 23 lb-ft to 369. It also peaks to nearly 3,000 rpm sooner in the rev range. Compared to the Q5's 248 hp and 273 lb-ft, courtesy of its 2.0-liter TFSI engine, the SQ5's additional 106 hp is definitely noticeable, but not always necessary. More on that shortly.
The ZF-sourced eight-speed gearbox shifts smoothly without any hiccups. There is a manual shifting mode but whenever we opted to use it we quickly found ourselves going back to pure automatic mode because the gearbox does a fine job of doing things on its own as it sends power to all four wheels. Audi's quattro all-wheel drive system is standard.
There's no doubt the latest SQ5 is a powerful machine. It might even be too much power for some owners. If you're someone who only requires a daily commuter but still desires a luxury SUV, the Q5 will easily suit your needs. The SQ5, however, is for those who appreciate driving no matter where they're going. They crave power.
Entering a highway is perhaps one of the best places to experience the SQ5's quick power thrust. Audi claims a 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds, which felt about right. That's actually almost sports car territory, but it's still not the best in its class. That honor goes to the Mercedes-Benz GLC 43 which requires only 4.3 seconds to hit 60 mph. Then again, the Audi Q5 takes a full 8.5 seconds to 60. It's also important to remember that clocking 0-60 times is not something owners of this segment typically do, but it's sure nice to know the power and acceleration is there when you want it.
Compared to the Q5, the SQ5 puts its torque to the road differently. The SQ5 does not utilize the Q5's new version of the quattro all-wheel-drive system, called quattro with Ultra, which promises greater efficiency. This newer system disconnects the rear driveshaft when it's not needed, hence the better fuel economy. The SQ5, meanwhile, has a more conventional setup. Its quattro system continuously turns the rear driveshaft as it balances torque between the front and rear axles. And because the SQ5 is more performance-focused, this system has a rear bias, defaulting to a 40/60 front-to-rear split. As much as 85 percent of the torque can go to the rear wheels. We definitely felt that power head to the rear when driving through some twisty backcountry roads.
Our tester, however, did not come with the optional Sport Differential, which is basically a torque-vectoring differential at the rear axle that can even send nearly all of the torque to one wheel. Even without this, the rear wheel bias was still noticeable at times, but the moment it started raining, the grip of the Quattro system was in full play. Overall, the SQ5 provided a smooth ride with brisk acceleration. But the real joy is best experienced on twisty roads.
Considering the levels of performance on offer from a turbocharged V6 engine, the SQ5 manages to return respectable gas mileage estimates of 19/24/21 mpg city/highway/combined, matching the combined estimate of the GLC 43, but falling two mpg shy of the X3 M40i. The 18.5-gallon gas tank requires a diet of premium unleaded gasoline but should yield a range of around 389 miles in mixed conditions, provided you aren't hunting down the competition on a twisty back road.
Audi delivered our SQ5 with a full tank of premium fuel for us to burn through. And we (almost) did. During our week with the SUV, we managed to avoid heading to a gas station for a refill, with about a quarter tank remaining. The official EPA ratings noted above sound about right, but it's important to remember the added cost of the required premium unleaded; it can add up. Fast.
As we previously mentioned, the SQ5 is seriously quick and the sound of its exhaust system when hitting the throttle, as delightful as that is, will quickly catch the attention of law enforcement if you're not careful. But it's important to remember most SQ5 drivers can get a majority of its convenience and technology features in the less powerful and less expensive Q5. The SQ5 gets you everywhere the Q5 will take you in the same amount of time unless you're racing down a freeway, which is highly doubtful. Point being, the more efficient Q5 will likely suit most everyone's needs just fine. The SQ5's more hot rod attitude is a blast, but its price tag and fuel costs may not be worth it for some.
Sitting inside the SQ5, you're greeted by the typical luxury of the German auto-maker. But the SQ5's interior lacks the finesse and flair of some of the brand's newer offerings, looking a little staid in its approach to luxury. Every touchpoint is adorned in leather and soft-touch cladding, matte brushed aluminum inlays can be swapped out for carbon fiber, and Audi's virtual cockpit is made standard from the mid-spec Premium Plus, giving the cabin an air of sophistication, but rivals look more attractive in many areas. Still, it's functional and of typical Audi high-quality, and the accommodation is spacious enough for five occupants without much compromise. Three-zone climate control, heated front and rear seats, ventilated seats, and even available rear sunshades all bolster the value proposition, though, so while others focus on outright performance, the SQ5 is a more livable daily performance SUV.
Although this writer only experienced the SQ5's interior from the driver's seat, other passengers had no problems getting comfortable. The SQ5, like the Q5, is strictly a two-row SUV and my rear-seat passengers, two average-size adults, easily had sufficient legroom and headroom. Total seating capacity is up to five. Compared to the SQ5's main competitors, including the Porsche Macan and BMW X3, overall interior dimensions are very similar. My point is that if you're extremely tall, don't think one of these SUVs will provide you with significantly more front seat or back seat space than the other. The SQ5's leather upholstered seats proved extremely comfortable for everyone inside. For Costco runs, there's a total of 27 cubic feet of cargo volume, enough space to easily swallow plenty of groceries.
Like all Audis, the SQ5's interior is outstanding. Everything is impeccably put together and the materials look and feel very high quality. The Alcantara and leather seats for front and rear-seat passengers proved very comfortable for both short and long-distance hauls. Prefer cloth seats? They're not even an option. A full leather interior is what buyers at this price point demand. Our tester came equipped with Rotor Gray leather with Anthracite stitching. Black with Rock Gray stitching is also available. The brushed aluminum inlays running across the dashboard not only added a touch of sporty elegance, but also further augment the SQ5's outstanding interior materials.
The allure of a performance SUV over a performance sedan or wagon often lies in the practicality of a large cargo bay and broad hatchback opening. The Audi SQ5 is no exception to this assumption, with a large tailgate granting easy access to the 27 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. But while the measurement seems large enough, in real-world applications there's only enough space for six carry-on sized bags thanks to a somewhat impractically shaped load bay. Fold the rear seats down, they do so in a 40/20/40 split with sliding and reclining functionality, and you can unlock up to 53.1 cubic feet of volume. It's ample, but by no means the best in the segment, falling short of the BMW X3 M40i in both configurations.
Internal storage for personal items is better, however, with fairly large door pockets and a center console bin/storage area that will swallow several smartphones and sets of house keys. The center console bin beneath the armrest features a sliding tray which is a nice touch, but the two cupholders up front are awkwardly placed, sitting just behind the entertainment controls and hampering access to these buttons if you order a large coffee on your commute.
The SQ5 has always been generously equipped, but for 2019 there's now a more attainable, but also more sparsely specified Premium trim. It still includes a power tailgate, heated 12-way power-adjustable sports seats, sliding and reclining rear seats, ambient LED interior lighting, a seven-inch driver information display, a rearview camera, hill descent control, and Audi pre sense basic and city. If you're looking for a panoramic sunroof, auto-dimming rearview mirrors, extra USB ports, driver seat memory, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert, and of course Audi's excellent virtual cockpit, then you'd need to opt for the mid-spec Premium Plus model we drove. Stepping up to the Prestige bags you extra in the way of acoustic dual-pane side windows, power adjustment for the steering column, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assistant, parking assist, and additional driver assists in the form of a head-up display, top-view camera, traffic sign recognition, and active lane keep assist. This can be bolstered with optional extras like ventilated front seats, manual rear sunshades, heated rear seats, and a heated steering wheel.
The SQ5 comes standard with many infotainment system features, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, Bluetooth, two USB ports, and three 12-volt outlets. All functions are perfectly clear within the seven-inch display. If you're willing to fork over more money for the Premium trim, then you'll be treated to a Wi-Fi hotspot and Audi's excellent virtual cockpit system. While the standard navigation system works just fine for us (we never got lost), the virtual cockpit adds a gauge-cluster display that offers a cool satellite street view taken directly from the MMI's navigation system. It's a nifty piece of tech, but we can also envision this turning into a possible distraction.
Our SQ5's sound system had a total of 10 speakers which, at least for us, was more than sufficient. But if this is not enough, then you'll have to upgrade to the Prestige Package's Bang & Olufsen sound system with 3D sound, 19 speakers, a 16-channel amplifier, and 755 watts.
Despite receiving relatively few complaints from owners, the Audi SQ5 has been subject to four recalls for the 2019 models, including two for wheel arch trim that could become loose and detach, one involving 12,645 Q5 and SQ5 models whose hydraulic brakes may fail, and one for an instrument panel carrier that could break and damage the frontal airbags. Audi covers the SQ5 with the same new vehicle warranty as the rest of its fleet, covering four years/50,000 miles under the limited warranty and a free first scheduled maintenance visit within 12 months/10,000 miles.
While the NHTSA is yet to fully evaluate the SQ5, the standard Q5's five-star overall rating should be largely applicable with similar levels of safety equipment. The same can be said for the IIHS's test scores, where the Q5 achieved best-possible scores of Good in all crashworthiness tests and Superior scores for both standard and optional collision avoidance systems.
A suite of six airbags may be standard on almost all new cars, including dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags, but Audi gives buyers the option of equipping two additional airbags for the outboard rear seats, taking the total to eight. Additionally, there's also the standard suite of safety systems like ABS, EBD, stability control and traction control. In the way of driver assistance, a rearview camera is standard but can be optioned to a surround-view system, and standard right from the Premium model you'll find Audi pre sense basic and city collision avoidance measures. On higher trims, this is upgraded to blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear park sensors, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, and automatic parking assistance.
There is no such thing as a bad Audi these days. The brand has not only set the standard for first-class interiors, but it also produces all-around excellent luxury performance vehicles. The 2019 SQ5 is no exception. While its exterior design looks nice, we still think it looks way too similar to its immediate predecessor. In a perfect world, Audi designers would have pushed the envelope, so to speak, a bit more in this department. But at the same time, the design's crisp lines and handsome stance will continue to win over buyers.
As much as we love its throaty turbocharged V6, a majority of customers simply won't need all of its 354 available horsepower. We spent a majority of our driving time in Comfort mode (there are four modes: Auto, Comfort, Dynamic, and Individual), which proved to be the best around-town selection. The combination of its standard quattro all-wheel-drive system and all-season tires gave us complete confidence the SQ5 could handle just about any weather condition. We experienced a pretty severe fall thunderstorm traveling on the Ohio Turnpike and having plenty of grip as semi-trucks doused us with whale tanks full of water provided needed reassurance we'd come out in one piece.
The 2019 Audi SQ5 is the real deal as not only a luxury SUV but as a vehicle that offers a little something extra which means a world of difference: personality. It could not hide its powerful and sporty nature and it's a shame we didn't have the extra time to see what it could do at the track wearing a set of the available Pirelli P Zero high-performance summer tires.
The 2019 model year sees Audi make the SQ5 a little more attainable with the introduction of a new Premium trim as the entry point to the line-up. Accessing the SQ5 now costs as little as $52,400 excluding a $995 destination charge, taxes, title, options, and various dealer charges. The step up to Premium Plus sees the MSRP rise to $58,200, while the top-of-the-line Prestige has an asking price of $62,100.
The Audi SQ5 is available in three configurations: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. Regardless of what trim level you choose, all SQ5's are powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel-drive.
The Premium is newly introduced for 2019, riding on 20-inch alloy wheels and boasting full LED exterior lighting. Inside, you get leather-upholstered 12-way heated power sports seats, 40/20/40 split sliding and folding rear seats, three-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera, and Audi's seven-inch MMI infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality as well as ten speakers.
The Premium Plus adds niceties such as auto-dimming rearview mirrors, a panoramic sunroof, the Audi Phone Box signal booster and wireless charging pad, driver's seat memory functions, extra USB ports in the rear, and MMI Navigation Plus with an 8.3-inch infotainment screen. You also get the excellent virtual cockpit instrumentation display, keyless entry with a hands-free tailgate release, front and rear park sensors, and Audi side assist with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Prestige models top the line-up, with dual-pane acoustic side windows for reduced noise inside the cabin, power steering column adjustment, a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen speaker system, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, automatic parking assistant, a head-up display, traffic sign recognition, high-beam assist, a 360-degree camera system, and lane-keep assist.
Like most premium German products, the options list is extensive and can quickly drive the price of the SQ5 sky-high. This is particularly true on upper trims, as the Premium only gets two available packages and a few standalone options. The Convenience Package - standard on Premium Plus and Prestige models - includes auto-dimming mirrors, driver's seat memory, SiriusXM, keyless entry with a hands-free tailgate, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic assist. You can also opt for the 21-inch Wheel Package with summer tires, which is available on all three trims, or as a standalone option, a panoramic sunroof is available to match the spec on higher trims.
The Premium Plus and Prestige trims both have access to a Black Optic Package, which adds numerous black accents to the exterior of the SQ5's body, while the S Sport Package is recommended for the quattro sport rear differential, adaptive air suspension, and red brake calipers. Colder-climate inhabitants may be partial to the Cold Weather Package's inclusion of a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats, while those in more tropical climates will take a shining to the perforated Milano leather and ventilated front seats of thew Warm Weather Package. Also available on the Premium Plus and standard on the Prestige is a 19-speaker, 755-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system.
There's something very important to bear in mind regarding the latest Audi SQ5: no matter which of the three trims you pick, they all come with the same engine and transmission and, therefore, the same performance. Selecting a trim really boils down to a few factors, namely budget and the desire for more features. If it were up to us, we'd pony up the additional dough for the mid-range Premium Plus. Why? Because for exactly $4,000 more, you'll get the Audi virtual cockpit's larger 12.3-inch LCD digital cluster and MMI Navigation Plus with voice control. While we could easily make do with the standard infotainment system and navigation system, we can't help but think that a premium German sporty SUV like this deserves the brand's latest technologies.
Now more than ever, the differences between these models are incredibly few. Aside from the additional 101 hp and 96 lb-ft procured from two extra cylinders in the SQ5 - which is only good enough for a 0.8-second improvement in the 0-60 mph time - the two models are now almost identically specified thanks to the newly added SQ5 Premium. With the addition of the new model, you can buy an extra-level SQ5 for around the same price as a fully-loaded Q5, but that means that, on a like-for-like basis, the SQ5 is around $10,000 more expensive than the Q5. More power and sports seats are about all that differs between the two, as the Q5's smaller 18-inch wheels in base form afford it greater levels of on-road comfort. But the power is hardly usable, as most buyers of these SUVs will be happily living in suburbia with the occasional highway commute, meaning there's almost nowhere to exploit the extra power. Considering the fact that the Q5 isn't a full-on performance SUV, we'd rather save the $10,000 and opt for a well-specced Q5 instead.
Of course, some buyers might want a full performance SUV - something they can take to a track or twisting road and then commute home at the end of the day, and for those buyers, the Volkswagen group will sell you an RS Q5 - it's called the Porsche Macan Turbo. But base versions of the Macan are equally as impressive, and in Macan S guise, you get the same 3.0-liter turbo V6 as the SQ5, but mated to a snappy seven-speed dual-clutch automatic that sends it from 0-60 in 5.1 seconds, while even the 2.0T four-pot Macan is only 0.2 seconds shy of the SQ5's sprint at 6.3 seconds. The Porsche is also better to drive, nimbler and lighter on its feet and proffering greater levels of grip and engagement. It sacrifices rear-seat space, and in Macan S guise it'll cost you $6,000 more than the new base SQ5 Premium, but if it's a performance SUV you're after, the SQ5 simply feels pedestrian alongside the more competent Macan.