Slick is seductive, slick is satisfying, and slick sells. The 2021 Audi SQ5 is slick.
The performance model in the Q5 lineup, the 349-hp SQ5, isn’t the most powerful Q5. That honor goes to the new, 362-hp plug-in hybrid Q5 55 TFSI e. But the SQ5 is lighter, accelerates more quickly (according to Audi), and its turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 has manners that escape its four-cylinder compadre. It also has a better name.
Audi fits a conventional eight-speed automatic transmission to the V-6, instead of the regular Q5’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. From a stop, the difference is the conventional automatic allows the SQ5 to pull away smoothly and with controllable ease—real slick-like. Audi claims a zero-to-60-mph time of 4.7 seconds, which is 0.4 second quicker than before, thanks to recalibrated launch-control programming and shorter gear ratios for first through fifth. Power is on the right side of effortless, and even if you work it hard, the V-6 remains in the background, unerringly smooth from idle to redline.
Body motions are controlled and tight—leave the adaptive dampers in the auto setting and there’s not a lick of harshness in the ride. Despite 21-inch wheels and performance tires with thin sidewalls on our test car, the SQ5’s optional adaptive air suspension glides over broken roads, never complaining or protesting, its structure never issuing a peep or a shudder. As with every modern Audi, it’s easy to flirt with the cornering limits, and the all-wheel-drive system makes hole shots possible in slippery conditions. The optional Dynamic steering ($1150) adds a gearbox in the steering column to alter the ratio on the fly but goes largely unnoticed, as the steering goes from quick to slightly less quick, lively to calm.
Even the simple act of opening a door—the weight of the handle pull and the way the door swings through its detents—is remarkable in its grace. Like the regular Q5, there are comfortable seats, good rear-seat space for two adults, and plenty of cargo space. A new 10.1-inch touchscreen that’s larger and higher resolution than the 7.0- and 8.3-inchers it replaces sits atop the dashboard like a drive-in movie screen. The rotary knob that controlled Audi’s previous infotainment systems is gone in favor of the touchscreen. Audi’s extra-cost virtual gauges enjoy a slight redo and a larger, 12.3-inch screen. Start touching things and you’ll notice richness and click, click precision. The rest of the cabin largely carries over. The design remains restrained, and there is just enough of the optional Carbon Atlas trim—it’s real carbon-fiber composite—to remind you that your Q5 has an S in its name.
Changes to the exterior are also minor; this is pretty much the SQ5 we’ve known since 2018. Spotters will notice the minor changes to the front bumper and the new grille treatment. In back, the taillights are now connected by a chrome spear.
The plug-in Q5 (I’m not typing its name again) outpowers the SQ5, delivers superior fuel economy, and costs less. Prices open at $53,995 and rise quickly with the available trim levels, the plug-in starts at $52,995. You write a check for $1000 more for the SQ5 (and give up federal tax credits that come with the plug-in) because you want the smoothness that comes with two additional cylinders. For making that very adult choice, you get a very adult performance SUV that doesn’t boast about its potential. The SQ5 delivers versatile luxury: isolation and comfort when you want that and a fun and hard-charging side when you’re in the mood.
Only a handful of SUVs could be considered legitimate replacements for a sports sedan. The Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, the Mercedes-AMG GLC63, and the Porsche Macan Turbo come to mind. The SQ5 isn’t nearly as powerful as any of them, but despite that deficit, we’re adding the SQ5 to the list. What it lacks in power it makes up for in slickness.
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