The SQ2's update is so marginal, you might not notice. This is probably a good thing
By John Howell / Friday, November 5, 2021 / Loading comments
There are a few reasons why, for the first day driving the latest Audi SQ2, I wasn’t overly chuffed with it. Some were circumstantial and show me up more than the car. Morning one, for example, was the first frost of the year, and this £42k top-of-the range Q2 was the first car I’ve had all year that didn’t have heated seats. That was a let-down. As was the fact it wasn’t the BMW M4 xDrive that I’d been in all weekend, which I liked very much. Beyond my pretentiousness, I had some substantive reservations, too.
First up, it’s those seats again. As well as being icy cold, they don’t have a massive amount of side support, which in an ‘S’ product seems a little forgetful of Audi. The side bolsters clamp your midriff well but the shoulder ‘wings’ are too small to stop your top half swinging about in switchbacks. And does the SQ2 look special enough to you? Maybe that’s down to the colour of this car. The dark blue fails to accentuate the Black Edition’s contrasting arches, sills and grille, so it just doesn’t seem to stand out in any way shape or form. The only highlights are the Black Edition’s 19-inch alloys and quattro badging on the flanks. Inside, there’s barely anything to different the SQ2 from any other higher-end Q2. From there, I decided the basic dashboard design is looking very old-fashioned these days, too, given the car is meant to have been treated to a facelift (apparently the door cards are different). I stand by that sentiment. But as I started using it to drive places rather than just idly thinking about, I’ll admit to seeing things in a different light.
It’s been ages since I’ve sat in a Q2 – or the previous-gen A3 that used the same architecture – so I’d forgotten how easy they are to use. It may look antiquated, and maybe I am antediluvian, but actually I like the fact it’s so analogue. You know, proper switches and knobs; the kind you can operate while you’re driving and still register brake lights appearing in front of you. How mad is it that we have to even explain the usefulness of that to a motor industry that’s become obsessed with touch-buttons and iPads stuck on dashboards? Here, you get the old-style MMI infotainment system, with a rotary controller that allows you to scroll and select things from lists without staring halfway down the dashboard and stabbing away at a bunch of tiny icons. It just works. And I proved that by not crashing into anything once.
Even pressing those buttons is satisfying. They all have a lovely micro-switched click and the knobs tick with every increment turned. Now, the Q2’s interior isn’t actually as good as the A3’s that it was based on – the lower plastics aren’t as plush and they removed the slick mechanism that raises and lowers the infotainment screen – but it’s still miles better Audi’s current crop of cars.
With my enthusiasm piqued, I couldn’t stop finding things to like. Its size, for example. That’s an odd thing, considering this is an SUV, but it feels compact, narrow even. Certainly it does after jumping out of the M4 – and, from my recollection of it, something like the latest Golf, too. On top of that it’s also supremely easy to see out of. I think that’s because you sit quite high, relative to the window line, and the windscreen pillars aren’t that thick. You can still see kerbs when they are less than five-feet away; the point being that, in a lot of modern cars, they suddenly disappear and leave you playing a guessing game – a game that, if you lose, will cost you the price of wheel refurb. These benefits work outside the city as well. On tight, country roads you’re free to exploit the car’s potential without that latent, gnawing fear that, at any minute, you’re going to lose a door mirror to a wayward Transit.
Which brings us neatly to the SQ2’s handling. Let’s get this out there from the off: those of you that enjoy rear-end histrionics won’t like it at all. It’s not that kind of car. The quattro system is designed to quell understeer, but is very conservative when it comes to oversteer. The SQ2 is all about front end. It’s the cornerstone of the driving experience: keen as mustered to turn in and trustworthy to the last. You can read it perfectly. Unless you’re a driving thug you’ll never enter a corner too quickly. There’s too much grip for a start, and, while the steering isn’t effervescent when it comes to feedback, it does give you some warning when the grip is beginning to wane. Its weighting around the straight-ahead, then the build-up through turns and the mid-corner holding torque are hard to fault as well. All that’s supported by a rear that, while not loose, allows you to fine-tune the trajectory when required. All you have to do is place the weight where it’s needed by manipulating the balance front to rear. You do that with the throttle, of courser, or, if you do overcook it slightly, the brakes. They’re also predictable and easy to meter as you bleed off them towards an apex. The SQ2 may not be lairy, but it is enjoyable if what you enjoy is precision and agility.
I didn’t always find the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox quite so satisfying, at least not in manual mode. When you want to drop a gear, it’s sometimes reluctant to change down if the revs will end up near 6,000rpm, even though that’s well under the limiter. For quick driving ‘S’ auto mode is fine – it’ll hold onto gears and kickdown quickly – while ‘D’ is slick and smooth when you want to cruise. I didn’t love the engine noise. It’s another instance of the EA888 sounding overly enhanced with the Dynamic sound activated or a little anodyne when it’s not. There’s nothing in between. The performance is far from anodyne, though. With 300hp, it’s at the upper reaches of the EA888’s official tuning potential and I’d be surprised if you felt the need to add more. It delivers flexibility at the low- to mid-range and energy in the upper reaches that’ll slingshot you from 0-62mph in under five seconds. And that feels quick, even off the back of my time in the M4.
Should you buy an SQ2, then? Yes. I can totally see the appeal of it after some initial reservations. Despite the 20mm ride-height drop and the tautness of its suspension, it’s comfortable over pretty much any surface. So, if a Golf R-appeals for its every-day usability and cross-country pace, albeit in a slightly higher-riding package, so will the SQ2. And oddly, I really don’t think the SQ2’s limits will be noticeably lower than the Golf R’s – although, at the same time, I don’t think it’s any more practical, either. You can figure that conundrum out for yourself. The tipping point for me, if any were needed, is that the updated version feels old-school – a bit of a relic. I use that term affectionately, because I really enjoyed the fact that, by virtue of its virtually unchanged interior, it eschews technology for technology’s sake so you can focus on driving. How refreshing is that?
SPECIFICATION | 2021 AUDI SQ2
Engine: 1984cc, turbocharged, 4 cylinders
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected]
Torque (lb ft): [email protected]
0-62mph: 4.9 secs
Top speed: 155mph
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