Catering for a premium price tag is familiar territory to Audi customers, suggests Iain Robertson, although high price usually equates to more fastidious dynamics and a better overall proposition, factors that he questions in fine detail without going off-road
One of the first Audi models I ever drove was the 80GT. Long before the ‘Four-Rings’ brand had negotiated itself away from its conjugative relationship with parent Volkswagen; long before the ‘A’ demonstrative model nomenclature was contemplated and at a time when Stirling Moss had been coaxed out of retirement to compete in an example, this was Audi’s mainstream offering.
It was an unexceptional car. Well enough engineered. Neatly styled. Comfortable and moderately accommodating. Yet, the 80 served purpose. It had purpose. It paved a positive pathway towards the up-market 90, then the 100, long before Audi determined that an indefinite and capitalised article would denote all of its future model line-up.
Ironically, even Audi would not have foreseen the new car market’s transition… no, that is too soft a word… kairotic moment (much better!), as it transmuted consumer opinions from agriculturally-biased off-roaders to the hectic SUV sector, where one-wheel-drive might suffice, as long as the car looks the part. The concept ought to be, but is not lost on me.
As a brand, Audi made the move from VW mainstream-related to prestige and aspirational with phenomenal ease. Yet, it coursed through that period to become more mainstream than the very marques that might have claimed that territory. It achieved the move to a point at which it shares a mostly neo-mainstream platform alongside key rivals Mercedes-Benz and BMW. In fact, the model-for-model competition has been as scarily replicative as the myriad SUV models developed by the rest of the world’s car manufacturers, most of which are almost impossible to discern from each other, because they all look the bloody same!
Fortunately, in a trait not solely the premise of Audi, evolutionary styling ensures that an already strong design signature is carried, not only from one model to the next in the chain, but also pan-marque. It is eminently recognisable and, thanks to its single-letter (usually attached to a single number) naming strategy, almost every observer realises that they have spotted an A1, A2, A3 and so on. Of course, the plan does not fall down with the alternative options and R is applied to the racier numbers, while Q seems to denote those pursuing the SUV theme. Factor in an S and that model becomes singularly more focussed, while combining both R and S equates to pulse-racing, palm-sweating, pants-filling, petrol-burning and life-affirming perpendicular performance statistics that everyone ought to experience at least once in their existences.
Lucky Audi. It has managed not to confuse its customers to the point of annoyance (unlike either of its unrelated Teutonic twin rivals), which I feel certain enables a single-minded consumer choice, an aspect that you may care to read either which way. Little wonder Audi almost rules the roost in the sector commonly regarded (mostly by open-shirted, double-denim North Americans) as ‘premium’.
Well, away from straw-sucking, country music and an unswerving belief in the might of a certain Trump, Audi harbours immense appeal to a large segment of the UK car-acquiring public, the same public that has taken SUV to its heart and the main reason for Audi to produce a more focussed version of its Q5 model, enhanced with the aforementioned S prefix. Avoiding the cliché is tough for a Scot, so I shall not do so, instead highlighting that its £62,405 price tag, which includes the hefty £1,200 Road Tax and the £55 first registration fee, is a fairly vertiginous fee to find, should hard ackers be the chosen route to ‘ownership’, whether a dealer discount is applied, or not.
‘In quality terms, Audi interiors are nirvana’
Naturally, in typical Audi form, ticking the options boxes means that the car’s base price (£49,715) adds £645 for the Matador red paint finish (rip-off) and £1,500 for the 21-inch alloys that also hike up the petrol CO2 level from 189 to 195g/km, in the process increasing the VED by £400. However, as the SQ5 costs over £40k, its annual road tax bill is not the standard £140, but a massive £450 annually for years two to six. Ouch!
The adaptive air suspension factors in a further £1,000, while the Quattro sport differential is £1,200, head-up display £900, parking assist £1,350, comfort and sound pack £1,295, among an array of items ranging down to a lowly ‘smoking pack’ at £50. Audi knows that most of its customers specify somewhere in the region of £8,500 in an average tick-box exercise, so it appreciates what it can get away with. Does it represent great value for money? If the ashtray had been made from Orefors Swedish crystal, then I might have understood the £50 fee and I would have given it credit accordingly… but it is not.
Yet, Audi is known for its technological prowess, which suggests that some grace may be recovered. The 3.0-litre TFSi V6 engine is boosted by a single large turbocharger, which results in a prodigious 369lb ft of torque, significantly more than the rice pudding skin will be used to, and 350bhp. While this delivers a most impressive 0-60mph acceleration time of just 5.1 seconds, its maximum velocity being electronically terminated at 155mph, the on-demand aspect is slowed by an otherwise innocuous one-second delay, as the blower spools up and the ZF autobox drops down from 8th to whichever lower ratio is allowed. It is hardly improved by adopting the ‘Sport’ setting, or manual selection of the gears, which makes it very, very Saab 99 Turbo-like and surprisingly ‘Old Skool’ for something so modern.
I am fully aware that Audi has a compressor addition that has not yet made it to the SQ5’s engine and which eradicates turbo-lag, so potential owners will have to await the arrival of the diesel version next year (which will have it) and future petrol versions of this car. Yet, when not showing off to interested passengers, the SQ5’s progress is silky smooth, ultra-refined and seemingly effortless. Mind you, it needs to be to offset a thirst that can slip too willingly from its stated 33.2mpg (with the big alloys; 34mpg on standard 20s) to a more regular 27.8mpg and markedly lower, should you dip the loud pedal too frequently. The SQ5 demands big pockets, which are not a normal fitment on a medium-sized suit, however bespoke, and the contents of its 70-litre fuel tank, which costs £90 to refill. Double ouch!
Not that an RSQ5 will ever arrive (but, as it is Audi, I would not bet against it), it would not dare to create twin exhaust outlets and then never exhaust through them, unlike the SQ5. Feeling slightly ripped off, I got on to hands and knees to inspect the area below and well behind the rear bumper, where I did locate a pair of unspectacular pipes, which is fine, if you do not wish to make a fuss, or attract unwanted attention. Yet, a £62k+ Audi owner might want some.
The rest of the exterior is as classy as any Audi is, from its prominent ‘shield’ at the front, along its gracefully bloated flanks to its lightly shouldered rump. However, it is the interior that delivers the gotta-have-it blow. Its diamond-patterned, fine Nappa hide-clad seats are works of cushioned art. While not enabling a massive amount of space in the rear, there is room for two large adults and 550-litres of covered boot space (1,550 with the rear seats folded forwards), more than enough for the clubs and a game of four… even more for two.
While the latest dashboard tech has been applied to the SQ5, just as it has for almost every other model in Audi’s extensive line-up, while I did find it interesting initially, I have lost my enthusiasm for positing the sat-nav map behind an electronically reduced speedo and rev-counter. I think I prefer it in the dash-centre. Much the same applies to the ‘touch-pad’ ahead of the gear selector, with which I did not enjoy a continuous Game of Thrones, in determining which of us was the boss, thus resorting to the old, twirly MMI (Man-Machine-Interface) dial instead. While I am sure that the computer generation will love it (if they can ever afford it), the majority of monied Audi customers will probably ignore it, with it being beyond their straw-sucking mentality anyway. The touch-screen is not… as I discovered most frustratingly.
In quality terms, surrounded by fine leather, carbon composite and the highest grade, ‘soft-touch’ plastic mouldings, Audi interiors are nirvana. Demand little of the car and you would hardly wish for anything else, which I consider to be the highest compliment to be afforded to any carmaker. However, push things a little closer to their admittedly high limits and the package does crumble slightly, which leads me to suggest that the options boxes may even be worth ticking on a less complex variant.
Audi is the consummate manufacturer of high-end motorcars, of that fact there is no doubt. Having stated that both manufacturer and consumer focus is the point of the S designation, I was pleased in general with the SQ5, but its air suspension left a lot to be desired on the secondary ride quality front, especially with unsettling lateral sway, although the chassis adjustability is certainly well considered and quite easy to alter, via the on-screen display. I can see where Audi wanted to go with SQ5, but the car does not feel as complete as I feel it ought to, and you pay a mighty price tag to discover that little lot.
Our man behind the wheel…
Iain P W Robertson has been a fixture of the British and international motoring scene for more than forty years. He is also an exponent of the travel scene and understands driving holidays only too well. Always opinionated but frequently balanced in his views, he is open to receiving enquiries from readers and he will respond. Iain is over 50, likes dogs and drives a Suzuki Baleno, out of choice.