2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback Review

  • Stylish without too big a hit on practicality
  • V6 is powerful and sounds good
  • Cabin is comfortable and well-equipped
  • Q5 PHEV is more frugal and more powerful
  • Options quickly get expensive

If the Q5 is Audi's most popular model in the US, then the SQ5 Sportback is probably the aspirational upgrade for those wanting some extra sport in their SUV. Toting two extra cylinders compared to the standard car, a more interesting design, and no shortage of cabin tech, it's punchy without forgetting about practicality. Indeed the biggest surprise for the SQ5 Sportback might well be that its strongest rival comes from within its own range.

Audi's 3.0-liter TFSI V6 gas engine and 8-speed Tiptronic gearbox are familiar from elsewhere in the automaker's line-up; so, too, is the quattro all-wheel drive. That's no bad thing; here, the 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque offer a welcome uptick over the standard Q5 with its 2.0-liter four-cylinder, enough for a 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds. All the same, it's worth noting that the Q5 plug-in hybrid – with 369 lb-ft and 362 hp – is actually more powerful than the SQ5 Sportback.

The regular Q5 feels adequate, if not exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm. Think family stalwart – reassuringly steady and balanced – with suspension on the firm side. For the SQ5 Sportback, the $3,000 S sport package adds adaptive air suspension and a rear differential along with its red brake calipers, allowing for more flexibility in the dynamics. Comfort mode, as a result, actually feels more cosseting than in the standard Q5 because Audi can dial in some extra compliance.

On the flip side, Dynamic mode – Audi-speak for what other manufacturers might call Sport – tamps down on SUV body roll and leaves the SQ5 Sportback far more poised and eager. This isn't one of Audi's most beastly RS-badged models, but there are definitely more opportunities for smiles as the combination of low-revs torque and compliant, predictable handling build your confidence. Even the 21-inch wheels – part of the $1,000 Black optic wheel package, and replacing the standard 20-inchers – don't take much of a toll, with the horrors of all but the most wretched asphalt kept at arm's reach.

You could say the same for the cabin, where Audi's aesthetic is holding up nicely. Ambient lighting helps lift what could otherwise be a fairly sober interior, the glitter of the Carbon Atlas trim inlays a little subdued next to the black leather and Dynamica faux-suede surfaces. A 10.1-inch touchscreen is standard, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, plus a panoramic sunroof, rear privacy glass, Audi's pre safe suite of active safety tech, and both blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings.

It's all very familiar if you've been in any other semi-recent Audi, though I prefer it when the automaker integrates the infotainment screen into the dash: the SQ5's panel looks a little like an afterthought.

In sheer practicality terms, Sportbacks – or any of the other names rival manufacturers have for this more-swooping body style – are always going to play second fiddle to SUVs. The SQ5 Sportback, at least, tempers its compromise in the second row: rear headroom is, at 37.5 inches, down a mere fifth of an inch compared to the SQ5.

Cargo space dips a little more significantly, dropping a few cubic feet to 24.7 cu-ft normally and 51.9 cu-ft with the rear seats folded down. Still, it's worth noting that if you're not in the habit of loading above the shoulder line, that shortfall may not present such a headache. A power tailgate is standard, and the rear seats split 40/20/40 as well as sliding forward and backward, and having adjustable recline.

Things, though, do get expensive if you want the engaging best of the SQ5 Sportback. Though it starts at $56,100 (plus $1,095 destination), the Prestige package – with niceties like the virtual cockpit, OLED taillights, 360-degree camera, head-up display, navigation, adaptive cruise control, heated steering wheel and rear seats, and a heated and cooled front cup holder – adds $8,600. Another $1,150 adds dynamic steering, the Nappa leather seats are $1,000, and then the various other trim upgrades and such took my review car to $73,990 all-in.

At that point you're in Porsche Macan S territory, and that's a sporting benchmark the SQ5 Sportback can't quite match. Audi's SUV is definitely warmer and more enthusiastic than the standard Q5 Sportback, but the Macan still bests it both there and in badge prestige.

2021 Audi SQ5 Verdict

Audi's Q5 range is a little odd. Though the SQ5 Sportback is undoubtedly the clearest vision of sportiness – and the most expensive – in the line-up, the Q5 55 TFSI e plug-in hybrid is actually more powerful. You can get adaptive air suspension on that, too, and it's actually a tenth of a second faster to 60 mph than the V6 as well.

You can't get the PHEV as a Sportback, though, nor with the sport rear differential or the same visual fanciness as the SQ5 offers. I suspect that, for most people, the plug-in hybrid makes the most sense financially and practically, even if you sacrifice the V6 soundtrack along the way. Its 26 mpg combined, versus 20 mpg for the V6, can make a big difference if you're on the road a lot.

Outright power and speed aren't everything, of course, and the SQ5 Sportback's beguiling design counts for a lot. Restrain yourself in the options and Audi's overall package feels more than the sum of its parts. Almost all of the practicality of an SUV, with enough to keep an enthusiast driver engaged, there's plenty here to like.