Review: 2021 Audi Q5/SQ5May 21st, 2021
Let’s cut to the chase here – the Audi SQ5 is just about one perfect unit of premium SUV. It possesses a near-ideal balance of the four attributes that it seems almost every SUV shopper is looking for these days: space, technology, style, and performance – with a touch of added spice from Audi Sport that makes it feel really special. It’s this fine balance that distinguishes the SQ5, and its less-powerful Q5 sibling, which have been mainstays in Audi’s lineup since 2009.
Packing a spacious interior and cargo area into a surprisingly compact and maneuverable footprint, the Q5 and SQ5 are a marvel of perfect packaging. A long wheelbase and wide track make the most of its exterior dimensions, and give first- and second-row seat occupants generous amounts of leg-, head-, and shoulder-room despite manageable exterior dimensions. Careful, intelligent design of the seats and interior furniture further maximizes the sense of space: the dash is a simple, low swoop from side to side, the centre console has plenty of storage space, the door panels are scooped out to provide more room, and the backs of the sporty front seats are scooped out to create more space in the rear. The cargo area is easily accessible through a power hatch, with a low load floor, no intrusive lip, and can easily be expanded by folding sections of the rear seats forward.
As you’d expect from Audi, the Q5’s interior is beautifully made out of premium materials – soft-touch plastics, premium leather, carbon-fibre accents, and real aluminum trim on the knobs and switches. What’s more impressive is how simple and intuitive everything is to use, given how much technology is packed into this latest-generation model. From the all-digital instrument cluster, which lets you cycle between a cinescope 3-D map, sporty bar-graph instruments, and infotainment details with the steering wheel controls, to a large central touchscreen that handles all infotainment duties, it’s easy to find and operate every one of the SQ5’s many functions. Furthermore, you still get physical buttons and switches for the most important things: switching between the various driving modes, operating the climate controls, and – praise be – a physical volume knob.
While there’s part of me that misses Audi’s classic circular MMI controller, it’s hard to argue that the touch panel makes it quicker to access more functions. And, being a modern Audi, there are many – from navigation to customizable drive modes to infotainment and a suite of active safety systems such as blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, and more.
For most driving needs, the “regular” Q5’s turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder is more than adequate – super-economical, smooth-running, and very refined in combination with its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. But the SQ5 adds a dose of something special: producing 349 horsepower, the 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 is coupled to a smooth and quick-shifting eight-speed automatic, delivering 0-100 km/h times in the five-second range. With a throaty optional sport exhaust, the V6’s extra oomph and sound imbues the driving experience with some extra emotion, while also making relaxed progress even more effortless.
If one were to level a criticism at the Q5/SQ5 models, it’s that the styling can seem overly conservative, inside and out – and in their proportions, they’re not even that different from the original models introduced more than a decade ago. The flip side of that argument is that there’s a timeless quality to this SUV lineup, that its soft curves and sharp creases will age well, never looking out of fashion. The design of the interior has a similar simple, but beautifully-executed appeal.
With the world gone SUV-mad, Audi seems to have a truck to fit every taste these days, from the surprisingly capable and spacious entry-level Q3 to the gigantic three-row Q7. They’re all very good vehicles, but there’s a goldilocks kind of quality to the Q5 and SQ5. The Q3 is less expensive, and offers a similar level of space, but doesn’t feel as special inside, and is down on refinement; the Q7 is gorgeous, but its three-row seating and large footprint make it more of a challenge to wheel around urban environments. The Q5 – and particularly the SQ5? They’re just right.