Cars | Perspective
December 4, 2017 at 2:07 PM
It is not enough to tell consumers they've "been waiting" for a product that is "all new" from a vehicle manufacturer once considered exotic in the U.S. market, or "waiting" because it is a new model in a vehicle segment long crowded with many of its type, or "waiting" because, yes, it is stunning in outside appearance but easily bested by the interiors of competitively priced and less expensive models.
I am writing partly about the 2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio SUV, visited in this space on Aug. 6 but resident of an uncomfortable share of my mind since then.
The problem is marketing, the attempt to attract would-be buyers of luxury compact SUVs. This is a fierce battle — fought by Cadillac, Lincoln. Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Jeep, Audi, Alfa Romeo and many more, including entrees from Infiniti, Lexus and Hyundai.
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is the latest to arrive. It is not the best one in either price or manufacturing quality. It is, overall, a good vehicle, interesting — a new product of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which owns the brand.
The problem is that it is arrayed against models such as the 2018 Audi SQ5 3.0 T Quattro SUV.
Here's the thing: I had long forgotten about the Stelvio, largely thanks to a few preproduction problems experienced on a sampled 2018 model. Then, I saw the TV commercials. To wit: "You've been waiting for this one . . ."
"No, I haven't!" I shouted back at the TV. The competition among compact SUV models is so intense and varied, so marked by technological additions and changes, that I haven't "been waiting" for anything in that rapidly changing arena, let alone for anything priced at $48,900 (the base price for the Stelvio Ti Sport all-wheel-drive sport-utility model).
No one needs to spend nearly $49,000 to get a top-notch SUV. Nor must anyone part with nearly $66,000 for something as nice as this week's 2018 Audi SQ5 3.0 T Quattro SUV. You spend that kind of money because you want to, because you are trying to buy something more than what is being offered in the given product.
Good luck with that. You are shopping for what car dealers and manufacturers call "blue sky." You might have "been waiting" for something actually provided long ago by one of the Alfa Romeo rivals, probably at a more reasonable price or at a higher cost that makes you feel the wait was justified because of where you are in your mind at the time of purchase.
The truth is more prosaic. Most modern Jeep, Hyundai sport or Mercedes-Benz sport-utility vehicles are equipped with advanced electronic safety measures and other items. Most have done away with what we once called dashboards and instrument panels and replaced them with touch screens. South Korean automobile manufacturers are using technology to reduce prices and increase product value. Stalwarts, such as Audi, rapidly are improving already superior products, such as the 2018 SQ5 3.0 T Quattro.
Look at it — much revised for 2018, with a new turbocharged gasoline engine (3.0-liter, 354 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque). Yes, you still "drive" it, but, like most modern rivals, it actually drives and thinks for you: automatic stop-go to conserve fuel; blind-spot warning; rear cross-traffic alert; forward-collision mitigation and other items to reduce the risk of crashes and injury or death.
The vehicle badge really doesn't matter. The equipment and build quality does. The 2018 Audi SQ 5 has it all.
Nuts & Bolts
2018 Audi SQ5 3.0 T QUATTRO
Bottom line: The 2018 Audi SQ5 is a good buy if you have $65,800 to buy a fully optioned model without discounts. It is not if you don't. Less expensive, reasonably well-equipped SUVs are available. Shop.
Acceleration, ride and handling: The SQ5 is excellent in all respects. Let's face it: You can go only so fast on the regulated roads on which most of us drive. And most of us don't want to take this expensive work of diamond-stitched Nappa leather seats off road, although you can.
Head-turning quotient: High. It is one of the most attractive SUVs available.
Engine/transmission: It is equipped with a 3.0-liter, 24-valve, V-6 gasoline engine with variable valve lift and timing. The engine is linked to a super-smooth eight-speed automatic transmission that also can be operated manually.
Mileage: The Environmental Protection Agency says it gets 24 miles per gallon on the highway. I got 22. Premium-grade fuel is required.
Safety: If you can afford it, you buy an excellent health insurance policy for a reason. The same logic applies to the 2018 Audi SQ5 all-wheel-drive SUV. Standard safety equipment includes ventilated front and rear disc brakes; four-wheel anti-lock brakes; automatic emergency braking; pre- and post-collision safety systems; stability and traction control; side and head air bags; and dusk-sensing headlamps.
Note: A full suite of advanced electronic safety items is available.
Pricing: The 2018 Audi SQ5 all-wheel-drive SUV starts at $54,300. Add $10,500 in options and a $975 factory-to-dealer shipping charge. You are looking at close to $65,800.