There's no route to becoming the world's largest luxury automaker except for building out a model line with as many variations on a theme as possible. That's the best I can reckon for the existence of this, the 2014 Audi SQ5, a 354-hp version of the Audi Q5 midsize luxury SUV built for the diesel-unfriendly U.S. market.
Set to be shown in the metal at the Detroit auto show, and arriving in dealerships next fall, the SQ5 uses a supercharged version of Audi/Volkswagen's corporate 3-liter V-6, aided by a host of inside technology such as an engine balance shaft to keep the bustle out of the driver's ears. Zero to 60 mph takes 5.3 seconds — faster, Audi claims, than any potential competitor — thanks to power delivered through an eight-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel-drive system. Inside, Audi kits out the SQ5 with varying shades of black and gadgetry such as a roaming Internet connection.
On the one hand, having a fast midsize SUV feels like buying a sports car based on how much it can tow, as if the company misunderstands how its buyers use its vehicles. And yet, since Audi already sells S4 sedans and S5 coupes with the similar supercharged V-6, the only part of the midsize high-performance market not yet covered in the United States lies in soft-road SUVs — a category not yet explored by BMW and Mercedes on these shores. With all three firms locked in a battle for global luxury car supremacy, expect reactions from Stuttgart and Munich quickly.