Audi adds extra style to its swift SUV: The 2021 SQ5 Sportback

When I reviewed the Audi Q7 SUV a few years ago, I said it felt like Darth Vader’s staff car. That makes this Audi SQ5 Sportback a pretty good contender to be Kylo Ren’s ride—younger, more athletic, and looking to make a statement. The two cars share the same weakness, too. Not so much a thirst for power as just a thirst, and one that just makes you realize how much better the car would be with an electric powertrain instead.

That Audi would apply the Sportback treatment to the Q5 SUV was a foregone conclusion; the company knows well that some of its customers will trade that final ounce of practicality in favor of a sloping fastback. In this case, taking a hatchet to the hatchback SQ5 adds a $4,200 premium; the SQ5 Sportback starts at $56,100.

That money buys a good-looking SUV. BMW arguably started the trend of fastback SUVs with the original X6 in 2008, and the trend has taken hold to the point where even Porsche will charge you more for a slightly less capacious but more elegant rear end on a Cayenne. In this case, I think Marc Lichte’s team at Audi has put in one of their best efforts yet. The SQ5 is not a big SUV to begin with, and the cutaway fastback visually shrinks the car even more. Against a sea of regular-shape SUVs and crossovers, the SQ5 Sportback stands out as handsome.

You’ll notice that the hexagon exhaust surrounds are gone, replaced by four oval pipes accented in chrome. You can also see the valves that close each pipe. It’s a car that sounds burbly (in a pleasant and not particularly loud way) when the exhaust is in sport mode, which opens all the valves. The sound is artificially enhanced from inside the cabin, which is a sticking point for some, but as long as the result sounds good inside and it’s not obnoxious to bystanders, I’m fine with using speakers to cancel out unwanted harmonics.

Audi has embraced the freedom that LED light clusters now offer car designers, using them to imbue the car with some added character. When the feature was described in the product briefing, I thought the sequence that the headlights cycle through when you unlock the car was a bit of a gimmick, but I must confess that it’s quite endearing. In Europe, the headlights also have clever matrix beam technology that means you can leave your high beams on without blinding oncoming traffic. Sadly, the hidebound Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards make no allowances for such cleverness in the US.

The interior of the SQ5 Sportback helps justify its price and looks magnificent in ($8,600) Prestige trim. Audi still leads the industry here, and the materials for the interior touchpoints are perfectly chosen. The sports steering wheel with perforated leather is just the right thickness, and the sliding wireless phone charging pad and heated/cooled cupholder are nice touches.

The SQ5 Sportback also drives well; it’s more relaxed than a Porsche Macan but more on its toes than a regular Q5. Mechanically, it differs from the (not Sportback) SQ5 that we reviewed in 2017. It still uses a turbocharged 3.0 L V6 that generates 349 hp (260 kW) and 369 lb-ft (500 Nm), which is sufficient for a 4.7-second 0-60 mph time.

But if you want to use any of the SQ5 Sportback’s performance, you’ll pay for it in fuel. The car’s official EPA rating is 20 mpg combined (11.8 L/100 km), which is already not great. But in the city, that number can dip into the low teens, which in 2021 feels unacceptable. Thankfully, there is light on the horizon—next year, Audi is bringing the electric Q4 e-tron Sportback to the US, promising to marry that same combination of exterior style and a great interior with a fraction of the emissions.

Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin

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