2021 Audi SQ5 review: A little more S, please


The whole Q5 range gets a few styling updates for 2021.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The Audi SQ5 sure sounds sweet on paper. It has 88 more horsepower than the standard Q5, complemented by an additional 96 pound-feet of torque. The SQ5 will even do the 0-to-60-mph jaunt a full second quicker than its less-powerful sibling. But honestly, you’d never know.

LikeSmooth and comfortable rideGreat infotainment techQuiet, comfortable cabin

Don’t LikeTurbo engine needs more soulLess cargo space than competitors

For all the things the SQ5 does well, it has a major deficiency in one key area: drama. It’s a problem that isn’t unique to the SQ5; many of Audi’s sporty models are simply too buttoned-up for their own good. But this lack of visceral excitement seems particularly egregious in the SQ5. And that’s a shame, because objectively speaking, this compact luxury crossover is really good.

The SQ5’s 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 makes 349 hp and 369 lb-ft — pretty big increases over the standard Q5’s 2.0-liter I4. Audi says the SQ5 will hit 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, which is just as quick as its two main competitors, the BMW X3 M40i and Mercedes-AMG GLC43. The issue is that the V6 offers next to nothing in the way of aural accompaniment. There’s no hearty engine note, no raspy exhaust. There’s no real turbo punch, either, just a precise and linear application of thrust. The SQ5 is powerful, but everything is so smooth and predictable, it doesn’t feel powerful.

Everything else about the SQ5’s driving experience is a similar story. The ride quality is super smooth, the body doesn’t roll under hard cornering and the brakes are surefooted and strong. The steering is pretty light and totally numb, and while the SQ5 can hold its own if you take a corner quickly, this SUV just doesn’t feel like it cares about having a good time. It’s a straight-A student held back by its own apathy.

If there’s an upside of this shrug-and-a-meh enthusiasm, it’s that you’ll find it easy to meet and exceed the EPA’s fuel economy estimates. Since the SQ5 doesn’t goad you into driving with gusto, you’ll have no trouble matching the 18 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined ratings. In fact, after a week of testing, I averaged 24 mpg. You won’t get that in a GLC43 or X3 M40i. Then again, you won’t be having as much fun.

The turbo V6 is powerful, but a little too quiet.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Fittingly, I suppose, the SQ5 doesn’t look all that sporty, though I’m not too upset about that. The standard Q5 is a handsome thing, and the SQ5-specific updo is tasteful. The lower air intakes look somewhat more aggressive, and 20-inch wheels come standard, with larger 21s available if you’ve got extra cash to blow. The SQ5 gets all of the base Q5’s 2021 model year styling enhancements, too, including redesigned headlights with standard LED illumination and a modestly tweaked rear bumper and diffuser. There are some new colors on the options list, as well, including the awesome District Green you see here.

The SQ5’s interior is a lot like its exterior: Clean and handsome, with little in the way of superfluous flair. This test car is sadly awash in a sea of black and gray materials, which makes the whole cabin look pretty dark and drab. (Bolder color schemes are available.) Also, there are five or six different shades of gray in this example — the dash, door cards, grab handles, seats, carbon fiber trim and piano black console are all ever so slightly different from one another. If this monochromatic tapestry is intended to add visual interest to the SQ5’s cabin, it definitely doesn’t work. At least all the things you’ll actually touch are genuinely high quality, and the buttons and knobs on the center console have a satisfying click to their action.

Up front, the leather sport seats are super comfy for long drives. Rear passengers won’t have anything to complain about, either, unless they’re 95th-percentile tall. The SQ5 offers 25.8 cubic feet of cargo space with its rear seats upright, which is more than the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 but less than the BMW X3 M40i. Fold the seats flat and you’ll have 54.1 cubic feet of space to work with, although in this configuration, both the BMW and Mercedes offer more room.

As colorful as the German winter sky.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The Q5’s 2021 model year update brings updated infotainment tech to the party, with Audi’s MIB 3 multimedia system housed on a 10.1-inch touchscreen atop the dash. I love this interface — it’s neatly organized, colorful and bright, and most importantly, quick to respond to inputs. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, as well, though only the former connects wirelessly.

The infotainment isn’t the cabin’s most impressive bit of tech, by the way. That honor goes to Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, which isn’t a new bit of infotainment wizardry, but it’s still one of the best. A 12.3-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster sits behind the steering wheel, offering Google Earth maps and tons of vehicle and multimedia data. You can manage a lot of the infotainment heavy lifting through this interface, without ever needing to take your hands off the steering wheel.

Speaking of tech, the SQ5 comes with lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and forward collision warning standard. You’ve got to pony up for a higher trim level to get niceties like full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, parking assist or a 360-degree camera, which feels like a bummer on a luxury SUV that starts at $53,995 (including $1,095 for destination). I’ll remind all the luxury carmakers that a lot of those options come standard on less-expensive Hondas, but whatever, you do you.

I’m really into this new District Green paint.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Go for the gold and you can option a 2021 SQ5 Prestige like my test car up above $70,000. With things like the S Sport pack, dynamic steering, 21-inch wheels, Black Optic pack and Nappa leather seats, the SQ5 pictured here comes out to $71,790 delivered. Oh, and if you want all this SQ5 goodness in a more attractive but less functional shape, Audi will sell you the whole kit and caboodle in swanky new Sportback guise for an extra $3,200.

Ultimately, because the SQ5 lacks so much in the way of raw entertainment, I’m not really sure it offers enough of a draw over the standard $44,395 Q5. Actually, if it’s outright power you’re after, the Q5 plug-in hybrid should be your jam, with 362 hp, 369 lb-ft, 19 miles of all-electric range and better overall fuel economy. Did I mention the Q5 PHEV also costs $1,000 less? The 2021 SQ5 is a champ at its core competencies, but without any added emotion, I can’t think of a reason to get it over Audi’s already-excellent Q5.


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