Mountain Wheels: Audi’s high-energy SQ5 SUV aims at performance-minded drivers (review) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Audi’s high-energy SQ5 SUV aims at performance-minded drivers (review)

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

It only took me 26 years, but I was finally able to roll back to my undergrad alma mater, the University of Victoria in scenic Victoria, British Columbia, in a style befitting a successful graduate of its creative writing program.

That is, crashing the party at a swanky Uplands neighborhood home and then careening around Vancouver Island in the very impressive new Audi SQ5, with a gang of U.S. journalists in tow.

The stylish and very accomplished Audi, the performance-oriented version of the new Q5 mid-size SUV, seemed to be right at home in the moneyed lanes and gulp-inducing property prices of the B.C. capital — though at a starting price of $54,300 (compared to the Q5's $41,500 base price), the SQ5 can offer its owners all-season-worthy power and agility that's not audaciously expensive.

And with 354 horsepower from a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6, SQ5 can certainly haul along, with tastefully massive 21-inch wheels and some high-performance summer tires in place. Quattro all-wheel drive is standard on both the Q5 and SQ5 and like the system we recently tested on the Allroad, fuel efficiency is increased by its ability to decouple the rear wheels during regular driving — or instantaneously switch torque in any direction to maximize grip.

You can reach the 369 lb.-ft. of torque at low revs, allowing rather capable uphill motoring or passing power. And oversized, six-piston front brakes are also there to handle all of that malice.

The resulting dynamics, tempered by a fast-to-react eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission, create a very impressive automotive experience. City and regular highway driving was smooth, fast and accomplished, but the real highlight of the trip was the unbelievably gnarly highway from Port Alberni to Tofino and Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

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On those twisty, narrow and ridiculously up-and-down stretches, the SQ5 absolutely came alive, and demonstrated handling far beyond what you'd expect from a 4,398-pound SUV. We were able to hold corners at tremendous speed and the car's standard five-mode suspension felt lithesome and responsive, not brittle or bumpy.

An optional sport adaptive air suspension is also available to provide an even more poised ride as well as dip the car's stance for easier passenger or cargo access, or drop a bit at highway speed for improved performance. Standard ground clearance is 8.2 inches, and with proper snow tires, the SQ5 will be yet another Audi you see passing you in a white-out blizzard like nobody's business.

The new Q5 is a very pretty car and the SQ5 rendition cranks that all up a bit, taking the overall style guidelines of the new Q7 (a flatter roofline and striking indentations in the body lines) and adding extras including a platinum-gray, multi-bar grille with distinctive aluminum bars, plus aluminum side mirror caps, special bumpers and a roof spoiler.

Seen from the rear and side, both Q5 variants are certainly similar to the interrelated A4 family, but for anyone pining for a bigger Allroad that can really go like hell, SQ5 might be just the ticket.

Cargo capacity is 60.4 cubic feet with the rear seats dropped and a power-assisted rear tailgate is standard, as is hands-free opening. Above, a full panoramic sunroof is another option, and there's added flexibility with a 40/20/40 split rear seat.

Like other members of the family, the SQ5's interior is about as futuristic as they get, with the optional virtual cockpit setup providing an electronic instrument panel that can become a giant navigation map — though this performance model of course also has distinctive speedometer and tachometer displays, always thoughtfully centered at 90 MPH.

A color head-up display is also more useful while doing that sort of driving, though the locals seemed to appreciate our squadron of Michigan-plated enthusiastically stretching the local 90 kilometer-per-hour limits.

A flat-bottomed race wheel, performance-oriented pleated and stitched seating (comfortable, nonetheless) and a bit of carbon fiber inlay or matte brushed aluminum all contribute to a very pleasant look; the new shifter is a little odd, with a large park button at your thumb, but is more intuitive than older systems.

The car can also be equipped with a large handwriting-recognition panel for easy navigation input; a mid-stack screen can get the whole range of Audi connect internet-based services, plus Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

Our journey ended on the beaches of Tofino at the renowned Wickaninnish Inn, with some floatplane sightseeing and a burst of nouveau-Canuck-hipster dining at Wolf in the Fog. Quite the homecoming.

2017 Audi SQ5

MSRP: $54,300

Powertrain: 354-HP 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 with eight-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 21 combined (19 city, 24 highway)

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