Consumer choice has never been broader in the still growing compact SUV/crossover market segment, highlights Iain Robertson, although Audi really knows how to turn on the style and grab attention, albeit at a hefty price tag.

Bombarded with enticing in-print and on-screen advertisements for the latest and greatest SUVs, I do not envy potential customers for this class of car. There is scarcely a single brand that does not field at least one contender, with affordable Dacia and Suzuki at one of the scale and Audi, with its prestigious rivals from BMW and Merc, at the other.

To be fair, in the ‘touchy-feely’ stakes, there is no finer automotive exponent than Audi. It knows it, as do its customers. Of course, visual appeal is vital and Audi also knows explicitly how to re-engineer and redesign its various models, to differentiate them from lowlier Skoda, Seat and Volkswagen stablemates, all of which are eminently desirable, depending on your budget and amount of badge snobbery.

DSCYet, the SQ2 is an essential ‘bit different’. In essence, it is a Golf R ‘on stilts’…they are not particularly vertiginous stilts, I shall grant you, but the ride height is up a tad from the low-line Golf. In most ways, its most direct competitor comes from the Cupra Ateca, which shares almost every aspect of its being, except final detail finish and that ever-so-important ‘Four Rings’ logo.

Finished in a vibrant Tango Red, complete with its gorgeous Nappa hide interior in a red/black cross-hatched combo, with red stitching highlights, cleverly backlit ‘Quattro’ dashboard strip and even anodised red bezels on the dashboard air-vents, you are in no doubt as to the arrival of the zestiest of all Audi’s Q2 models, the SQ2. The five-door model oozes class through every tight-fitting aperture. Yet, it also delivers in the performance stakes.

DSCPowered by the familiar 2.0-litre TFSi petrol-turbo four-cylinder engine that also powers the hottest versions of SQ2’s sister brands, the driver has access to 296bhp, supported by a deliciously wide spread of torque (295lbs ft between 2,000 and 5,200rpm). Driving through a 7-speed twin-clutch automated-manual gearbox, with paddle-shifters located conveniently behind the steering wheel cross-spokes, the veritable flood of potency enables the 0-60mph sprint to be completed in a slick but silky 4.5s, the car running out of steam at an electronically limited 155mph. Tipping the scales at just over 1.5-tonnes, the comprehensively trimmed and refined SQ2 is not a lightweight but it does use its near-300 hot-hatch horsepower most efficaciously.

With practice, it is possible to eke out around 40mpg but the norm, affected by its kerbweight, is closer to the stated 33.2mpg, which means that, if you stretch the envelope a little, you can watch the small blocks of the digital fuel gauge disappearing rather quicker than desired; it is a good reason not to indulge in regular full-throttle blasts, despite the omni-present and exciting temptation to experience the thrill. Incidentally, the test car is rated at 163g/km CO2, which means a hefty £530 road tax in the first year (£145 annually thereafter).

DSCEven in the Comfort setting of the adjustable driving mode selector (via a switch in the bank located just below the air-con controls), the ride quality on 18.0-inch diameter alloys and low-profile tyres is best described as firm. Fortunately, it is not jarringly so but, while the Sport setting is actually quite severe, the SQ2’s composure on typical, give-and-take British roads is excellent. Body roll is exceptionally well controlled but the small, flat-bottomed steering wheel, clad in perforated leather, is connected to a high-geared rack and pinion system that can result in the car responding more edgily on rougher surfaces. While feedback to the driver is good, the car’s directional stability can be affected by jouncing its off the driver’s chosen line. Unfortunately, at 11.1m, the turning circle is far greater than expected.

Of course, cabin comfort is exquisite; the black headlining is lifted from potential oppressiveness by the aforementioned red elements. The double red stitching is impeccable and the raft of soft-touch surfaces within the cockpit is alluring. However, the supportive front sports seats are manually adjustable, with electric controls for the heating and lumbar adjustments, and there is bags of space in the front of the cabin, which ensures a commanding and near-perfect driving position. There is adequate room behind for two adults, separated by a generous armrest, which can be raised for a smaller occupant, and the boot can be extended from its 355-litres capacity to a neat 1,000-litres by split-folding the 40:20:40 rear bench.

DSCNaturally, connectivity (for either Apple or Bluetooth enabled devices) and a full suite of driver safety aids ensures that SQ2 meets current market demands. Yet, I wonder if it is necessary to double-up steering-wheel switchgear with the MMI-controller located just behind the gear selector in the centre console and the fixed full-colour screen that sits atop the dashboard, above the centre-stack. All of those switches can make the dashboard feel cluttered. A head-up display that is readily adjusted for different driver heights, reflects colourfully into the lower edge of the windscreen and disappears into the space above the main instrument pod, when the push-to-stop engine button is depressed.

There is nothing half-hearted about the Audi SQ2. Built to exceptionally high standards, it is easily the finest example of the breed and is styled to reflect that strong image, with its potentially slabby side panels broken up by the straight-edged lozenge placed just below the side windows, between front and rear axle lines. From its deep, black, shield-like radiator grille, to the four exhaust tailpipes, it is every inch a pedigree (albeit junior-league) bruiser that uses its 4WD system to enhance its stability and safety.

Conclusion:     The elephant-in-the-room lies with the test car’s £10,285’s worth of desirable accessories, attached to its £35,600 standard list price. Naturally, if you have a special relationship with your Audi dealer, you might be able to discount the price significantly but caution is still advisable with the options list.