Within five minutes of picking up the new-to-the-region Audi SQ5, I have nearly sideswiped a Toyota Yaris. In the following few days, honking horns and squealing brakes become a worryingly familiar soundtrack as I rack up a laundry list of near-misses: a motorcycle delivery driver, a Lexus LX, a labourers’ minibus and a Kia Cerato. I’m not an inattentive driver, you understand. It’s just that despite its wing-mirror-based blinking-light alerts, the SQ5’s visibility blind spots are horrendous. One shouldn’t be at the detriment of the other – and the huge wing mirrors, which gladly automatically fold away when parked, just don’t offer enough depth of vision to spy fellow motorists approaching at a greater speed from behind you.
It’s an inauspicious start for the SQ5, the range-topping sporty derivative of Audi’s popular Q5 crossover. While nobody familiar with the latter is going to double-take at the looks of the former, it’s nothing if not a grower – even in the opinion-dividing “volcanic red” shade of my test car. The tougher-looking front grille (replete with SQ5 logo, replicated throughout the interior and even on the red front brake callipers) and slightly ostentatious quad exhaust pipes leave you in no doubt of its intentions. Said interior is an exceedingly pleasant place to reside, with sports seats covered in almost-quilted Nappa leather and Alcantara. The dash and steering wheel are resplendent with a similar black palette.
Rear-passenger room is excellent, while behind an automated tailgate, there’s an impressively cavernous boot – this might be a crossover, but it gives a few full-sized SUVs a decent run for their money on spaciousness. On the subject of size, the panoramic sunroof, which retracts electronically, makes the SQ5 fit for the winter months in the UAE.
This is the first SQ5 to be powered by a petrol engine, as opposed to diesel, and its supercharged 3.0L V6 pumps out 354hp that Audi claims will propel it from 0 to 100kph in 5.3 seconds and a top speed of 250kph. You need to switch to “Dynamic” mode to have any chance of that, though, because acceleration doesn’t feel mind-blowing in the more-restrained alternatives – possibly not helped by the high revs required to hit its peak power. The eight-speed gearbox has a tiptronic/flappy paddles option and the SQ5 feels sure-footed thanks to its quattro four-wheel drive via 21-inch tyres with attractive five-pronged alloys. Dynamic also affords the exhaust a somewhat fierier note, particularly when you push the pleasingly red-outlined start-stop button.
Possibly the greatest (backhanded) compliment you can lavish on the SQ5, in its luxurious intent, is that it doesn’t feel fast at speed. One gripe aside, it’s a competent cruiser, too – I manage more than 500 kilometres during one testing day on a trip to Hatta and emerge from the driver’s seat that evening without an ache. By contrast, the adaptive cruise control is a regular pain: it seems to have problems differentiating between lanes, leading to the brakes being slammed on at various points during overtaking, particularly when on highway bends. But it has to be said that in “Efficiency” mode, fuel economy is excellent. A tank of petrol should comfortably get you more than 700km – indeed, during a cruise from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, its range actually goes up to the point where I’m close to tapping the petrol gauge to check it’s operational. You will easily be able to pootle around for long enough for the SQ5’s adjustable “rest recommendation” warning to kick in, politely suggesting you take a break at the next service station.
My test model has a couple of glaring omissions. I’m assured by Audi that the lack of reversing camera – unforgivably stingy on a Dh250,000-plus car – was merely an oversight of set-up on my test car. There are bleeping parking sensors front and rear. But owners will have to wait until subsequent model years for a single USB slot in the entire car. For now, you have to make do with not one but two SD card berths behind a “Audi multimedia”-branded flap on the dash below the CD player. With such attention to fading formats, I half expected to find an eight-track player under there, too. Bluetooth is standard, thankfully, so you can test out the Bang & Olufsen sound system without needing to carry around half an electronics store of semi-obsolete media. The infotainment controls are a bit counterintuitive – you turn the dial counterclockwise to move the cursor down, while the main volume knob is three-quarters of the way towards the front-seat passenger – but it’s an otherwise intelligently put-together set-up.
All told, then, the SQ5 might have a few too many niggles to ignore and isn’t exactly going to launch you into orbit if you’re purely in this for performance, but in terms of a family-friendly kilometre-gobbler, it has a decent amount going for it.