Audi SQ5 Sportback 2021 review
27 January 2021 - autocar
Updated diesel-powered performance SUV gains a new liftback bodystyle
What is it?
The SQ5 Sportback heads a whole new model line-up from Audi, bringing with it the same mild-hybrid diesel drivetrain and other key mechanical components, including a specially tuned sport suspension, as the recently facelifted SQ5.
Conceived to rival the likes of the BMW X4 M40d and Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupé in a growing market segment for what Audi likes to describe as "performance-related crossover utility vehicles," the new Mexican-built SUV forgoes the upright rear of the SQ5 for an arguably more stylish arrangement, with a coupé-like look similar to that of the electric E-tron Sportback.
Included in the makeover is a more heavily sloping roof and a large liftback-style tailgate – elements that clearly provide the new Audi with a more rakish appearance than the SQ5.
They're not the only distinguishing features, though. Up front, the SQ5 Sportback receives its own unique honeycomb style grille, while the rear receives reshaped OLED tail-lights whose graphic alters in appearance when the driver selects the most sporting of the seven driving modes: Dynamic.
While other markets, including the US, are offered the SQ5 Sportback with a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine, UK versions receive the turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel already found in the SQ5.
It's combined with a 48V electric system that supports an electrically powered compressor (the EPC in Audi speak) that spools up at light throttle loads when the exhaust gas driven boost pressure is insufficient to fully activate the engine's single turbocharger to reduce lag and strengthen step-off performance. Once the turbocharger is spinning at normal speeds, the EPC shuts down.
There's also a mild-hybrid system included in the 48V system. It uses an alternator starter motor connected to the crankshaft to recuperate up to 12kW of electric energy under braking and on periods of trailing throttle – all of which is stored in a battery under the boot floor.
It's then used to power various systems throughout the car, reducing load on the engine for savings in consumption and lower emissions. It also enables a coasting function; the engine is shut down whenever it can in Efficiency mode.
Power is put at 336bhp, with torque building to 516lb ft between 1750 and 3250rpm. By comparison, the X4 M40d's turbocharged 3.0-litre in-line six-cylinder engine delivers 349bhp and 501lb ft, while the GLC 350d 4Matic Coupé's turbocharged 3.0-litre six-pot powerplant kicks out 254bhp and 457lb ft.
Drive is channeled through a standard eight-speed torque-converter gearbox and Audi's Torsen quattro four-wheel drive system. Together, they provide a nominal front-to-rear drive split of 40:60, although Audi says up to 70% of drive can be transferred to the front or 85% to the rear, depending on prevailing traction.
Additionally, there's an ABS-based torque-control system across the axles; it brakes a wheel that lacks for grip and/or traction and redirects drive to the one with greater purchase.
Like other S models, the SQ5 Sportback also comes with an optional Sport differential that apportions drive to the outside wheel during fast back-road driving to reduce a tendency towards understeer and increase overall agility.
What's it like?
The SQ5 Sportback may tip the scales at more than two tonnes, but the combined effect of its reserves is really rather satisfying.
The induction boosting effect of the EPC is evident when accelerating from standstill, where it helps to added throttle response over the more conventional diesel engines used by lesser Q5 Sportback models.
There's still a fleeting moment of lag before the turbocharger really comes on boost. But once it has spooled up, there's prodigious shove, impressive smoothness and quite a free-revving nature to the SQ5 Sportback's powerplant.
It's a quick and, at the same time, relaxed car to drive, capable of devouring big distances with a rewarding combination of big torque flexibility and low-rev refinement. And with a range that puts 600 miles within reach on the standard 70-litre fuel tank, it's quite economical, given the performance it delivers.
The decisiveness and quick action of the gearbox further enhances the responsiveness. It's terrifically smooth, both at part throttle loads around town and when your right foot asks for more out on the open road, swapping ratios with great authority and speed despite the heady torque loads at play.
The engine also sounds the part. There's a deep rumble that builds into a full-blooded growl near the 4800rpm ignition cut-out, giving the SQ5 Sportback the sort of aural appeal that few, if any, diesels can claim to offer. It's a combination of exhaust noise and induction blare - the latter synthesized via a sound generator for added effect.
The volume and note alters with the driving modes, Dynamic being the choice for those who want the full unfiltered experience.
The SQ5 Sportback's assured dynamic qualities allow you dig deep into its performance, whether on a multi-lane autobahn or threading down a winding back road. It's predicable in its actions, if lacking the sort of engagement that enthusiast drivers might seek.
The control of body movement is particularly good, thanks to the adaptive qualities of the dampers and general tuning of suspension, and the Quattro system provides plenty of grip and traction. Sadly, though, the variable-rate steering, while nicely weighted, lacks for vital feedback.
On smooth roads in Comfort mode, the SQ5 Sportback delivers quite a relaxed ride, although it can still become unsettled when the surface isn't perfectly free of imperfections. Dynamic mode is quite a lot firmer, leading to more aggressive vertical movement and some odd harshness over larger bumps.
Inside, it's much the same as the SQ5 – at least up front, where the SQ5 Sportback receives the same dashboard, digital instruments, touchscreen infotainment display, multifunction steering wheel and choice of trims. Quality is generally quite high, although there are some cheap-looking black plastic elements out of your direct line of sight.
The raised front seating position gives you an agreeably commanding forward view, while the standard sport seats are terrifically comfortable, with firm cushioning and excellent support. Rearward vision is compromised somewhat by the more sloping rear screen, although not to the degree found in some rivals.
With the rear bench mounted quite low, most adults should be able sit up back without any concerns over the reduction in head room caused by the more shapely roofline. Boot space, however, is reduced by 10 litres over the SQ5, at a nominal 500 litres.
Should I buy one?
If it's style and performance in a high-riding SUV that you're after and the projected £59,000 price tag is within your budget, the SQ5 Sportback should be on your shortlist. It arguably makes more of a visual statement than the regular SQ5 and suffers few compromises on overall everyday versatility, despite its more sporting lines.
The torque-laden qualities of its diesel engine and fast-shifting action of its automatic gearbox endow it with both relaxed low-rev cruising and rapid acceleration, making quite an appealing all-rounder - one with outstanding all-season credentials and, given its sheer speed, highly agreeable economy figures.
It's not overflowing with feedback, which might put off those seeking an inherently sporting car. But it still manages to deliver reassuring dynamic qualities and, on smooth German roads at least, a firm but well-controlled ride.