£52,300 Price range
Although a diesel SUV built for performance may sound like the very epitome of a four-wheeled oxymoron, that’s exactly what the Audi SQ5 is, and now there’s a new model with added pep – the Audi SQ5 Plus.
To beat rivals including the BMW X3 35d and Porsche Macan S diesel, the Plus gets a tuned version of the standard SQ5’s 3.0-litre diesel engine producing an extra 27hp and 37Ib ft of torque. For the first time there’s also a rear limited-slip differential for more grip in corners.
To mark it out from the basic SQ5 the Plus gets a set of 21-inch gloss black alloy wheels, gloss black exterior trimmings – covering the wing mirrors, door handles, roof spoiler and rear-mounted diffuser – and a unique quad exhaust system.
The interior also gets the Plus treatment with Nappa leather as standard, but the inclusion of sat-nav (an option on the basic car) will likely hold more sway with buyers. The other upgrades – a rear bench that slides forwards and backwards, plus a powered tailgate – don’t fit quite so neatly into the car’s performance brief, but will make the SQ5 an even more practical family wagon.
We drove the SQ5 Plus during an Audi test day that included the godly R8 supercar and the nutty RS6 Avant Performance estate, but the mid-sized SUV acquitted itself well despite the illustrious company.
If anything it was better to drive than the RS6 with steering that remained consistently weighted and accurate enough for you to guide the car into corners with confidence – even if there’s little in the way of real feel. Both the Porsche Macan and BMW X3 are more fun to drive in the bends, but neither can match the SQ5’s performance for the price.
Lean in corners is well controlled, but that control doesn’t come at the expense of a hard ride and the Plus does an excellent impression of a comfortable family car when it needs to.
Even when pottering around there’s a sense that your not driving a normal SUV – Audi’s added drama by pumping artificial rumbling V8 noises into the interior that sound great, and prove a match for huge low down torque that would normally be associated with an American muscle car. Well, until you wind down the windows that is – when you’re greeted by the distinctly un-exotic grumble of a diesel engine.
With a torque figure of 576Ib ft arriving at a lowly 1,500rpm, the SQ5 Plus has the pulling power to make sports cars weep – cars such as the BMW M4 (406Ib ft), Jaguar F-Type (502Ib ft) and Audi’s own R8 Plus supercar (413Ib ft). Unsurprisingly it dominates the driving experience giving the SQ5 immediate urge that lets it barrel past long lines of traffic without breaking sweat. It also means the SUV can pull trailers of up 2,400kg in weight with (we would have thought) little effect on overall performance.
Even the 0-62mph dash – something heavy diesel SUVs aren’t particularly suited to – is completed with suitable urge in just 5.1 seconds. That makes the Plus faster than almost every hot hatch currently on sale and, while their drivers will have to worry about limiting wheel spin and changing gear quickly, in the SQ5 you simply mash your right foot to the floor and let the eight-speed automatic gearbox take care of the rest.
The beauty of using a diesel engine is apparent when your mind turns to running costs – it allows the Plus to return fuel economy of 43mpg and road tax will cost a not-unreasonable £210 a year.
While we started this review sceptical at the need for a performance SUV, we were wrong to be questioning – apparently 20 per cent of all Q5s sold are expected to be SQ5s and 75 per cent of those will be Plus models. From this perspective the Plus makes sense. For a modest outlay you get a car that goes better, looks smarter and has a more luxurious (and more practical), interior than the car it’s based upon. In fact, its family friendly body shape, off-road ability, huge performance and reasonable running costs must make the SQ5 Plus one of the best ‘do anything’ cars currently on sale.