2021 Audi SQ5 First Drive: Fun and Functional, With No Funk
Punchy and dynamic, the updated SQ5 balances comfort and performance under one roof.
It seems like it was just yesterday that I was driving the 2020 Audi SQ7 on Angeles Crest Highway before the blazing Bobcat Fire tore through that area of the San Gabriel Mountains this summer. That three-row family SUV perfectly blends sportiness with the comfort that enthusiast parents are looking for. Yet, the 2021 Audi SQ5 is the popular family member. The Q5 lineup represents about 25 percent of Audi's sales in the U.S., and with three variants available—the regular Q5 TFSI, the efficient Q5 PHEV, and the sporty SQ5—the German brand is covering its bases well in today's most popular segment.
For the 2021 model year, the SQ5 is getting a mid-cycle refresh that continues where the Q5 TFSI left off. With a turbocharged V-6, Quattro all-wheel drive, and a quick-shifting transmission, the dynamic variant packs the SQ7's principles in a smaller package. Pleasant on the freeway and energetic on canyon roads, the 2021 Audi SQ5 is a fun-to-drive SUV that combines everyday utility with the wants of enthusiasts.
2021 Audi SQ5: Under the Hood
Although the SQ5 doesn't have the same eye-popping output as the bigger SQ7 (which carries a V-8 twin-turbo with 500 hp and 568 lb-ft), this slimmer SUV still manages to impress. With 349 hp and 369 lb-ft coming out of the 3.0-liter turbo V-6 engine, Audi estimates the SQ5 will get to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds—0.4 second quicker than the 2020 model by their stopwatches. Although that's the same engine and power numbers as the pre-refresh model, the eight-speed automatic transmission has been recalibrated with new gear ratios and axle drive ratio, and the launch control has also been reprogrammed—all of this helps it achieve better performance numbers. We'll make sure to take it to the track soon to compare our numbers.
On the road, however, the SQ5 feels closer to a hot hatch than a hot SUV. The low body roll and great traction make handling on tight corners a breeze. On a trip to Latigo Canyon in Malibu, which is a serpentine road that snakes up the mountain range, the SQ5 didn't hesitate once despite the steep climbs and altitude. The torque is delivered at low revs, making it punchy from the start; when Dynamic mode is engaged, the transmission holds gears longer, making for strong power delivery. Although the eight-speed shifts quickly, I used the paddle shifters during most of the run up the mountain for quicker downshifts.
The steering is quick and accurate, and it's a bit stiffer with Dynamic mode on. But what impressed me the most is the controlled ride on tight turns. Despite the massive 21-inch wheels, the MLB evo platform deserves a lot of credit, too, as it has been engineered to support more dynamic SUVs like the Porsche Macan and Cayenne, all the way up to the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga. That engineering is evident in the SQ5, which is what helps it achieve enthusiastic performance on the canyons while providing a comfortable ride on the freeway.
Delivering on the same principles as the SQ7, the SQ5 is solid on city streets and the highway. Besides the smooth ride, what's most impressive is how quiet the cabin is. Audi used acoustic glass to prevent almost any kind of noise from getting inside, and it's remarkable. In Comfort mode, it feels like you're wearing noise-cancelling headphones; turn Dynamic mode on, and the engine note is amplified through the speakers in a serene way.
Although the ride is peaceful, the auto stop/start system is intrusive. When coming to a full stop—whether you're in stop-and-go traffic or simply arriving to a stop light—the system feels too eager to shut down the engine, causing a very noticeable vibration and noise in the cabin. Sometimes the system shuts down the engine before you come to a full stop, and other times it takes longer than expected to turn on the engine. Fortunately, the driver can disengage it with the push of a button.
2021 Audi SQ5: Inside the Cabin
The enhancements made to the powertrain are echoed inside the cabin. The first thing you'll notice is a larger 10.1-inch touchscreen that replaces the 7.0-inch and 8.3-inch displays. The updated MIB3 infotainment system adds wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard features and gets a faster processor for a quicker response. The screen is within easy reach of the driver's seat and is easy to operate. Unlike the bigger models, there are no dual touchscreens with haptic controls—all models in the lineup get this one screen.
However, that doesn't mean there's a lack of technology. The Audi Virtual Cockpit Plus returns, this time with a full HD display, which means Google Maps is presented in better resolution. Our test car was equipped with the Prestige package ($9,600), which gets a crisp 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, a massive color head-up display, as well as LTE Wi-Fi connection, three USB ports, and a wireless charger.
Interior space is ample for average-size adults. At 6-foot-1, I was comfortable in the second row with the driver's seat set to my driving position. Headroom was sufficient, but foot room could get tricky when a third person sits on the rear bench, as the drivetrain hump is pretty bulky. I didn't need to haul any gear during the loan with the SQ5, but at 25.6 cubic feet it seemed roomy enough for two big suitcases and a couple of carry-ons.
Like you would expect, materials are top notch. From the soft but firm Nappa leather seats to the suede on the door panels, there's a sense of luxury in the SQ5. Hard plastics are well hidden even on places you won't touch frequently, and the overall cabin design is chic and contemporary.
2021 Audi SQ5: Safety
Although the SQ5 (and the rest of the Q5 lineup) comes standard with a handful of driver assistance technologies, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist and active lane assist are available for an additional cost. In a time when Toyota and Honda are equipping all of their cars with advanced safety technologies at no extra cost, we were hoping for luxury brands to do the same.
However, Audi does include lane departure warning, high-beam assist, parking assist, and rear cross-traffic alert as standard technologies in all SQ5s.
2021 Audi SQ5: Should I Buy It?
Starting at $53,995, the 2021 Audi SQ5 brings good value to the table with its punchy engine and sophisticated chassis, but prices escalate pretty quickly. Our loaded model came with a price tag of $71,790, which is a significant 32-percent increase over the base model.
But the SQ5 manages to excel what few SUVs can do—balancing sporty dynamics and a comfortable ride at the same time. It might be expensive, but it sure is fun to drive.
|2021 Audi SQ5 Specs|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.0L/349-hp/369-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,350 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||184.3 x 74.5 x 65.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.7 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON||18/24/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||187/140 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.96 lb/mile|