WASHINGTON — Usually crossovers are good at moving people, but they don’t really move the fun-to-drive meter. Luckily, Audi offered a sporty version of its popular Q5 crossover for several years. But the crossover has been completely redesigned for 2018, and the hopped up version of the SQ5 has seen big changes. Did it help or hurt?
The biggest change is under the hood. Gone is the supercharged V-6 from last year; it’s replaced by a turbocharged V-6 that has about the same power as before but with more torque, making this a quick crossover. It moves quickly with almost no turbo lag and a healthy dose of power low on the rev range, so effortless acceleration is possible at about any speed.
Also, the ride is improved for 2018. If you spend an extra $3,000 for the S sport package, you add adaptive air suspension, which either tightens up the suspension for spirited driving or makes it softer — transforming into a more relaxed daily driver. I noticed it does better with bumps and different road surfaces than the last time I drove the Q5 or SQ5 two years ago.
Brakes are also strong on the SQ5, with the ability to quickly haul down this powerful compact crossover without fading at all after heavy use. I did sometimes miss the blind spot monitor as it’s located on the side of the side view mirrors instead of on the side view mirrors. Fuel economy was about 21 mpg of mixed driving, just what the sticker says; the Quattro AWD helps handling but it’s not the best for fuel economy.
While the new SQ5 styling might be more evolutionary than revolutionary, it’s still a handsome small crossover. It just seems to be a bit more modern than before with a cool-looking headlight cluster. The front grill has grown for 2018 and it has sprouted two smaller grills at the bottom corners of the front fascia.
This is a SQ5 with a price; it starts at around $54,000, so it has to (and does) look different when parked next to the regular Q5. Large 20-inch wheels (and the 21-inch wheels that my tester had) look aggressive and fill the wheel wells. There is also a lower body treatment that makes the SQ5 look hunkered down and closer to the road than the regular Q5, giving it a sportier look. Out back, the quad exhaust tips announce “this is a crossover with an attitude,” but that’s about the only giveaway other than the SQ5 badge.
While the performance and updated styling are fine improvements, what really had to be worked on from the earlier version was the interior and technology on which Audi had fallen behind. With that, Audi has made adding technology a priority for 2018.
The slick, virtual cockpit is part of the Prestige package, which stacks $4,200 onto the price but adds to a cool dash a glass cockpit lock replacing the mechanical gauges with virtual ones. You can even have the map there so you don’t have to look at the center dash.
The package also includes MMI NAV and MMI Touch, where you use your finger to write directions or commands — which is better than hunt and peck. It also clears up having to go to multiple menus for a simple task. Space, especially in the back seat, is a big improvement with more leg room so taller riders will have more comfort.
The upgraded leather seats are a nice mix of sport, with enough comfort for the long haul. Cargo space is good for most, but I couldn’t seem to close the power lift gate with the key fob; I was only able to open it. It’s a buzzkill when you have to walk back to reach the high button, a stretch for shorter people.
If you thought you couldn’t combine a crossover and a sporty driving machine, Audi proves otherwise. Now the sporty Audi SQ5 provides driving thrills and adds more comfort and tech for a first-rate interior that makes it a better all-around crossover with a dose of fun.
Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI, FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.