The latest Audi SQ5 finds the perfect balance of hot and cool.
There are a lot of really good, really powerful SUVs on sale today. The problem is that many of them demand sacrifices of key features you typically want in a good SUV, like comfort, efficiency, and refinement. That's not the case of the new 2021 Audi SQ5, which thoughtfully combines performance and luxury in a stylish, well-rounded package.
The compact Audi offers a punchy six-cylinder engine, handsome and understated styling, and an incomparably upscale cabin loaded with some of the latest and greatest technology. If you can stand to lose a few horses – and save a lot of dollars by comparison – the refreshed 2021 Audi SQ5 is better-rounded than some of those brasher substitutes (including its RS Q8 and RS Q3 siblings).
Mid-Range Performance Charmer
Powering the 2021 Audi SQ5 is a punchy turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 good for 349 horsepower and 369 pound-feet, while an eight-speed automatic and Quattro all-wheel drive sends power to all four corners. To be fair, those numbers are identical to last year’s model – but at least Audi fiddled with the engine management system to somehow subtract 0.4 seconds from the zero-to-60 time, dropping it from 5.1 to 4.7 seconds.
And the SQ5 does feel genuinely quick. With a dedicated launch control system and all-wheel-drive that produces unbelievable amounts of grip, this Audi will easily shove you and your passengers into the leather seatbacks on the way to 60. Plus the super torquey V6 produces max twist at a very early 1,370 RPM; this engine has a ton of low-end punch yet still plenty of power at higher speeds for things like highway passes – and it sounds great. The only minor niggle is the eight-speed automatic, which is quick in Dynamic mode but can be a bit sloshy otherwise.
Audi fiddled with the engine management system to somehow subtract 0.4 seconds from the zero-to-60 time, dropping it from 5.1 to 4.7 seconds.
Every version of the SQ5 gets a standard adaptive suspension, but the even niftier Sport Adaptive air setup adorns our tester. A feature as part of the $3,000 optional S Sport package, the advanced air setup cushions and dampens bumps better than most traditional adaptive suspensions ever could. It also adds a torque-vectoring rear differential that definitely makes the SQ5 feel more dynamic.
On the few twisty roads and highway on-ramps we do find, the SQ5 feels very agile; it’s light on its feet and will dive into turns quickly, with only a few minor body movements of note. The steering has a lightweight feel that offers great feedback from the road to your fingertips, and in the sportiest Dynamic mode, the suspension is taut and responsive. That said, you don’t want to drive everywhere in that setting it’s too stiff for daily commuting.
The SQ5 is a solid cruiser on the highway, but it’s slightly harsher than some alternatives even in the softest suspension setting. Bumps and undulations are obvious, and the cabin isn’t totally quiet; noticeable wind and tire noise penetrate from the outside. There’s also a dedicated Allroad mode for off-road driving that includes hill descent control, but the low-profile tires and stiff ride certainly don’t feel up for the task. Even rocky pull-offs adjacent to the highway felt like too much for the SQ5. But hey, for a performance crossover such as this, those are small sacrifices.
‘S’ For ‘Sharper’
The visual updates to the exterior of the 2021 SQ5 are subtle but make all the difference. The new headlights are slightly taller than the previous set and sport a new daytime running light design. The grille is bigger and bolder as well, ditching last year's horizontal slats for a new honeycomb pattern. And there are fresh wheel options across the board. Our tester wears 21-inchers (a $1,000 option) that are only available with the Black Optic package ($1,150 extra), which adds dark finishes to the wheel inserts, grille, and side mirrors. If you have the money to splurge on these two upgrades, do so. The SQ5's massive directional wheels and darkened finishes up the aggressive factor even further.
The cabin of the Audi SQ5 is more significantly overhauled and much improved over its predecessor. Quilted Nappa leather ($1,000) covers the Sport seats, Alcantara lines the door panels, and a $500 Carbon Atlas inlay accents the dash. Plus there's a bigger 10.1-inch screen atop the dash, replacing last year's 7.0-inch unit. But littered among the high-end stuff is faux leather on the center console and door armrests, and a Volkswagen-esque hard plastic door pull that makes the otherwise upscale cabin feel a bit more economical than it probably should. This is a $70,000 vehicle as-tested, after all.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Audi SQ5
But we can't fault the SQ5's updated tech. The now-larger touchscreen has a clean home layout with crisp graphics and a satisfying haptic click when you select anything – although it does totally ditch the MMI dial. Wireless Apple CarPlay also joins the fray for 2021 and worked almost faultlessly in our short test, and the same 12.3-inch digital cluster and a head-up display carries over. The crisp, highly configurable cluster in the SQ5 is a nice feature that clearly displays options like audio, navigation, and driving data without having to dig into the central screen.
The entire Q5 range also gets more advanced safety features for 2021, SQ5 included. Things like front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, and the Audi Pre Sense City suite (which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection) all come standard. This model gets more advanced features like active lane assist and adaptive cruise with distance control at no extra cost, plus trim-exclusive options like Matrix LED headlights and traffic-sign recognition. And as expected, all of these safety features work well on the road with little issue.
The Smarter Choice
Although some companies do offer hotter alternatives, don't be swayed by speed – the 2021 Audi SQ5 is the perfect middle ground. This crossover's strong mid-range performance will satisfy the average shopper, while the broader platform ticks all the appropriate boxes for impressive luxury and modern tech at a competitive price. The SQ5 also starts at a reasonable $52,900 for 2021 – more affordable than a comparable BMW X3 M40i or a Mercedes-AMG GLC 43. Although the Audi does get pretty pricey quick with options.
Moving up to the range-topping Prestige trim will cost you an additional $9,600. After adding in the S Sport package ($3,000), 21-inch wheels ($1,195), the Black Optic package ($1,000), and a few other options, our car costs $71,790 as tested. Not exactly cheap, but still more affordable than some hotter alternatives. So while it may not be the fastest small crossover you can buy, the SQ5 is definitely more well-rounded, moderately priced, and still pretty darn fun.