Speaking as somebody with an "all or nothing" automotive personality, I have to come out and say I don't get the 354hp Audi SQ5. I don't understand it in principle (why would you start with a heavy crossover to create a performance vehicle?), but I also don't understand it as a variant of the Q5 in general.

For $7500 less, you can walk into an Audi dealer and buy a regular Q5 3.0T, which has essentially the same engine, but with 82hp less (272). Heck, if you were feeling ambitious, you could buy lowering springs and add engine upgrades to beat the SQ5's horsepower.

We should note although the Q5 3.0T and SQ5 share an engine concept, key components have been changed to accommodate the additional torque of this S model - specifically, the crank and bearings. In fact, internally it's more closely related to the S4 engine, but with better cooling. These alterations allowed Audi to extract an additional 21hp over the S4. A free-flowing, valved exhaust also helps.

The supercharger produces 11.6psi of boost. That's enough to make its claimed 354hp and 347 lb-ft of torque, although we're curious to see what tuners will make of it - particularly with the beefed-up cooling system and larger radiator of the SQ5 (compared to the S4).

And with all this onboard, whether or not I like the principle, the SQ5 is undoubtedly a corker. In fact, driving the SQ5 reminded me why I fell for the S4 in the first place. And this application seems to have even more high-RPM oomph than the sedan. It will even deliver 0-60mph in a spritely 5.1sec.

You can credit the eight-speed automatic transmission for much of its prowess. It's been tuned to deliver crisp, authoritative shifts, particularly in "Dynamic" mode. And while we're not auto fans here at EC, as it usually does, the ubiquitous ZF 8HP makes a hell of a case for the ol' slush 'box.

The SQ5 is a handler, too. Its sport-tuned suspension flattens the ride considerably compared to the Q5 3.0T, although there's still some roll in the corners.

Without Audi's magnetic suspension system, it would be tough to reduce the body roll further without sacrificing the ride quality. However, we like a little lean in an SUV because it tells the driver of the approaching limit. And that's a good thing when the steering doesn't communicate much...

Audi switched the Q5 to electronic steering with the 2013 model year, and while feedback is sacrificed, the rack is quick and precise, allowing us to get into a groove on Colorado's twisting canyon roads.

The brakes go from 345mm up front (Q5 3.0T) to 380mm. We weren't really able to notice a performance benefit on public roads, but the pedal feel was almost perfect.

It's worth noting: you can't have your SQ5 with Audi's awesome sport differential, which shifts torque from left to right on the rear axle. No word as to why, but take solace from the fact the Europeans don't get it either...

Do I mind about this oversight? No, because you should buy the Q5 TDI anyway. If you want a sport diff, buy the S4.

And it's also worth noting the US-spec cars aren't as low as the European SQ5, which sits 1.2" lower than the Q5 3.0T, but Audi wasn't able to tell us where our cars sit in comparison. Although crash testing is undoubtedly one reason for the height difference, the Europeans get a turbo-diesel engine in their SQ5, which is probably heavier and necessitates a different suspension setup.

Like many high-performance Audi products, there isn't much differentiation between the SQ5 and its plebeian Q5 stablemates. The grille is grey, with "horizontal double bars in aluminum look." The bumpers are slightly different, and there's a subtle roof spoiler, too.

A better identifier might be the set of 20" wheels that come standard (with optional 21s). You could also order yours in one of the two unique paint colors - Estoril Blue or Panther Black. And there are aluminum-look mirror caps as well.

The SQ5 starts at $51900 plus $895 for destination charge. Our test car was actually stickered at around $62k. And while it was fast, it wasn't Grand Cherokee SRT8 fast - no, the Jeep isn't European, but for another $1000 you get 6.4 liters of fury, 470hp and more cargo space...

So while the SQ5 provides crossover buyers with a very high-performance option, the fact remains that we don't get Audi's best product on these shores. I'm referring to the various Avant models - Audi's perfectly proportioned, beautifully designed wagons. In Europe, you can have the Avant in any size and with any equipment level. Want a small displacement diesel but with a stick shift and all-wheel drive? No problem. How about an S4 Avant? Sure! Or what about an RS4 Avant?

We shouldn't complain about what is an impressive substitute, but the SQ5 speaks volumes about the US market's addiction to size over efficiency. However, if you're looking for a 5sec, 350hp SUV to tow some toys or get the family to the mountains, the 2014 SQ5 is a great way to do it.

2014 Audi SQ5

Layout front-engine, AWD

Engine 2995cc six-cylinder 24v gasoline with Roots-type supercharger, common-rail direct injection

Drivetrain eight-speed ZF 8HP automatic transmission with Tiptronic

Brakes dual sliding calipers, 380mm rotors f, single-piston floating, 330mm r

Suspension five-link f, self-tracking trapezoidal-link r

Wheels & Tires 20x8.5" five-arm design wheels, 255/45 R20 summer tires

Performance

Max power 354hp at 6000rpm

Max torque 347 lb-ft at 4000-4500rpm

0-60mph 5.1sec

Top Speed 155mph

Weight 4409 lb

Economy TBC

MSRP $52795 (inc D&D)

By James Tate
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