The 2014 Audi mid-size designer crossover 4×4 except for the tiny squares of crimson on its bow and stern, might be just another Q5, .
Well, the red bits plus the quadrophonic exhaust pipes, the 21-inch star-spoke wheels with the low-profile tires, and the supercharged 345-horsepower V-6. To spot the engine, you’d have to open the door to get at the hood latch, so you’d also notice the nifty sport seats and wheel.
This is no mild-mannered Q5, it’s Clark Kent’s alter ego, the super SQ5—another example of just what speed-crazed engineers now can do with a tall, heavy vehicle.
I really get a kick out of this car. I love how the tuner motor comes to life (push-button ignition, enabled by a key in my pocket) with a spasm of torque and a breathy chuff!
I love the small, chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel with its squared-off bottom. I love the adaptive Xenon headlights and even how the wing mirrors fold in when I lock the car and walk away.
Especially I love how the SQ5 drives. It’s crisp. Everything happens when I want it to, not when a microprocessor gives the OK. Steering weight increases with speed. The brakes are almost too quick. The ride is perfect. The low-end grunt of the supercharger brings up all 346 pounds of torque almost instantly, and the dual-clutch, eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox bangs out shifts right now, as smoothly or as urgently as necessary.
Then there’s the Multi Media Interface. The MMI computer supervises about every aspect of the SQ5, from the satnav and the phone to the built-in Audi Wi-Fi hotspot, the Bang & Olufsen stereo, and the finer points of interior lighting, auto-locking and so forth. If it’s not on the MMI, it’s controlled by all those switches, knobs and buttons on the wheel or the console. Don’t let this throw you; doping it all out is pretty straightforward.
The world grew to esteem German cars because their makers knew precisely how to set them up for safe, comfortable high-speed travel. Then, starting about a decade ago, the Germans began to turn that job over to their clients by making everything driver-adjustable. All the high-end makers have caught onto this by now, but the Germans are pushing customizability way out there and the SQ5 is a good case in point.
Touch the CAR button on the MMI and a screen called “Drive Select” appears. Then, by twirling and tapping the control knob, choose between COMFORT, AUTO, DYNAMIC and INDIVIDUAL settings. Each one delivers a different combination of engine, transmission and steering responses, and also engine sounds.
Comfort speaks for itself; Auto uses sensors to figure out what the driver wants and the SQ5 needs; Dynamic is Audi for “sport”; and Individual lets the driver choose and store a favorite mix of settings.
For around town, my Individual program combined the Dynamic engine, transmission and sound levels with Comfort for steering, to reduce twitchiness at the wheel. But on the interstate I went all Comfort, for a more relaxed cruise and 24 miles per gallon.
I wonder how many owners, after the novelty wears off, simply put Drive Select on Auto and forget about it? Too bad you can’t tell Audi what setup you want (after driving a demo) and have your SQ5 delivered that way. Simplify a bit—and knock a few grand off this $64,770 price?
Now consider Audi’s available Side Assist blind-spot monitors: They’re unique because they can be turned off, and because they can tell the difference (mostly) between vehicles coming up from behind and those being overtaken. They’re also slaved to the turn signals, so they won’t needlessly scare the heck out of you with their bright orange flashing LOOK OUT! lights.
Very gee-whiz, but normal monitors are just as effective. So is this needless complexity? Brilliant engineering? A new profit point? A poke in the eye of Mercedes-Benz and BMW? Why, yes.
Brilliant, focused simplicity has been absent from upper-end German cars for a long time now. Not much we can do about it except enjoy the results and then move on before the warranties expire.