SNOW COMING AND GOING: The Audi SQ5, equipped with a set of winter snow tires, demonstrated that this performance-oriented compact SUV is quite at home during a New England winter.
SNOW COMING AND GOING: The Audi SQ5, equipped with a set of winter snow tires, demonstrated that this performance-oriented compact SUV is quite at home during a New England winter.
BILL GRIFFITH

There’s no doubt that today’s test car, the SQ5, is an Audi. Even casual auto observers will recognize the marque’s trapezoidal grille and the supersized Audi logo of four intertwined rings, which is featured prominently both front and back.

But this particular model and its acronym are new.

This is the first time Audi has used the high-performance “S” designation with a crossover or SUV. Audi uses the Q designation for SUVs and crossovers while its sedans take the A designation.

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And the 5? That’s how you tell that this is the smaller of Audi’s SUVs, with the Q7 being the midsize vehicle.

The SQ5 is a performance-oriented crossover (they’re also called compact SUVs) that’s been highly anticipated among Audi fans. Audi bills it as having the handling of a sport sedan, the higher ground clearance of an SUV, and the cabin of a luxury car—and so it does.

It’s powered by a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 engine that produces 354 horsepower and 347 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission that is hooked to all four wheels via Audi’s Quattro all-wheel-drive system. Audi claims a 0-to-60 time of 5.1 seconds. Translated: The SQ5 was fast both off the line and makes merging or passing maneuvers a breeze.

This performance, along with the accompanying luxury accouterments, comes at a price.

The SQ5 has an MSRP of $52,795 (including destination), and our test vehicle had some expensive options that pushed the bottom line to $64,770.

Estoril Blue paint with crystal effect added $1,075. Nappa leather seats ($1,500), layered aluminum and black wood inlay trim ($1,100), 21-inch Star-design wheels ($800), and a Prestige model package ($7,500) accounted for the rest.

Included in the Prestige package are Audi’s side assist (blind spot alert) system, adaptive headlights, hot and cold thermo cupholders, a parking system with rearview camera, Bang & Olufsen Sound System, and an MMI (multi-media interface) navigation-plus.

The SQ5 was here to take part in the New England Motor Press Association’s Winter Car of the Year evaluations so beauty temporarily had to take a back seat to utility, especially as the winter season “cooperated” by burying the car in two snowstorms. If that weren’t enough, the SQ5 was quickly salt-encrusted. Audi also replaced the standard summer performance tires with a very welcome set of Dunlop winter shoes.

Wipers and washers (front and rear) and the climate control system were up to the task of dealing with the unusual combinations of extremely low temperatures and heavy snow.

Our travels had us out on the road in both storms. Despite all its power, the SQ5 was sure-footed while keeping up with traffic on snow-covered interstates. It also had no problems on unplowed side roads; one of the storms piled up unexpectedly heavy accumulations in Essex County, leading me to take the long way home one afternoon much to Mrs. G’s consternation.

The top-of-the-line Nappa leather (heated) seats were comfortable on a series of two-hour road trips and adult rear-seat passengers had adequate (though not spacious) legroom.

Cargo capacity, however, was limited. One of our trips was an airport pickup for incoming international passengers and delivery to the Hartford area. The SQ5 had just enough room in back for their two large suitcases plus a very small carry-on and a backpack.

Speed-sensitive electro-mechanical power steering gives the SQ5’s driver a good feel of the road, and the side assist blind-spot warning features a vertical row of LED lights that are effective in providing alerts in your peripheral vision. Several times the passenger side warning proved valuable by picking up fast-moving vehicles passing on the right side.

EPA fuel economy estimates for the SQ5 are 16 miles per gallon in city driving, 23 highway, and 19 combined. We averaged 20.3 mpg over two tanksful.

The SQ5 has styling cues that set it apart from the rest of the growing Q5 family, the 2.0T, 3.0T, diesel (TDI), and hybrid versions. The SQ5’s trapezoidal grille has Singleframe surrounding trim. That trim is what Audi terms “aluminum optic,” and it’s also used in a pair of blades that incorporate the foglights and for the outside mirror housings. There also are S-specific brakes, lower side sills, quad exhaust outlets, and a rear spoiler.

On the interior, the SQ5 has a model-specific, flat-bottomed steering wheel, paddle shifters in the same alu-optic material, aluminum pedal inserts, and gauges with white needles on a backlit gray background. The driver information center, operated by a toggle switch on the end of the wiper stalk, provides fuel economy, driving range, telephone, radio, speed, outside temperature, and a pictogram showing unlatched doors and rear decklid.

The optional multimedia navigation screen had available Wi-Fi connectivity, Google Earth aerial maps, and easy-to-use Bluetooth interface. The system is operated by a knob and four buttons on the center console and is fairly intuitive.

Small SUVs are big sellers in the Northeast, and it’s a sign of that success that high-performance has come to be part of the selection.

2014 Audi SQ5 Quattro

THE BASICS

Price, base $52,795/$64,770 as tested (with destination). Fuel economy, EPA estimated: 16 city/23 highway/19 combined. Fuel economy, Globe observed: 20.3. Drivetrain: 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, 8-speed automatic transmission, Quattro all-wheel-drive. Body: 5-passenger crossover.

THE SPECIFICS

Horsepower: 354. Torque: 347 lb.-ft. Overall length: 183 in. Wheelbase: 110.5 in. Height: 65.3 in. Width: 75.3 in. Curb weight: 4,409.

THE GOOD

As advertised: sport sedan handling, SUV ground clearance luxury cabin.

THE BAD

Cargo space, an expensive Deutsche treat.

THE BOTTOM LINE

All Audis perform well; this takes it to the aficionado’s level.

ALSO CONSIDER

BMW X3, Infiniti EX, Ford Escape (with larger engine), VW Tiguan.