ROAD TEST: 2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback review

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

What is it?

A new twist on an old favourite.

The Audi SQ5 TDI has been one of the brand’s biggest success stories of the last decade, a highly-popular performance SUV that utilizes the brand’s Le Mans-proven turbo diesel technology.

At various points in its history the SQ5 has been the second most-popular Audi model in Australia, so there’s clearly potential to expand the market with another take on it in the form of the Sportback.

Audi launched the ‘wagon’ version of the SQ5 TDI earlier this year, but now it has added a Sportback variant. Sportback is Audi’s term for any model with a coupe-style sloping roofline, which gives the four-ring brand a rival to the likes of the BMW X4 and Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe.

Does it have any racing pedigree?

Yes, as surprising as that sounds. Audi demonstrated the performance potential of turbo diesel engines with its Le Mans winning prototypes that debuted in 2006 and won eight times in the following years.

Audi continued its phenomenal Le Mans record with yet another victory

Audi used Le Mans to develop high-performance diesel engines like the one in the SQ5 TDI

Audi launched the original SQ5 at Le Mans and when the company switched to a turbocharged petrol engine with the last model sales declined. Australians prefer the extra torque and fuel economy benefits of the SQ5’s diesel engine – which benefits from lessons learnt at Circuit de la Sarthe.

What’s under the bonnet?

It’s the same powertrain you’ll find in the SQ5 TDI, a 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel. But it’s not that simple, it’s actually loaded with Audi’s latest engine technology, including an ‘electric turbo’ – officially known as an electric powered compressor (EPC).

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

The introduction of the EPC has allowed Audi to use a single conventional turbocharger, because the electric unit is capable of spinning up to 65,000rpm (that’s not a typo) and force air into the turbo. This not only reduces lag but helps with driveability across the rev range.

While that’s all interesting, you don’t need to understand it to know why the SQ5 TDI is such a popular model – it hauls. The engine makes 251kW of power and 700Nm of torque, with that latter figure available from as low as 1750rpm.

Put your foot down and there’s a surge of forward momentum which makes for a genuinely quick mid-size SUV. Audi claims the Sportback matches the 0-100km/h time of the wagon, just 5.1 seconds.

It sounds good too, with a purposeful burble that you don’t typically associate with a diesel engine. However, it’s the result of clever technology rather than a simple exhaust, with the Sportback using the same ‘sound actuators’ as the wagon – speakers mounted inside and outside the vehicle to amplify the engine’s noise.

The other benefit of the TDI engine is its efficiency, with Audi claiming it can use as little as 7.1-litres per 100km on the combined city/highway cycle. That’s an impressive return for such a potent engine, but will require restraint to achieve because the performance is tempting and will lead to a spike in fuel economy.

How does it handle?

The SQ5 isn’t a one-trick pony and another appealing aspect of the SQ5 is the way it takes corners. It comes standard with S sport suspension with adaptive dampers and a 30mm ride height reduction, as well as permanent all-wheel drive. There’s also Audi’s ‘drive select’ system that allows you to alter several parameters including engine and transmission response as well as suspension stiffness depending on the situation.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

However, our test car was fitted with adaptive air suspension and a quattro sport differential, both optional extras that add $2250 and $2990 respectively to the price. They also change the ride and handling characteristics of what was already a very capable sporty SUV.

The ride, even on our test car’s 21-inch alloy wheels, was comfortable and controlled in any drive select setting, even Dynamic. The air suspension also does a good job of holding the SQ5 relatively flat when cornering hard.

The steering is a touch too light for this reviewer’s taste in any mode other than Dynamic, with a slightly numb feeling off-centre. But when you push it through some corners it steers true and responds to inputs.

Where would you most like to drive it?

We got to sample the Monga National Park down the south coast of New South Wales in the SQ5 TDI wagon earlier this year, and it was an ideal spot for this type of performance SUV. Lots of fast, flowing corners and some hills that allow the diesel to flex its muscle.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

What’s the interior like?

It’s the same as what you’ll find in the other SQ5, which is to say a stylish, premium and practical cabin – albeit one with some difference in the back where the roofline changes.

Up front there’s a thick-rimmed steering wheel with perforated leather, leather seats (which could still do with some more lateral support) and, importantly for 2021, Audi’s latest and greatest infotainment system.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

Run through a 10.3-inch touchscreen that sits right at the top of the dashboard, like an iPad, the new system features Audi’s latest software that allows for both touch and voice inputs.

That’s not the only fancy screen too, the instrument display is fully digital and can be adjusted to a variety of different information displays depending on your preference.

Where the Sportback differs primarily from its SQ5 sibling is the back seats and boot, thanks to the more sharply tapering roofline. There’s noticeably less headroom in the back seats, so anyone over 180cm (six-foot) will likely find themselves brushing up against the headlining.

As for the boot, while it may measure less than the wagon in pure volume because the tailgate slopes down quite sharply, in practical terms there’s still a generous amount of floorspace so you’re not sacrificing too much for the sake of looking sporty.

Is it good value for money?

The SQ5 Sportback TDI is priced from $110,900 (plus on-road costs), a $4400 premium over the wagon. That’s despite the two models sharing the same specification, with the exception of the Sportback’s unique 21-inch ‘turbine’ wheels.

In terms of its outside competition, the SQ5 Sportback makes a strong case. The BMW X4 M40i starts at $123,900 while the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 will set you back at least $137,400.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

Would I buy one?

The choice between the SQ5 Sportback and the wagon is literally a question of personal preference. Both drive the same, look the same from the driver’s seat and have matching specifications.

Personally, I prefer the SQ5 wagon, the proportions of the Sportback don’t gel as well as they do on other Audi models; I’m thinking specifically of the smaller Q3. However, it’s still a very appealing performance SUV and it’s little surprise it’s so popular with its combination of power and luxury.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback TDI price and specifications

Price: From $110,900 plus on-road costs
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel
Power: 251kW at 3800-3950rpm
Torque: 700Nm at 1750-3250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Fuel use: 7.1L/100km
Wheels: 21-inch alloys
Tyres: 255/40 ZR21
Length: 4689mm
Width: 1624mm
Height: 1633mm
Weight: 2010kg
0-100km/h: 5.1 seconds (claimed)

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