Now is the time to sit up and take notice of the new Audi SQ5. Because it's very special - although it might not be for long.
Audi is gearing up to go crazy on its high-performance S and RS models. To date, the German brand has been quite selective about which ones get the go-fast (S) and go-really-fast (RS) treatment.
No longer. Premium performance models are sought-after and highly profitable and Audi intends to make the most of them.
In the future, there will be S and RS versions of virtually every model in the maker's range, and they will be launched sooner rather than later in their respective model cycles - pretty much as soon as the workshop can jam the explosives under the bonnet and bolt the big wheels on.
But back to the SQ5. As it stands right now, this is a special car because it represents two firsts for the S-brand: its first diesel-powered model and first sports utility vehicle (SUV). It also happens to be the fastest-accelerating diesel SUV on sale, with 0-100km/h in 5.1 seconds.
But it's also a rocket where it really counts: in the real world, where roads are narrow and overtaking spaces small. The twin-turbo-diesel (BiTDI) 3-litre V6 engine pumps out an incredible 230kW/650Nm, which means instant/alarming shove at virtually any speed.
It doesn't take long to realise that any concerns you might have about the application of the S-prefix to the Q5 and/or a diesel powertrain are ill-founded. This car is brimming with the kind of excitement that so many S-cars in years past have lacked.
The BiTDI powerplant is completely reworked compared with the single-turbo version of the engine used in more mainstream Audis. It drives through an eight-speed automatic instead of the dual-clutch S tronic employed for most other Audis, the quattro four-wheel drive features torque vectoring and the chassis is lowered by 30mm.
The SQ5 must be especially sweet for Audi New Zealand because SUVs are so strong here. In fact, the arrival of this $123,000 machine has relegated the standard Q5 V6 TDI to the indent-order-only list. Audi argues that most of those buyers will step up to the SQ5. In fact, it reckons the SQ5 will come close to outselling the entry-level Q5 2.0 TDI.
The SQ5 wears different front and rear bumpers, a platinum-grey grille, roof spoiler, 20-inch alloys and the signature S-car grey side mirrors. Inside there are S-specific trim elements, a special instrument cluster with white needles and sports seats in Nappa leather.
Audi is also offering a limited number of SQ5 Sport Edition models (as pictured here), with extra equipment that includes a dynamic steering system and 21-inch wheels. There are just 20 cars, priced at $134,900.
Once heavily criticised for being rather anodyne in their driving dynamics, Audi's S-models seem to be getting more engaging by the minute (which is about how often a new one will appear over the next few years). But Audi does still like to put on a show; with the SQ5, it's a light and sound spectacular.
Audi has become known for its innovative LED lighting technology. There are practical reasons for using LEDs - in fact, the carmaker was recently awarded an Eco-Innovation Certificate from the European Union for the technology's contribution to reducing greenhouse gas, albeit by a mere 1.6 g/km on the Audi A6 that was tested.
But the other attraction of LED lighting, especially when used for daytime running lights (DRLs), is that it looks cool. Audi showcases different DRL shapes on different
models. The SQ5's are actually rather simple: a bright border around each headlight. But they are clever too, as each DRL border employs just two small LEDs, which fill long tubes with light to make those distinctive shapes.
Now, who wants their BiTDI to actually sound like a diesel? Not Audi. Like light, sound-altering technology is very much a four-ringed thing. Audi started with noise-cancelling technology in the A6 and A8; but the next step is creating the right soundtrack from scratch.
So drive an SQ5 and your ears will indeed deceive you. In the firewall, at the front of the cabin, is a sound actuator. It's linked to the car's computer systems so it knows how
fast you're going, what you're doing with the throttle and how aggressive your driving style is. It produces a throaty sound and transmits it directly into the cabin, using the
windscreen as a speaker membrane.
For those outside the car, there's an active sound exhaust system at the rear. It's also in communication with the car's electronic systems and generates specific frequencies that
make the diesel SQ5 sound like it's powered by a massive V8 petrol engine. It has to be heard to be believed.
It all works brilliantly, although some may object to the idea of artificial sound. In reality, it's just Audiplaying with the technology, as it works towards more sophisticated sound-generation devices for its future electric cars.
For the doubters, the small matter of the epic 650Nm of torque that accompanies the suspect soundtrack should be justification enough. Listen up: the more you drive it, the more special the SQ5 feels.