Performance SUVs are the flavor of the month, with the Audi SQ5 falling under this banner. Across nearly all luxury brands in America, the compact crossover is the best seller. Audi is no exception, with its Q5 lineup accounting for 25% of the company's annual sales. This is a product that Audi can't afford to mess up, which is why the Q5 family receives a facelift for the 2021 model year, including the sportiest variant, the SQ5.
With no dedicated RS model to be found, the SQ5 injects some sporty flavor to its Q5 underpinnings, including a more aggressive stance, a snazzier interior, and gutsy turbocharged V6 under the hood. In the past, the SQ5 has lagged behind rivals in terms of performance; both the BMW X3 M40i and Mercedes-AMG GLC43 outgun the SQ5's 349-horsepower engine, but Audi hopes that a recalibrated transmission and launch control system will help raise the excitement. Audi sent us a 2021 SQ5 Prestige for a few days to see how well the facelifted improvements stack up.
For the 2021 model year, the Audi SQ5 gets tweaked aesthetics courtesy of a slimmer grille and mildly updated front and rear bumpers. There's also a new design of 21-inch wheel option on offer, while Ultra Blue and District Green are new additions to the color palette. In addition, Audi has worked on performance, so although the engine carries over unchanged from the 2020 model, the new Audi SQ5 gets to 60 mph 0.4 seconds quicker than before. Adaptive cruise control and a surround-view camera are newly standard features for all but the base trim.
The SQ5's exterior features LED lighting at either end, but the top Prestige model gets Matrix-design LED headlights and OLED taillights that execute a cool 'wake up pattern' when you unlock it. Whichever variant you opt for, 20-inch wheels are standard, while 21s are optional and add to the SQ5's curb appeal. A panoramic sunroof is also available, while numerous brushed aluminum-look accents help this stand out as the sporty model. A quad-exit exhaust system is complemented by a faux diffuser, while a subtle roof spoiler and slim roof rails balance the utilitarian vibe of the SUV with its sporty DNA.
The dimensions of the Audi SQ5 SUV are only slightly changed for the 2021 model, with length increasing from 183.9 inches to 184.3. The wheelbase is now 111 inches on the dot, while height is rated at 65.5 inches. Width, excluding the mirrors, is 74.5 inches, while curb weight starts at 4,288 pounds. Ground clearance is measured at 8.2 inches, but an available adaptive air suspension system can change this rating.
A number of colors are on offer for the SQ5, with free options limited to just Ibis White and Quantum Gray. But if you spend $595, you can have the new District Green or Ultra Blue metallic hues. Other metallic options with the same price include Florett Silver, Glacier White, and Mythos Black, while Daytona Gray pearl is also offered. These prices and options apply to all trims, but only some have access to the Black Optic package that deletes many of the silver accents in favor of gloss black. Anthracite brake calipers are standard, while red is offered as part of a package.
The Audi SQ5, regardless of which trim you opt for, is powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 that develops 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque, unchanged from last year. A quattro all-wheel-drive system can send up to 85 percent of torque to the rear wheels, with all of this power managed by a standard eight-speed automatic transmission. This gives it the ability to go from 0-60 mph in a scant 4.7 seconds, but although this is quicker than what the 2020 model could manage, it still lags behind the 4.4-second time of the BMW X3 M40i. An available torque-vectoring sport rear differential helps improve handling in the bends, sending up to 100 percent of the torque to the left or right, but this car is not as athletic as its counterparts from BMW and Mercedes. Nevertheless, it can still reach a top speed of 155 mph if you leave the standard summer tires on. Opt for the available all-season rubber and you can only go up to 130 mph safely. If practicality is more your concern, the SQ5 will tow 4,400 pounds behind it, which is almost 1,000 lbs more than the Mercedes-AMG GLC 43.
The 2021 SQ5 is fitted with a 3.0-liter V6 that is turbocharged to produce 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. An AWD system is managed with the aid of an eight-speed automatic transmission. Audi's V6 engine delivers smooth, uninterrupted power with a hint of a growl coming from the exhaust. We wish The SQ5 let its hair down a bit more, as both the X3 M40i and GLC43 like to shout with their six-cylinder engines. There is a hint of turbo lag low in the rev range, but the V6 comes on song quickly to build up speed.
Audi's eight-speed automatic works flawlessly in traffic, blending into the background without a hint of annoyance. The transmission fires off rapid shifts when asked, even executing a subtle throttle blip on downshifts. In terms of smoothness, we prefer Audi's eight-speed over the nine-speed box in the Mercedes, though BMW's tuning on the same ZF unit is still the benchmark in our eyes.
Audi claims it has recalibrated the eight-speed automatic transmission and launch control, dropping the SQ5's 0-60 mph time from 5.1 seconds to 4.7 seconds. In the real world, the Audi's conservative launch control gets it off the line with zero drama, making it feel less exciting than other systems. It's certainly quick, but the SQ5 doesn't pin the driver back in their seat. Once on the move, the optional air suspension takes care of rough roads, even in its Dynamic setting. The optional adaptive steering was once a major sore point for the SQ5, lacking any sense of connection to the front wheels. We are happy to report that Audi has finally delivered a more sensitive steering feel, though its BMW and Mercedes rivals still outclass it. Some cracks and pops from the exhaust give a sense of excitement, but they are still a bit too quiet to put a huge smile on the driver's face. A medium smile will have to suffice.
The SQ5 excels in comfortable cruising over raw performance. It's more of a straight-line highway runner than a back road companion. Through the corners, the air suspension eliminates a fair bit of body roll, but the SQ5 always feels less athletic than its S badge implies. In its Comfort mode, the SQ5 rides beautifully and cocoons its occupants in quiet and restrained luxury. If comfort is a main concern, the SQ5 outclasses both its BMW and Mercedes rivals. But if comfort is more important than driving dynamics, why not just get a standard Q5?
According to the EPA's official rating, the 2021 SQ5 will achieve 18/24/20 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. Since it is fitted with an 18.5-gallon gas tank, mixed driving range is estimated to be around 370 miles. By comparison, the BMW X3 M40i will manage gas mileage figures of 21/27/23 mpg on the same cycles. The latter SUV has a 17.2-gallon tank, and will theoretically return a mixed range of around 395 miles. Interestingly, Audi offers a plug-in hybrid variant of the Q5 that offers more power than the SQ5. If fuel economy is a main concern, we say go for the hybrid.
As an Audi product, it comes as no surprise that the interior of the SQ5 is impeccably finished, with all the amenities you could expect of a luxury vehicle and more. As standard, things like tri-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, and a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display are all included. There's quite a lot of room in here too, and the view out is expansive. As always, build quality is outstanding, and everything is ergonomically placed. With a mix of leather and suede being balanced by aluminum, optional carbon fiber, and some soft-touch plastics, the SQ5's interior feels as good as it looks.
The SQ5 is strictly a five-seater, with no option for a third row in any configuration. Among its compact competitors, the SQ5 prioritizes rear seat comfort over cargo capacity, giving second-row occupants a spacious 38 inches of legroom. This makes the SQ5's back seat roomier than the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC. Headroom is generous in both rows, with a minimum 37.7 inches in the rear with the sunroof equipped and up to 39.6 inches in front without it. The second-row seats also recline slightly to grant some additional comfort in the rear. From the driver's seat, the high seating position grants excellent visibility, and the power-adjustable front sport seats are comfortable and supportive.
Audi S models always bring a substantial visual improvement over their standard counterparts. Even the base SQ5 gets a sportier steering wheel with perforated leather and special sport seats with the S logo embossed on the back. On the upper trim levels, those seats can be wrapped in a special leather with diamond-quilting finished in Magma Red, Black, or Rotor Gray. We love how the diamond-stitched seats look, though the leather is pretty stiff and they lack ventilation. Elsewhere in the cabin, brushed aluminum trim delivers a sporty and expensive feel with optional carbon fiber inlays providing even more flare. Lesser models get combination leather/Dinamica seats in Black or Rotor Gray, but from the Premium Plus, you can also opt for black perforated leather or the aforementioned quilted options. Dash inlays can be chosen, too: either the standard brushed aluminum or Carbon Atlas (carbon fiber) for an extra $500.
In its standard configuration, the SQ5 provides 25.8 cubic feet of volume behind the second row - enough space for the whole family to easily pack luggage for a week away from the city. For the adventurous or those who simply need to move longer items, the rear seats can be folded in a 40/20/40 split for an area of 54 cubic feet. Models with the sunroof fitted see cargo figures drop slightly, to 25.6 and 53.5 cubes, respectively. It's worth noting that the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC both provide more storage space.
In the cabin, you get center armrest storage, a center console slot for your phone, adequate door pockets, and a reasonably sized glovebox. We love how Audi integrated the wireless charge under the armrest, allowing the driver to slide it out of the way when it's not in use. A total of four cupholders (two per row) help add to long-distance driving comfort, though the rear cupholders are tiny, and a bit useless.
As standard, the SQ5 comes equipped with cruise control, a seven-inch driver info display, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, and power-adjustable heated wing mirrors. You'll also find remote keyless entry with push-button ignition, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, adaptive dampers, forward collision detection with low-speed autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Available features include keyless start and entry, a hands-free tailgate, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and ventilated front seats. Also offered are upgrades like a 12.3-inch digital driver display, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, a surround-view camera, a panoramic power sunroof, adaptive air suspension, a head-up display with traffic sign recognition, and Matrix-design LED headlights.
Audi's latest Touch MMI infotainment system is a pleasure to use. Ditching the old rotary controller with four corner buttons, the 10.1-inch touchscreen is responsive and features a smartphone-oriented layout. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard with the former offering wireless compatibility. Navigation only comes standard with the Prestige trim, but is a $1,500 option on lower trim levels. We'd say navigation is worth opting for, if only to enjoy on Audi's excellent Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster. The base sound system is a 10-speaker affair, with the $950 Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium Sound System upping the speaker count to 19. In our testing the B&O audio sounded just OK, lacking the punch and detail of other systems.
Reliability is a big part of the decision-making process when looking at a new car, and fortunately, the 2021 model has been free of recalls thus far. The 2020 model, however, was subject to one recall for a front seat backrest frame that was improperly welded.
Should anything go wrong with your new purchase, Audi provides four years/50,000 miles of limited and powertrain warranty coverage, while complimentary scheduled maintenance is covered for just a year/10,000 miles.
Thus far, the NHTSA has not yet fully evaluated the 2021 SQ5, although it did score four stars in its rollover test. The standard Q5 boasts an overall score of five stars in the NHTSA review, though. The IIHS does not yet have an Audi SQ5 review, but the regular Q5 got the best overall scores possible of Good.
Standard safety features for the SQ5 include the obligatory rearview camera and six airbags, although these can be supplemented by additional side airbags for the rear. Other standard safety features include front and rear parking sensors, city forward collision detection and autonomous braking, rear collision mitigation, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and hill descent control. Available upgrades include lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera, Matrix-design LED headlights, and a head-up display with traffic sign recognition.
As a facelift, we'd call the 2021 SQ5 a success as it looks more dramatic, drives better, and delivers more performance. However, the Q5 underpinnings still lack the sporty character found in some of the SQ5's rivals, keeping it from being our favorite. Both the BMW X3 M40i and Mercedes-AMG GLC43 will outperform it and deliver more fun in the process. However, the Audi excels in comfort, so perhaps it can carve out a niche with buyers that want speed without a jarring ride.
If it were our money in this segment, we'd probably spend it on the BMW or the Mercedes, though Audi hasn't completely lost the battle to its rivals. The Q5 plug-in hybrid delivers 362 horsepower, beating out the SQ5 and easily outclassing the X3 PHEV. With federal tax credits, it's cheaper than the SQ5 and it delivers 19 miles of electric driving range. In the Q5 family, we think the plug-in hybrid model hits the sweet spot of performance and comfort.
The base price of the Audi SQ5 starts at $52,900 for the base model, before a destination charge of $1,095. Moving up from the Premium to the Premium Plus trim will cost you $57,300, while the top-tier Prestige model will set you back $62,500 before any options. Fully loaded, this model will carry an MSRP of almost $72,000.
The 2021 Audi SQ5 is offered in three trim variants: Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige. All models feature a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 producing 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, with an eight-speed automatic sending power to all four wheels.
The Premium trim comes with LED headlights, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, a seven-inch driver info display, push-button start, parking sensors, adaptive dampers, a power tailgate lane departure warning, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. You also get a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment display with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Premium Plus version builds on the base model by adding a heated steering wheel, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera, a panoramic power sunroof, and a 12.3-inch driver info display.
Opting for the top-spec Prestige model nets you the standard features of the preceding trims, as well as Matrix-design LED headlights, OLED taillights, heated rear seats, a head-up display with traffic sign recognition, navigation, and a Bang & Olufsen 3D Premium audio system.
On the base model, buyers can spend $1,100 to unlock the features of the Convenience package, including keyless ignition and entry, a hands-free tailgate, a heated steering wheel, power-folding auto-dimming wing mirrors, memory for the driver's seat, and SiriusXM satellite radio. Also available is a $1,450 power panoramic sunroof. The Premium Plus trim gains access to the S Sport package, with red brake calipers, adaptive air suspension, and a sport rear differential for $3,000. You can also opt for the Warm Weather package on all but the base variant. This costs 600 bucks and adds ventilated front seats and sunshades for the rear windows. Dynamic steering is a $1,150 standalone option from the Premium Plus, but one we'd avoid, while you can rather allocate $950 of that to the B&O sound system. On all models, rear side airbags are a $350 option.
The SQ5 starts at a reasonable $52,900, but can get pricey in a hurry. That's why we'd keep it conservative by opting for the middle Premium Plus trim at $57,300. From there, we'd add the 21-inch wheels and Black Optic Package for $1,600, some snazzy Ultra Blue metallic paint for $595, the Warm Weather Package with heated and ventilated seats for $600, and Navigation for $1,500. As-described, the SQ5 would cost $62,690, undercutting our Prestige trim test car by nearly $10,000.
The Porsche Macan is available with a very similar setup to that of the SQ5. This is if you choose the Macan S, but although the engine is also a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, here it produces a little less, with 348 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. This model is also fitted with Porsche's seven-speed dual-clutch auto, which has proven to be much more intelligent and quick to respond than the auto found in the SQ5. Despite that fancy Porsche badge, pricing is very similar, and you get the advantage of incredible handling - something that the SQ5 is less interested in than overall comfort. However, since it's a Porsche, you'll pay extra for a number of desirable features. We'd recommend the Macan S for the keen driver and the SQ5 for those who simply want a quick and comfy luxury crossover.
BMW offers the X3 in full M guise, but that's a vehicle that is leagues above the SQ5, both in terms of performance and price. Buyers looking for a sporty luxury crossover in this price range will be better suited to looking at the X3 M40i. It comes with BMW's impressive 3.0-liter turbocharged B58 straight-six, here developing 382 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. It's coupled with a brilliant eight-speed automatic transmission from ZF that blends smooth shifts with sharp responses. Besides being quicker in a straight line, the X3 M40i is also more spacious, with 28.7 cubes of volume behind the rear seats and a total of 62.7 cubes with said seats folded down. It's also a remarkable machine in the corners, although not as brilliant as something like the Porsche Macan. On paper and in the real world, the X3 is certainly the better choice, but you do have to pay extra for it: this model costs over $56,000 before options.