Coffee table book, available now

Related Stories

The Audi SQ5 is better without an R

The Audi SQ5 isn't as powerful or sharp as some of its rivals, but does it have enough soul to make you smile?

Never miss a new car review!

Like the final turn at Pocono, my 40th birthday is coming up fast. Things that even five years ago I’d shun as “old man”, “soggy”, “unsexy”, or heaven forbid “too comfortable”, are much more appealing to me now. Shaking your head as you read this? You’re not old enough yet. So when I simply slid into the cockpit of the Audi SQ5 without the assistance of a crane or a lift, I let out an audible sigh. It certainly was comfortable.

But is the SQ5 any fun without that R?

audi-sq5
2021 Audi SQ5 Quick Take
Get one:

The most comfortable German sport SUV. Air suspension is excellent. Creamy turbo V-6 with nice go juice. Beautiful Audi, inside and out.

Don’t get one:

Not as sharp to respond, nor as as powerful as some rivals. Somehow Porsche manages to keep the comfort and increase the performance.

Soul Score: 8

More F1 practice session pace, less qualifying. You won’t miss the letter R.

The 2021 Audi SQ5 overview

Audi SQ5

What’s the genus of a performance SUV? It’s definitely led by something like a Lamborghini Urus or Porsche Turbo GT. SUVs that can truly excel at everything. Their only downfall is their price. Move a step down into things like the X5 M, and you don’t lose much, even if those machines aren’t quite as capable.

At the lower end, it’s things like the BMW X1 M35i – not for mom, but not really for us either, is it? That leaves the middle – the Macan. The X3 M40i/X3 M. And this Audi. Unlike some other options, it doesn’t get a slew of letters added to its name – just S. And if want to add one more, say an R to keep up with that M, you can’t. No such thing exists.

Like the X3 M40i, the Audi SQ 5 straddles a line between “Dude, I almost had you”, and driving Ms. Daisy. Squint your eyes and you’ll see a turbocharged V-6, rear-torque vectoring differential, and air suspension. Open them fully and you’ll see…an Audi. The SQ5 is very unassuming, especially in base form.

But I think this is the sweet spot for performance.

Performance Score: 7. Smooth operator

Audi SQ5
A fast car, but not quite as fast as some others in the class.

I mention the Urus above on purpose – it’s made by the same company as the SQ5. Actually, so it the Turbo GT. Let’s spoil the ending a bit and say that any Porsche, be it a GT or Macan, is a much more engaging vehicle to drive than this or any Audi.

But you expect that. The base Macan was more expensive that this fully-loaded SQ5. Plus you get yummy performance things like a turbocharged V-6 and an awesome (optional) air suspension. The SQ5 will let you get into a rhythm on the road, making it easy to fall in love with it.

Engine

Audi SQ5
A torquey motor that isn’t as powerful as a BMW engine.

Perhaps the biggest difference between this and BMW’s X3 M40i is under the hood. Audi installs a turbocharged V-6 that’s good for 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft or torque.  It’s a fine engine, totally smooth and punchy off the line. There is a bit of turbo lag around 3,000 RPMs, but it’s my job to nitpick so there you go.

Oh right, the X3. While I don’t like to tell you about 0-60 times, in this case it helps to give some perspective. This Audi SQ5 gets to 60 in 5.1 seconds. Not terrible at all, but not exactly nose-bleed inducing.

The X3 M40i? A full second faster. You’ll never notice a tenth or two, but a full second is undeniable. Certainly sounds good as you hit that mile-a-minute mark though.

Transmission

SQ5 transmission
The familiar ZF is back once again.

Attached to that V-6 is our good friend, the ZF eight-speed automatic. I can’t even give you a number on the amount of cars I’ve driven with one, yet they always feel a little different.

Here is perhaps the softest application yet, with ultra-smooth shifts that more waft you to speed than push. Smash the throttle, and the SQ5 happily drops a gear and goes without a hint of “Ugh, do we have to?” drama.

Chassis and steering

Audi SQ5
The available air suspension is unusual on this size SUV.

First, the steering. It’s direct, but light. Very light. If I were Audi, I’d ninja-sneak into the Porsche Center next door and steal those top secret plans for how they are able to make a base Macan’s steering so excellent.

The suspension set up deserves some pixels. Tick the $3,000 S Sport package, and you unlock the height-adjustable air suspension. Usually reserved for larger SUVs like an Escalade or Range Rover, on the SQ5 it’s geared for on-road activities. While the X3 clashes over bumps, and an X3 M downright collides with them, here everything is softened.

Audi SQ5
The app enables you to lower the car from the outside.

Ken, the owner of this SQ5, has installed an app that allows him to raise and lower the car even while outside, giving it a slammed look that’s still technically stock (you can’t adjust it manually from the factory). It reduces wheel gap to nil and gives you an idea of just how much it can adjust while driving down the road. Bravo.

Brakes

Audi SQ5
These actually feel great.

I actually thought the SQ5’s brakes were not only excellent for this class of SUV, but superb in general. Pedal feel provides really nice feedback (I like a stiff brake).

Nothing too special either – no cross drilling, slats, slots or slits. The Sport Package here gives you red calipers, and those certainly look nice. Ask it to attack a track for an HPDE session, and I’m sure they will fade. But why are you doing that?

Overall, the Audi SQ5 demonstrates a sensible approach to performance. It’s not the fastest, nor the sharpest, but there’s plenty here to make you smile.

Utility: 8. SUV’s gonna U

Audi SQ5
Reasonable in size, the SQ5 has enough room for a family.

If I’m being honest, I think BMW does a slightly better job packaging the X3. Inside the SQ5, it’s a bit tighter in the trunk and back seat. The roof is a bit lower, with a more severe drop to the hatch glass. But I’m splitting hairs – the Audi does a fine job of hauling ass or hauling that giant Skeleton box from Home Depot.

In the front, it’s roomy with almost no limitations. It’s a car I could just slide right into and fit, which is not something every car can do for me.

Audi SQ5
A bit bigger than a Macan.

If you insist, Audi will sell you a silly “coupe” version called the Sportback that doesn’t look any better, is more expensive and kills cargo space. If you choose one, I won’t be angry. Just dad-disappointed. You know the look.

Fuel Economy: 5. SUV’s gonna S

Audi SQ5
Fuel efficiency is on par with everything else, if a bit worse considering the power.

The Audi SQ5 will get 19 miles per gallon around town, and 24 on the highway. That’s just okay – the X3 has better fuel economy, but not enough to make you swing your decision one way or the other.

The V-6 is capable of using a Miller cycle for increased efficiency. That’s essentially a fifth stroke in the engine, where the intake valve is left open on the compression stroke. It felt seamless to me, and. I suppose every little bit helps.

Features and comfort: 8: The Q is for quilted

Audi SQ5
It’s nice in here.

Audis are nice inside. They just are. Nicer than a Porsche, a BMW, or a Bentley.

Well okay, maybe not the Bentley (VW has to save the really good stuff). But you get the idea – if you like clean, modern and cool, this is the place to be.

Comfort Inn

Open the door, and the aroma of leather smacks you in the face. Slide into those quilted leather (with white stitching!) seats, and resist the urge to snuggle your butt in further. These are not Sensatec fakeness like on an X3 – save that material for the mere mortals.

Audi SQ5

Everything here feels modern, aside from perhaps the way they’ve integrated the gigantic iPad on top of the dash. Piano black, glossy carbon, or aluminum greet you everywhere you place a hand. I know it’s all black, but it’s a rich black.

Audi SQ5
We heard you like black.

A clean digital dash greets you from behind the thin steering wheel – a bit like an Avengers HUD. Audi’s infotainment system works better than Mercedes Benz’s, though I do understand the rationale behind uniting three displays into one (HVAC, dash, and nav) on the latest cars.

But – Audi makes you pay $350 for rear side thoracic airbags, and I can’t remember the last time I even saw an airbag listed as an option on a luxury vehicle. Come on Volkswagen, quit the nickle and dime crap. I think even raising the price of the car by $300 and making it standard would be a better look.

Audi SQ5
Looking for Jarvis.
Audi SQ5
These seats are much nicer, and more comfortable, than those in an X3.

Tony Stark did not build this in a cave

Audi SQ5
Feels like these headlights are a must.

Unless your name is F-PACE, I believe every mid-size SUV here is a bit derivative of their brands’ styling. It’s no bad thing in the SQ5’s case, with its son of Iron Man mean mug.

Audi SQ5
The black trim helps make the car look more aggressive.

This one is aided by a unique exterior color – District Green Metallic. Opting for the Prestige might add $10,000 to the sticker, but you get things like those cool Matrix LED headlights and OLED taillights. Strongly consider the Black Optics Package, because matte chrome is just not on this year’s fashion radar sweetie.

What’s that? You saw this in Ultra Blue and like it even more?

Audi SQ5
The carbon is aftermarket, but a nice touch.

The Audi SQ5 is a great example of a perfect daily

Audi SQ5

Nothing Earth-shattering here, I know. But I hope my reviews always make you think, and in this case, make you think about how much performance is needed on a day-to-day basis.

Of all the hardcore utility things I have driven over the past two years, this Audi SQ5 strikes me as having the best balance of the bunch. For the money, would I have this over a base Macan? Absolutely. Would I have it over a Macan S? Well…

Audi SQ5

But you’re gonna pay for that perfection. Besides, the Macan is based off the older, first gen Q5, not the one you see on these pages. Nor is a Macan as useful – it’s tighter inside, and you must spend a lot to get the level of comfort the Audi has.

So no, my life is not spend entirely in the left lane, windows down, exhaust blaring, flashing everyone to get out of my way. Sometimes, I just want to waft to the food store, man.

But, you know, if the left lane is open, I mean…what’s the harm if I point this Audi that way and floor it? 40-year-olds like to have fun, too.

Audi SQ5 Audi SQ5

Thanks to Ken at ROWE for donating his beautiful SQ5!

audi-sq5-angle

2021 Audi SQ5 Specifications

Vehicle Type: Front-engine, all-whee drive, 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback

PRICE

Base: $55,275

POWERTRAIN

3.0-liter turbocharged V-6
349 hp @ 6,400 rpm
369 lb-ft @ 1,370 rpm
Eight-speed automatic

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 111.2 in
Length: 183.9 in
Width: 74.5 in
Height: 65.3 in
Curb Weight: 4,429 lbs

EPA FUEL ECONOMY

Combined/city/highway: 21/19/24 MPG

Want your car reviewed?

If you live in the tri-state area and want me to check it out, send me an email! 

Support the cause

Commissions may be received for product links on this site. Help out if you can.

I use Nikon camera bodies and lenses, a Westcott Ice Light 2, Manfrotto tripod, B + W filters and an iMac Pro to make the art you see here.

Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *