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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Audi SQ2 review: the souped-up SUV that thinks it’s a driver-focussed hot hatchback

The seats don’t perform any clever tricks, such as you’ll find in rival compact SUVs, and while Vorsprung models get 40:20:40 split seats which fold down individually, the entry-level SQ2 only gets a 60:40 split, which seems unnecessarily stingy. The boot itself isn’t exactly tiny, but neither is it up to the standards of the SQ2’s rivals. 

The dashboard is good, though; built from the sort of high-end materials you’d expect to find in an Audi, and with a smart design that apes the TT sports coupe’s, right down to the big bullseye vents with tactile knurled cuffs that rotate to open or close the vent. 

Previous generation touchscreen is a bonus

The separate climate control panel and pop-up infotainment screen are both very last-generation Audi, but that’s not such a bad thing; the former gets physical buttons instead of the de rigeur touch-sensitive controls, which makes it much easier to use, while the older software used on the infotainment screen is free of the bugs and glitches that have affected Audi’s latest-generation touchscreen system. It’s also operated using a central rotary controller, which makes it easier and less distracting to use on the move. 

This is important, because operating a touchscreen while in motion would be quite tricky in the SQ2; the stiff suspension never stops reminding you of its sporting bent, jostling you over even the smallest lumps in the road and transmitting the texture of coarser road surfaces through to your buttocks. 

Yet while the ride is firm it’s well controlled and never gives in to outright crashiness, so that while you’ll still swerve around potholes and drain covers for the sake of comfort you won’t wince if you do happen to let the wheels fall into one. Besides, viewed through the lens of a hot hatch, a stiff ride is somewhat to be expected; the SQ2’s is no worse than some other current performance hatchbacks. 

In urban driving, the smooth, quick-shifting automatic gearbox and light steering make the SQ2 easy to get along with. What’s more, when you need the power it’s ready and waiting for you; the engine’s low-end torque means the gearbox rarely has to shift down, so if you do need to go for a gap, you just prod the throttle and, with a mellifluous parp, the engine delivers a lovely glob of grunt just when you need it to. 

Playful performance

Around town, however, the SQ2 always feels as though it’s saying “Come on, come on, let’s go and have some fun.” So you head into the countryside to indulge it, like a puppy that’s just waiting for the moment it gets to the park, and when you do let it loose you can practically feel its joy. 

The firm suspension set-up, for starters, comes into its own as the pace quickens and the corners tighten, keeping the body locked down well enough that you never really feel any detriment as a result of its extra height compared with a hatchback. 

The steering is relatively light on feedback and feel, but its action is direct and the nose is unshakeable, too, meaning you end up with plenty of confidence in the front end regardless, and the SQ2 bites eagerly as you enter each bend.

It isn’t quite as agile or as playful as a Puma ST – very few cars are – but there’s still enough movement in the chassis to allow you to sense what the car is up to, and to adjust your line with the accelerator. 

Should you bowl into a corner a bit more quickly than is prudent, its immense grip and traction mean the SQ2 simply shrugs its shoulders, hugs the apex closer as you add an extra half-turn of steering lock, and fires you out the other side regardless. 

That useful low-down shove swells into the same sort of relentless, unceasing power delivery we’ve come to expect from the more rapid VW Group petrol cars, but there’s still enough tingly excitement at the top end to reward you for holding each gear to the last, the engine gaining an angrier, harder-edged note as the revs rise.

It’s just a bit of a shame the gearbox won’t let you do so, though. If you really hold out for the red line, the SQ2 decides enough’s enough and changes up for you. It’s the same if you change down just a little too early for its liking; all of which means that, even in manual mode with the most sporty set-up selected, the SQ2 still doesn’t quite give you as much control as a manual gearbox

The Telegraph verdict

With that exception, though, there’s more than a hint of the hot hatches of 20 or 30 years ago in the SQ2; cheeky little cars that felt a bit rough, even uncouth at times, but went about their business with a cheeky grin and a wink that made them endearing nonetheless. 

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