Test Drive: 2018 Audi SQ5

Courtesy Audi

With a six-cylinder engine and an adaptive air suspension system, Audi’s handsome SQ5 is the perfect vehicle for making the transition between refined touring and rough adventure.

I’m driving the new 2018 Audi SQ5 north out of Victoria, British Columbia, heading for a spot best known for its bears, whales, and alleged sightings of Big Foot—a legendary creature said to wander through the area’s miles of otherwise untrodden forests.

At the moment, however, I’m passing a double-decker bus full of morning commuters. Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island on Canada’s west coast, is a larger-than-expected town that looks like it was flown in from some posh corner or England. It’s so British in tenor, in fact, that my starting point, the luxurious Oak Bay Beach Hotel, in a part of town referred to by locals as “beyond the tweed veil,” looks royalty-ready.

Fortunately, I can have it both ways. The handsome SQ5, with its coupe-like roofline, is the perfect vehicle for making the transition between refined touring and rough adventure. In truth, there was little doubt that the Quattro all-wheel-drive SQ5 would be a comfortable car for cruising, and for about two hours there was no real need to shift out of the “comfort” setting as I drove up the east coast of the island in view of the Strait of Georgia.

That changed when I made a left turn toward the small village of Tofino, located across the island on the Pacific coast. A nice highway turned into a two-lane twister that required deft handling through rugged, mountainous terrain, mixed in with bursts of acceleration to bypass long logging trucks in short passing windows amidst trees as round as the SQ5 is wide.

Yes, the SQ5 left me breathless, mostly because it has a few advantages the basic Q5 doesn’t. A big plus is a six-cylinder engine that produces 354 horsepower, a significant increase over the 252 horsepower offered by the four-cylinder engine in the Q5. The SQ5 speeds from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds.

The other key performance feature is an adaptive air suspension system that drops the height of the chassis to reduce drag, effectively lowering the SUV’s aerodynamic profile so that it drives more like a sports car. That ride height is variable, dropping 30 mm in the “auto” mode and an extra 15 mm in the more responsive “dynamic” setting. The adaptive air suspension is part of a $3,000 “S sport” package that includes red brake calipers and a sport rear differential. This package is what makes the SQ5 so fun to drive.


Courtesy Audi

I’ve been driving for most of the day by the time I roll into the elegantly rustic Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, but I still have a slight craving for more time behind the wheel. The Nappa leather seats with diamond stitching made the ride easy, as did the 775-watt Bang & Olufsen sound system and the 4G connectivity for Internet access.

The inn’s stunning forest-meets-ocean views eventually draw me out of the car, where a floatplane pilot is waiting to take me over the forests where Big Foot is said to roam. The SQ5 has brought me to a new adventure, but I’ll settle for a bear or a whale.

$65,800 as driven; audiusa.com.