I’m a 29-year-old single car enthusiast who has absolutely no interest in buying a crossover SUV. Why anyone thought it would be a good idea for me to review the new Audi SQ5 is beyond me — I had old Jeeps to drive. But I took one for the team and came away surprised. This little SUV is actually... good!
(Full Disclosure: Audi dropped an SQ5 off at my house for me to review, along with a box of snacks that I gave away to a friend. The brand also sent me a blanket for some reason.)
“[Your editor-in-chief] said you’re our attendee for the SQ5 program. Please fill out the registration ASAP,” read an unexpected email from Audi. Apparently, my team had signed me, of all people, up to drive Audi’s new crossover. While I consider any chance to drive a new vehicle a blessing, I can’t say I was thrilled with this prospect. I’d rather have watched rust flake off of an old axle, and I mean that literally.
But then the luxury crossover arrived at my front door, and I have to say: The thing looks damn good. Especially in that green color, the SQ5 does a good job at blending aggressive styling elements that everyone seems to love these days with understated luxury. The wheels, for example, aren’t overstyled, but they’re huge and house enormous 13.8-inch brake discs and red calipers. The face may be a bit much, with the huge grille and massive outer intake slots, but the lights are classy and reserved. The hood is simple, featuring only a few character lines along its curved surface. It all just works.
Upon unlocking the SQ5 and hopping in with my older brother, who was in Michigan to help me clean up my house among other things, both of us shared the same thought: “Damn!”
The SQ5's interior is awesome.
The diamond-stitched Napa leather seats look great and are supremely comfortable. Every surface that a driver or passenger is likely to touch is soft. Even though I’m a car journalist and should thus be appalled by the 10.1-inch infotainment screen that looks like an iPad slapped atop the dashboard, and I should feel similarly about the carbon fiber trim, I have to admit that I’m onboard with this whole arrangement:
The shifter is a waste of space. I don’t think the gear-changer needs to be right there on the center tunnel, nor do I think all those buttons need to take up that valuable real estate. I’d use that location for storage, and incorporate a column shifter or a dash-mounted dial, perhaps. I could see why — especially on a sporty car like the SQ5 — a chunky T-handle shifter might please customers (and I bet Audi has conducted clinics to confirm as much), but it’s 2021 and most automatic shifters are not mechanically linked to the transmissions anyway. Automakers can place shifters anywhere and reduce their footprints. Audi should do so.
I like an old-school shifter as much as the next person, but the SQ5 seems like a great candidate for a small dash-mounted toggle switch like the one in the Porsche Taycan, for example. (This shifter suggestion is obviously a small point to make, and one that I could point out on quite a few other vehicles in this class, but it was on my mind, so there you go).
Otherwise, I have nothing but kind things to say about the Audi SQ5's cabin. To me, it’s the key to this car’s appeal. Even more so than the engine, finely-tuned suspension (which I’ll get to in a minute), or the exterior styling. The mid-size Audi SUV’s interior is shockingly quiet at all vehicle speeds, to the point where both my brother and I could not stop ourselves from commenting on the lack of decibels.
When the sound waves did show up, they came from the best audio system I’ve heard in a car in a long, long time. Possibly ever. It’s a 755 watt Bang & Olufsen 19-speaker setup, with what Audi calls “3D sound.” I’ll spare you the marketing details, but suffice it to say that some precisely placed, high-quality speakers turn the inside of this Audi into an awesome place to either get “turnt up” to Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” or relax and take in Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. In either case, the quiet cabin, combined with the excellent speakers makes listening to music easier on the ears, and just a genuinely delightful experience.
Completing my realization that, perhaps, I’m getting old, I’ll add to my compliments about the Audi SQ5's excellent interior quality, comfortable seats, quiet cabin, sharp screens and backup cameras, and sublime sound system by also lauding the car’s ride quality. The multi-link front and rear suspensions hooked to adjustable-height air springs that incidentally gave the Q5 enough ground clearance to hop over the curb in front of my house with ease, beautifully isolated my brother and me from road imperfections.
This is where a seasoned car-reviewer would come up with some kind of metaphor about how the car’s ride is probably smoother than that of a beautifully-ground crankshaft gliding on a thick layer of 10W-40 squeezed into some fresh main bearings by a high-pressure oil pump, but I’ll spare you. What you need to know is that the car rides well. Point blank.
Especially compared to the 30-year-old wrecks I normally pilot, the SQ5 added serenity to my life during those 24 hours under my supervision. Every errand involved slipping into an absurdly comfortable seat that was already at the same height as my arse, closing the door to create what may as well have been a sensory deprivation chamber, and smoothly floating down terribly-maintained Michigan roads, maybe listening to some tunes on high-quality speakers, getting information from crisp screens, and just generally feeling relaxed. I never thought I’d care so much about comfort, but again, maybe I’m getting old.
Audi’s 4,300-pound crossover is a great handler. Turning the steering wheel results in almost instant changes in direction, with minimal body roll and loads of grip. When that grip does run out, the car tends towards understeer, which isn’t what I’d prefer, but it’s hardly my biggest gripe about the car’s cornering habits.
I wasn’t a fan of the eight-speed automatic transmission’s behavior when I tried throttling out of turns. Far too often, I’d stomp the powerful brakes, turn into a corner, and hammer the gas pedal to try to power out, and then I’d have to wait what felt like an eternity for the transmission to downshift and obey my acceleration command. Even in the performance drive modes. Manually operating the transmission fixed the issue, but that shouldn’t be necessary.
The 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 engine makes 349 horsepower and 359 lb-ft of torque, sent to all four wheels, launching the car from a standstill to 60 mph in an Audi-claimed 4.7 seconds.
Everything about this car feels gradual, including power delivery to the wheels, so though the SQ5 feels quick, it’s not going to snap necks. Even the exhaust sound, which is aggressive enough to make the driver realize they’re in something a little different, isn’t exactly an aural powerhouse. Here, have a look and listen for yourself in the video below.
(Note that I did have some issues trying to get the launch control to work. I followed all the instructions in the owner’s manual, but the only thing that I managed to accomplish was overheating the transmission (a warning light appeared) by spinning up that torque converter with my left foot on the brake and my right on the gas. It was a bit odd).
Audi’s sporty mid-size crossover isn’t a true sports car, but that’s okay. It’s a supremely comfortable cruiser with just enough pizzazz in the straights, tight turns, and styling to keep things interesting. It costs roughly $70,000, which is a lot for a little SUV.
Whether you want to spend that is between you and your priest, but I’m just here to tell you that this is a well-executed machine that made a good impression on someone who initially had very little interest in driving an Audi crossover. Take that for whatever it’s worth.