The 2021 Audi SQ5 Is A Quick Enough Crossover.
Smart-sized, punchy, and attractive, this Audi is a nice package.
Sporty variants of crossovers aren't my favorite cars. Taller, heavier, with a higher center of gravity, as more expensive applications of what I feel could be sporty sedans or wagons. Manufacturers' balance sheets have reaped the benefit from this segment, so I'll deal with this trend that gives OEMs cash to make more enthusiast-oriented models.
Audi has slapped its S badge on several new models during recent years, with its popular Q5 crossover getting the Audi Sport treatment for over a decade. As a crossover with practical proportions, the SQ5 gets a good bump in power over the standard Q5, and plenty of styling upgrades inside and out. Does the 2021 SQ5 earn respect as a performance Audi? I had a week in Los Angeles, over loads of freeway and canyon miles, to find out.
The Useful Numbers
Audi's quick crossover--and new crossover coupe option--competes with the BMW X3 M40i (and it's X4 coupe variant) and Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 which also comes in your choice of a traditional crossover or crossover coupe body. Powering the Audi SQ5 is a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that produces 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. The SQ5's horsepower figure is about 20 fewer versus both of its German counterparts, and only a tick better on torque against the BMW.
Through quattro all-wheel-drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission, the SQ5 sprints from 0-60 MPH in 4.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 155. Tipping the scales at 4,288 pounds, the SQ5 isn't exactly light, but expect that sort of mass in a vehicle that's loaded with standard features, all-wheel-drive, and a turbo V6. EPA fuel economy estimates are 18/24/20 (city/highway/combined).
Pricing for the Audi SQ5 starts at $52,900, and after opting for the $3,000 S Sport package (sport adaptive air suspension, sport rear differential, and red brake calipers), dynamic steering, Nappa leather seats, black optic packages that add 21-inch wheels and summer tires in addition to black exterior details, and top Prestige trim level--which for $9,600 adds B&O audio, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, heated seats, a panoramic roof, and plenty of other comfort and safety features--the MSRP of my District Green tester hit $71,790.
A Fun Daily Crossover
Buzzing around town in the Audi SQ5 is great. While the SQ5's turbocharged engine doesn't have wild performance figures, the power band was smooth when making quick moves in the city and along some fun roads. The SQ5's sport steering wheel is on the thick side, but not as hefty as you find in new BMWs, and it fit my hands perfectly. Audi's optional dynamic steering is a bit over-boosted and feels somewhat artificial once you're moving faster than 45 MPH, which took some adjustment over my first couple days behind the wheel.
The SQ5's adaptive suspension makes any bumps and cracks dissolve, with things being almost too soft for this enthusiast driver when in the comfort setting. Utilizing Audi Drive Select, I configured the individual mode as a daily driver setup to have the engine in comfort, but dialed in sporty options for steering and suspension. With this configuration, the SQ5 is nimble yet refined on any surface. Even over the bumpy concrete city streets and freeways of Los Angeles.
Upper Audi models get more advanced cabins, but they're a bit over the top for my liking. In the SQ5, the switchgear is cool yet understated, and all the controls have a positive feel. MMI infotainment is great, even if the center touchscreen is simply stuck atop the dash. Audi's software is great, the app interface is clean, and the SQ5 also benefits from wireless Apple CarPlay. The Virtual Cockpit is cool, allowing drivers to configure the instrument cluster to display the navigation, speedometer & tachometer, or various driving data in several ways.
Seating position in the SQ5 is great, and I love the quilted Nappa leather upgrade. Over my week in the Audi, I was spending several hours buzzing around LA, and never complained about stiffness or fatigue. I'd appreciate a hint more lateral bolstering from this sporty model, but I'm not griping, as most drivers will find the front and rear seats supportive and comfy over long treks. Rear seat legroom is more than sufficient, with enough headroom for taller adults. Storage in the rear hatch is deep and plentiful, easily gobbling up any luggage or cargo from errands you might stuff back there.
Playing In The Canyons
Give an Audi that iconic S badge, and it better perform in the twisty stuff. Being in Los Angeles during my test week, the Angeles National Forest was the SQ5's playground. As my usual benchmark for any performance car, the Angeles Crest Highway is demanding and reveals any qualities or flaws. In this environment, the SQ5 was more confident than I expected from a reasonably quick crossover.
I sampled this powertrain last summer in the Audi S4 around LA, and thought it was certainly quicker than your average sport sedan, but wasn't particularly fast. Similarly, the SQ5 isn't exactly slow, but I feel it could use a bit more mid-range torque. Most notably when punching out of a quicker bend that opens up to a longer straightaway. With the SQ5 in its dynamic mode, power comes on a bit slowly at first, but still makes the numbers get big as you keep the pedal planted.
Audi's S-Tuned adaptive dampers make any little mid-corner bumps disappear, and could be a hint stiffer in the sportiest setting to give me the response I want from a properly sporty car. There's a moderate amount of body roll if you're carrying some speed into a fast curve, but the SQ5 stayed where I wanted it. Lateral grip from the optional sport differential is stout, shoving additional torque to the outside rear wheel under harder demand. Supplemented by a sticky set of Pirelli P-Zero tires, the SQ5 nailed any apex I tossed it toward, as a little squirrel I accidentally executed could confirm.
The SQ5's braking could be more competent during more spirited canyon sessions. With over two tons of curb weight to slow, the Audi's 13.8-inch front and 13.0-inch rear rotors were strained, and the pads heated up more quickly than I expected. Especially when I gave it a decent exercise along Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, which is full of longer straights that lead to harder braking zones ahead of the quick sweepers. To the SQ5's credit, playing in the Angeles National Forest is where I set the benchmark for plenty of supercars and tuner projects I test, and this crossover came down from the mountains leaving a favorable impression.
Green is good. Green is right. Green works.
The Good Things
Rather than providing looks that barely make it more attractive than an appliance with four wheels, the SQ5 has great styling. It's not overdone anywhere, and the whole package is tidy yet cool. That shade of District Green paint is fantastic too, with little metallic flecks that sparkle under the sun's rays.
Audi's cockpit styling continues the sleek and understated effect inside the SQ5. Functionality within the SQ5 is exceptional, and I love how Audi not only provides plenty of space for stashing away any items, but does so with intuitive placement. One bonus I loved when spending lots of time behind the wheel of the SQ5 was the switch to either heat or cool one of the front cupholders, keeping my beverage at the optimal temperature.
Having the usual mix of driving modes is common in the premium lineups these days, but this sportier Audi crossover is treated to extra options that include an allroad and off-road settings, allowing you to take your SQ5 far from smooth pavement. Those high performance Pirellis may limit how extreme you're getting in the dirty stuff, but I had no trouble along a little trail that snuck just off the Angeles Crest Highway.
Little Negative Points
Similar to how I nagged the S4 last summer, the SQ5's drive select modes need to be better distinguished. Audi's dynamic mode wasn't as fun as I wanted, and was too similar to the standard drive mode, only exhibiting a hint more throttle response, a slightly firmer suspension, and steering feel with only marginally heavier weight.
Engine notes are too tame for an S-badged Audi. The SQ5 doesn't offer any exciting sounds, and there's definitely a faux tone being fed through the speakers. Turbochargers may mute some fun noises under the hood, but a performance-oriented car should have some grunt when you mash the go pedal.
Audi is smart, because it utilizes three trim levels to package loads of features and option packages together, but using those levels to pack in safety systems and driver aids is a sneaky way to jack up the sticker price. A car that starts over $50,000 shouldn't add several thousand dollars to give you features like adaptive cruise control, a panoramic sunroof, leather armrests, and driver's seat memory settings.
This Quick Crossover Gets It Done
As opposed to plenty of vanilla crossovers wearing sporty badging, Audi has given us a fun model in the SQ5. It's quick when it matters, exhibits plenty of confidence on the fun roads, and is versatile enough for any reasonable driver.
I'm not sure the SQ5 is a true Audi Sport model though, as this crossover comes with a more tame overall setup. It could it be quicker, with firmer response, and have a more performance-focused setup to please an enthusiast driver like me, but maybe Audi could work those characteristics into an RS Q5.