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2014 Audi SQ5, stepping up: Motoramic Drives

26 September 2013

Audi’s S models have always stood for not just a souped-up version of its everyday vehicles, but a stepping stone to its beefier RS lineup. If you only know of its normal cars, the S variations seem potent, yet time in the RS varieties makes one astutely aware that for the S editions, the engineers have purposely left bits on the workbench.

But with the 2014 Audi SQ5, there is no RS to step up to. This, therefore, ranks as the pinnacle of Audi's SUV lineup. Yet it leaves you dreaming of more.

First, the positives: While the SQ5 could be greater, for $52,795, it’s everything it’s supposed to be. The interior remains first class – merely sporting a sprinkling of additional plastics to satisfy stringent bean counters. And while its supercharged V-6 does move with celerity, its 354 horses and 347 torques lack character. (I’ve slipped back to the negatives again, haven’t I?)

To better understand the SQ5, Audi sent me to Durango, Colo., to experience a drive through the snow-covered peaks around the San Juan Forest, over to the barren canyons of Gateway, nearing the border of Utah. The road was magnificent, winding to over 11,000 ft., with sheer, barrierless cliffs plunging off the side. I was glad to be in an SQ5. Had I have been in an R8, I fear I’d be writing this amidst smoldering wreckage off Coal Bank Pass.

Featuring significant suspension changes from the base Q5, the SQ5 rides taught and firm. If we were in Europe, we’d also be riding lower, but to appease truck certification here in the U.S. (needed for emission credits), our SQ5 sports the same height as the Q5. Adaptable air suspension would be preferable, however, as the ride is too stiff for general cruising. But for the twisty 550-Highway looping around the bear-ridden peaks, that stiffness was joyous. At 4,409 lbs., it is 400 lbs. heavier than the 2.0-liter turbo Q5, albeit slightly lighter than the diesel variant.

But it doesn’t feel heavy. In fact, it feels nimble and agile, like Ray Rice. It’s well balanced, on its toes and predictable. However, it pays to get the weight loaded onto the outside tires initially on turn in, prior to cranking the lock. If you don’t, it feels a little out of sorts until the shocks take ahold of the transferring mass. Once set, the small SUV feels every bit as daring as its sedan counterparts, slicing through dawdling sightseers with precision.

Hitting 60 mph from a stop in just 5.1 seconds means it’s fast, too – especially for an SUV. The SQ5’s chief rival, the BMW X3 xDrive 35i, makes the run in 5.5 seconds, and only boasts 300 hp. But it’s also around $7,000 cheaper. To me, however, the Audi looks better than the beastly Bimmer, which resembles an angry beaver with a Napoleon complex. Still, the SQ5’s exterior is rather restrained, and while featuring juicy rear tailpipes, there's few other modifications to separate it from the now-familiar shape of the Q5. Was Dr. Rey not available?

Then there’s the sound: It’s smooth and soft, like Baileys. But it lacks gurgles, braps and splutters. And that brings me back to the whole stepping stone dilemma. For its price, the SQ5 is a good deal for a really great car. But what if you want more?

Adding Audi’s twin-turbo V-8, opening up the exhaust, adding the visual equivalent of stockings and high heels, and switching the excellent 8-speed Tiptronic gearbox for the even more excellent S-tronic variant, and you’d have yourself a true monster – an RS monster. And when blatting around the oxygen-starved peaks, I couldn’t help but wish I were in that imaginary machine.

Audi claims the SQ5 is designed “without compromise” as a way for the family man to gain practicality while retaining sportiness. Of course, it is compromised. And I’m fine with that – but Audi, please make an RSQ5. That would be a seriously kickass kidmobile, and it would be the one corner of the market where you would face no entry from Mercedes' AMG assault.

With the U.S. being Audi’s biggest market for S models, the SQ5 should sell well. And it deserves to sell well. It’s a restrained, controlled, typically German foray into the sporty SUV segment, and it’s smartly done. Now, however, having authenticated its work, Audi should ditch sensibility and let it all hang out. With fellow VW Group sibling Porsche readying its small Macan SUV, it only makes sense. While the SQ5 makes a great stepping stone, we need something to step to.

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