Audi SQ5 Sportback 2021 review – does it crack the coupe SUV enigma?
Broadly competent, the SQ5 is a polished but ultimately perplexing proposition, especially in 2021
Audi does well with its Q5 premium SUV, consistently selling well in the insatiably popular class founded by rivals from BMW and Lexus with solidity, sleek design and brutal efficiency. Yet the Q5’s variety has never been as broad as that of some of its rivals, keeping variation to a minimum and most models relatively sensible, without performance flagships or extravagant styling to turn anyone off.
Or that was the case until recently, with Audi only now deciding to launch an SUV-cum-coupe Sportback variant alongside the second-generation model’s facelift. The styling is mostly based on that of the standard SUV, but pairs an oddly shaped glasshouse and very short rear end to create a tortoise-like silhouette. You can make up your own mind whether you think it a successful transformation.
Together with this new body style, Audi has also reintroduced a diesel-powered SQ5 variant to replace the previous petrol – an engine that was brought into the UK from American-market SQ5s to fill in the gap between the previous diesel being off the road due to legislative reasons.
The new diesel is the same mild-hybrid variant also found in the S4, S5, S6 and S7 models, packing 336bhp from a twin-turbocharged 3-litre V6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel-drive system. The mild-hybrid system is a relatively substantial one, featuring a small integrated starter generator-style electric motor that not only assists at low rpm, but also gives a subtle boost under hard acceleration.
On the road, while its 336bhp sort of makes an impression, it’s the 516lb ft of torque from 1750rpm that’s felt with far more force slingshotting the SQ5 down the road with real urgency, even though the engine doesn’t feel like it’s working hard to achieve it. You have to be patient, mind, as even though it’s connected to the wheels via a sharp torque-converter automatic, the turbos need time to react to the throttle, sometimes leaving you high and dry when you call for instantaneous shove.
Smooth out your inputs and give the turbos some time to spool, though, and its ability is very impressive. When combined with the remarkable refinement and a distant yet cultured engine grumble (with the weird, throbby augmented engine sound switched off, of course) it makes for a superb long-distance cruiser that’ll also break 45mpg. This is where the SQ5’s at its best, steamrolling bumps at speed and allowing you time and energy to appreciate the superbly constructed cabin and all-round premiumness that emanates from every perforation of the soft and waxy leather.
Peel off the motorway and the chassis is less impressive. Despite having preferable steering weighting and initial response compared to a BMW X4 M40d, the chassis itself still exhibits that slightly leaden and aloof quality that the X4 and other rivals such as the Porsche Macan and Alfa Romeo Stelvio are able to avoid. It feels like there’s more mass involved than there actually is, and you can feel it when loading the chassis over bumpy surfaces, as the sidewalls start to give in and transmit bigger bumps through the chassis.
Start to over-drive the car and it won’t respond like the Porsche and BMW either, revealing a nose-led balance that the chassis otherwise does a good job of hiding. Vorsprung models, like the one we drove, feature air suspension, giving you more options in terms of ride height, but as a pay-off introduces that lateral jiggle that afflicts almost all air-sprung cars, which this does on its 21-inch wheels.
So the SQ5 Sportback isn’t a sports car, yet it was never really meant to be. As a premium SUV though, it hits the brief of being a fast, well-built and relaxing cruiser that’s also able to hit some pretty impressive economy numbers when driven sensibly. Yet while its lack of driving prowess at high speeds will be largely unimportant to many buyers, for us it’s impossible to ignore when many of its rivals are conspicuously better.
Prices and rivals
Audi SQ5 Sportback models are available in two specifications in the UK, with a base car starting at £60,635 and fully loaded Vorsprung models hitting £75,785. All SQ5s have a big spread of standard features, but the Vorsprung’s air springs, OLED rear lights, Bang & Olufsen sound system, panoramic roof and 21-inch wheels up the ante. Its black body sections and detailing also help the aesthetics, disguising the SQ5’s overwrought detailing.
In terms of rivals, BMW’s X4 M40d is an obvious and direct alternative that has also just been given a midlife update. Priced from £61,460, it’s slightly better equipped than the base SQ5, and when specced accordingly will undercut the Vorsprung at the upper level. Porsche doesn’t offer any diesel Macans in 2021, but the new £64,770 GTS is by far the more dynamically capable SUV and will hold its value better to boot.
Alfa’s Stelvio Veloce Ti is good to drive, but undone by its lacklustre four-cylinder engine. However, if you can stretch to the £74,949 Stelvio Quadrifoglio, you’ll have with you the best handling SUV on sale right now, and one of the coolest.