A NATURAL PERFORMER
Our Audi SQ5 exploring the ever-changing landscapes of Zion National Park in Utah.
The Audi SQ5 stretches its legs in scenic southern Utah.
As we made our escape from Las Vegas, Nevada, and headed north on Interstate 15, the terrain began its gradual transformation. The seemingly endless horizon of the Nevada basin, outlined by jagged peaks and washed out by varying shades of gray rock and sand, morphed into rich hues of red rock mesas and steep canyon faces of the southern edge of the geographical region known as the Colorado Basin.
It was here, on the vast stretches of the desert southwest, that the Audi SQ5 settled into a comfortable stride. One thing that stood out is how quietly the 350 miles since Los Angeles had passed by. Wind wound around the side view mirrors with a barely audible hush, and the engine and transmission went about their business without intruding into the interior of the SQ5. Instead, the available Bang & Olufsen® sound system with 3D sound filled the interior with a wide range of clean and crisp notes.
The eight-speed Tiptronic® transmission did a fine job of selecting a gear appropriate for long, uphill ascents or downshifting for passing situations.
After crossing the Nevada-Arizona border, we eventually closed in on the Virgin River Gorge. As the mountains approached, my eyes followed the interstate before it seemed to disappear between two canyon walls. If you’ve never driven through this section of Interstate 15, you can’t help but be in awe of the towering canyon walls that flank the highway snaking along the floor of the canyon.
The incline was steep, but the 3.0-liter TFSI® V6 didn’t sound bothered as we continued our ascent. Through Audi drive select, I chose the Dynamic setting that brought the engine, transmission, suspension and steering into sportier settings. The RPMs read a bit higher as Dynamic mode chose 7th gear instead of 8th gear for highway cruising, and the engine and exhaust became a bit more vocal. The steering had a little more weight to it, making it easier to maintain the intended line through long sweeping curves.
Featuring a twin-scroll turbo inside the “V” of the V6 for fast response, it didn’t take much throttle to access the 369 lb-ft of torque available between 1,370 and 4,500 rpm. The eight-speed Tiptronic® transmission did a fine job of selecting a gear appropriate for long, uphill ascents or downshifting for passing situations.
Utah has various types of public lands spanning the southern section of the state. From Interstate 15, the closest is Zion National Park, followed by Dixie National Forest and then Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, with the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Canyonlands National Park close to the Utah-Colorado border.
The Audi SQ5 I drove was equipped with the available Navigation package, and after crossing the Arizona-Utah border, the navigation system indicated that we would soon exit Interstate 15 and route toward our hotel near Zion National Park. But before that, it guided us to our selected restaurant.
New to the Audi SQ5, I took time to scroll through the menu and features before starting to drive. After a little exploration, it didn’t take long to adapt to the user interface. Anyone familiar with the functions of a mouse and a tablet computer could soon get the hang of it. Plus, there’s the voice-operated commands that you activate via a button on the steering wheel, which comes in handy so you can keep your hands on the wheel.
The Audi virtual cockpit that comes as part of the available Navigation package allows you to select three gauge and information layouts on the Audi SQ5. The Classic view is the more traditional configuration with engine RPM on one side, speedometer on the other and an information screen in the middle to show audio selections or other selectable information.
The Infotainment layout prioritizes the information regarding navigation, audio selections and other features of Audi connect® toward the center, with the tachometer and speedometer gauges on the sides. Exclusive to the SQ5 with Audi virtual cockpit is the sport-focused layout with a large tachometer in the middle and a speedometer in the center of that gauge, plus ancillary information to the right side. You can change the display by pressing the “view” button on the multi-function steering wheel.
If you’ve never driven through this section of Interstate 15, you can’t help but be in awe of the towering canyon walls.
Utah state highway 9—the main road through Zion National Park—is best taken slowly with the panoramic sunroof opened wide and the windows down. Thankfully, there are several places to pull over and take in the breathtaking views of vibrant natural colors. The park covers 229 square miles and offers a vast network of hiking trails, camping sites and river rides. For the full experience, you’ll want to spend more than a few days there.
The roads to, from and surrounding Zion National Park came in a variety of shapes and sizes, which made them ideal for getting a feel for the handling performance of the Audi SQ5. The model comes standard with adaptive damping suspension that can sense body roll during cornering and increase damping pressure to help maintain cornering stability. That helps the SQ5 feel like a well-sorted sports sedan.
Switching from the Auto to the Dynamic setting through Audi drive select increases shock damping pressure to provide an even higher level of handling response. At the other end of the spectrum, the Comfort setting decreases shock pressure to help provide a smoother ride over rough pavement.
Whether I was sitting in traffic or picking up the pace, the twelve-way power front sport seats—in this case, trimmed in Fine Nappa leather—offered a balanced blend of comfort and support. Finding my preferred driving position was easy, thanks to power adjustments on the driver’s seat and a steering wheel that adjusts for both tilt and reach. The layout of the switches and controls follows the Audi tradition of ergonomic ease along with clean, uncluttered design. Although the Audi SQ5 was new to me, it didn’t take long to become familiar with the controls.
The Audi SQ5 wouldn’t be hard to spot in the parking lot full of SUVs. The available Navarra Blue on our traveling companion stood out with its vibrant, seemingly oversaturated gemstone color. Aluminum optic paint on the exterior mirrors is a unique feature of Audi S models. Recently restyled, the Audi Q5 and SQ5 feature a wave-design Shoulder line that runs along the upper mid-section, starting after the 3D-styled headlights, undulating over the flare of the front fenders and flowing towards the rear LED taillights.
In three days and just over 1,000 miles on the odometer, the Audi SQ5 showed its competence in a variety of situations. It felt cool and calm as it tamed long stretches of the wild west, and the host of infotainment features added extra layers of ease to the trip. The turbocharged V6 never left me wanting for more, and the adaptive damping suspension was a paragon of composure. When asked to deliver on its high-performance promise, it always rose to the occasion.