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Long-term test wrap-up: 2021 Audi SQ5 logo 2021-11-26 Jonathan Yarkony
2021 Audi SQ5 at Hamilton's Collective Arts Brewing © Provided by 2021 Audi SQ5 at Hamilton's Collective Arts Brewing

A long-term test is a double-edged sword. With cars being as complex as they are these days, one or two weeks rarely feels like enough time to familiarize myself with a car’s full range of capabilities, quirks, and controls, so a few months allows these things to grow on me as they would as part of the ownership experience. Of course switching from car to car every week leads to complaints about different transmission selectors or heated seat controls, but what happens after several weeks? Do those same controls become reflexive? Do those nitpicks become bones of contention? Do those quirks become endearing distinctions?


So over the course of the long-term test, you get a better feel for the more complete ownership experience, and have a greater chance to encounter any common failures or defects, but with a young family and busy schedule, I invariably start to move into the car and keep all our necessities ready and waiting and it becomes our car. With the Audi SQ5, though, it was my kids that got incredibly possessive and started making plans on how we would buy this car when the test was over. Clearly I have done something wrong with these children since they failed to appreciate the clear superiority of the Audi RS 6 Avant we drove just months prior. Heresy!

However, in digging deeper into their reasons, it reaffirms that the SQ5 and compact crossovers in general are just enough car for our family. What my kids loved most was the back seat space, ease of entry, their own vents for the heater and A/C, plus the modern music connectivity (whether my Apple Music or my wife’s Spotify playlists—FM radio just doesn’t do it for them anymore). I don’t imagine many parents give their kids a vote on car purchases, but it is indicative of why so many Canadian families turn to compact crossovers, which blend the utility of a hatchback, efficiency of a small vehicle, reassurance of all-wheel-drive, ease of entry, and comfort of a car-like ride.

Canadians have also been flocking to the luxury segment in record numbers, and the Q5 and Audi lead the entire luxury segment, so what about this vehicle has so captured Canadian tastes? Although the Q5 has spawned numerous variants like Sportback and plug-in hybrid, the four-cylinder turbo and Quattro all-wheel-drive that Audi is legendary for is the volume seller, and the SQ5 is the halo car in the lineup and very popular in its own right. For many owners, the appeal of the SQ5 starts with brand reputation and looks, but a test drive is very likely to seal the deal.

The Q5’s four-cylinder turbo has an entirely adequate 261 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, and my previous drives in that trim demonstrated a smooth, composed ride. The SQ5 adds power to spare, 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, not the most powerful in the segment (and Audi skips the ballistic compact crossover niche that the X3M and GLC 63 AMG claim) but 5.0 seconds to 100 km/h is plenty quick. In normal driving mode, the eight-speed automatic transmission is relatively docile and seamless in almost every situation, but in some low-speed maneuvers, sometimes backing up or slowing down for a traffic light and then taking off before a full stop, it will take an extra second or two to get in the right gear. Switch to Dynamic mode and Sport transmission mode and the powertrain reacts quicker and holds gears longer to get into the heart of the power and feels like this is how the vehicle was meant to be driven. This SQ5 was equipped with the “Sound Enhancing Exhaust” that gave the little crossover a badass growl that turned heads and garnered numerous compliments, but it’s a spendy option at $1,800.

The one aspect of the SQ5’s performance that disappointed me was its suspension. Yes, my tastes do run more towards the sport end of the spectrum, but this is the S in the Q5 lineup, and although the suspension was firm and sporty, it still rode quite high, so it displayed significant body roll when doing quick changes of direction and during more aggressive cornering. A variable-height air suspension is available (the $3,750 Dynamic Package also adds torque-vectoring Sport differential) to complement the multilink suspension and adaptive damping, and that is just what this car needs to complete the handling variable of the performance equation. Stay tuned for an upcoming SQ5 versus BMW X3 comparison with that air suspension to find out if it helps the SQ5 take the handling crown.

The obvious benefit of that taller ride height was demonstrated on our annual camping trip, where the high ground clearance gives it a bit of rough-road crossover capability and means no stress on pitted and potholed gravel campsite roads. Note that the air suspension would also improve that clearance for camping and cottage weekends with the ability to raise it into a taller off-road mode, but then you also have the lowered, sporty handling befitting an Audi S car. It’s a no-compromise option that perfectly suits the mission of this car, so it should be standard equipment in my books.

When driving in a less sporty manner, the SQ5 also excels, be it in the tight confines of parking lots or downtown thanks to good visibility and quick steering, or out on the highway with its smooth but stable ride, quiet interior and full suite of driving aids like adaptive cruise, blind-spot detection and lane-keep assist. Those systems worked well, responding naturally to traffic, and the Traffic Jam Assist made highway congestion much less stressful, though it doesn’t feature the latest gimmick of automated lane changes like the Genesis GV70. At your destination, the 360-degree parking cameras and sensors meant parking was incredibly easy. There were times when certain aids were not available, and the traffic sign recognition function was often unavailable. Another one-time glitch was a freeze-up of the powertrain — when stopped in a left turn lane, the car simply would not restart after the auto stop-start had shut the engine down. Turning the car off and back on fixed the problem, but it left a cause for concern in the back of my mind, especially at other times when the stop-start would disable the engine early when rolling to a stop, or would kind of ‘stutter’ when restarting.

The other lesson we learned on our annual camping trip with the SQ5 was how to install its roof rack and pack more efficiently. Although generous for daily life, the modest 757-litre trunk was no match for all of our Yarkony camping gear, ski pass-through or not, so the sleeping bags and clothes went into a roof bag. The roof rack was very strong and secure so it made me appreciate the original Audi accessories that fit the anchor points on the roof rails. The generous rear-seat passenger space also meant we could pack extra bags around the kids, with plenty of cupholder and door pockets for snacks and road trip entertainment. As mentioned, the kids loved the music options, and we loved the quality of the sound from the Bang & Olufsen stereo, but on long drives, nothing beats ventilated seats, which are part of an $800 option that this vehicle did not include (the Comfort Interior Package adds those cooled front seats, sun shades for the rear doors, and a fancy “Hoxton” leather).

Operating the music and infotainment system was easy enough using our default Apple CarPlay, but the native MMI infotainment system has taken a step backwards in my books. Despite several months to get used to the menus and the shortcut icons on the left side of the screen, it just felt like too much swiping and too much looking at the touchscreen. The previous generation of the system, with its console-knob controller, seemed to respond more quickly and require less eye-time on the screen to make selections. The other controls are all very ergonomic and user friendly and the Virtual Cockpit gauge cluster packs in a ton of information and some cool new looks, especially ‘Dynamic’. A high-tech feature that would have complemented the Virtual cockpit nicely is head-up display, which is an $1,100 option that was not equipped on our SQ5.

The interior of our tester was a monochromatic black (red or grey leather are available with most exterior colours at no extra cost) with only a few strips of carbon-fibre, some satin metallic switch gear, and alcantara accents to liven up the modern interior. It’s not a flashy design, but I love the geometric shapes dominating the design and the materials are all top-notch at your typical touchpoints — poke around a bit, though, and you might find some less-premium plastics. The interior really comes into its own at night, when the ambient lighting add just the right amount of colour to liven it up, with a variety of colour options to match your mood. I found the quality to be impeccable, but in our Comparison Test with the Genesis GV70 , Peter Bleakney rightly pointed out that Genesis has raised the bar in this segment with a leather-stitched dash and even higher-quality materials.

 2021 Audi SQ5 © Jonathan Yarkony 2021 Audi SQ5

Before we sign off, it would be remiss of me not to weigh in on the pricing and value of the Audi SQ5. Although we tested the 2021 model, let’s skip ahead to 2022 pricing (which went up by about $2,000 for both trims) which starts at $66,250 for the Progressiv model, but loses the adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist, lighting upgrades, heated rear seats, upgraded stereo, and a 360-degree parking camera system. The base model is equipped with 21-inch wheels with a couple of pattern options; the same drivetrain, along with all the typical power functions and basic safety systems; plus most of the convenience and luxuries like leather seats and premium accents befitting the SQ5. The 2022 Technik model starts at $70,850, adding those features mentioned above, and our tester had add-ons like the $500 red brake calipers, $800 Black Optics package, $900 Carbon Atlas inlays, and that $1,800 exhaust, which together would add $4,000. Audi’s $2,550 Freight and PDI would bring the price up to $77,400.

Personally I would trade in some of those aesthetic touches for that Dynamic package, but there is no denying the SQ5 looked and sounded great. But for those that choose to splurge and get all of it, a fully loaded SQ5 climbs to over 85 grand. It’s a nice vehicle, but it’s not the value option like the Genesis GV70 that tops out at $75K with all those trimmings; or an Acura RDX that is less powerful but drives well and looks sharp in PMC trim for around $60K.

The Audi SQ5 has paired Audi’s excellent reputation for interior quality, all-wheel-drive security, and excellent driving manners with an engaging engine, a practical package, and an appealing design, making it an easy choice in this segment. Aside from a couple of flaws with the technology and the high cost of desirable features, the SQ5 is an excellent selection for those that want a bit more sport to go along with their practical family ride. The Audi Q5 already has an ideal blend of convenient small size and adequate space for a family of four; and the luxury and technology that luxury buyers are looking for, explaining its success as a sales leader. And in SQ5 trim it has the power and capability to satisfy most driving tastes. However, for those that want a car with a bit more dynamic acumen but that still keeps the practicality of a hatchback and some off-road clearance, don’t forget about the A6 Allroad, which overlaps it in price range and interior space. What can I say? As nice as the SQ5 is, it’s not enough to sway this wagon loyalist.


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