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Exterior view of the 2021 Audi SQ5

Today, performance SUVs are everywhere. Whether you're looking for a large, high-powered sledgehammer or a smaller, more-precise corner carver, buyers have loads of options. While the limited-production 2021 Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat definitely stands as one of my favorites in the former category, the Audi SQ5 stands out as a sportier and nimbler alternative in the latter. 

The entire Audi Q5 lineup was refreshed for the 2021 model year, so I was excited to spend a week with the 2021 Audi SQ5, a performance version of this compact SUV. And it didn't disappoint.

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2021 Audi SQ5 Exterior

Exterior view of the 2021 Audi SQ5

When the 2021 Audi SQ5 pulled up in my driveway, the first thing I noticed is that even while sporting sparkling Glacier White Metallic paint, massive 21-inch wheels, and bright red brake calipers, the overall exterior styling remains understated. Don't get me wrong, the new SQ5 is a gorgeous SUV, but it doesn't have the in-your-face elements of other performance SUVs such as the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 or BMW X3 M. That said, while the SQ5 might have low-key looks for a performance SUV, with features like the sequential turn signals integrated into the headlights and taillights, it exudes high-tech style.

Audi introduced the second-generation Q5/SQ5 in 2018, and the refreshed 2021 exterior design brings subtle changes mostly limited to the headlights, grille and front bumper. The SQ5 gets its own distinctive updates as well, as it now features a honeycomb grille design, new wheel options, and oval-shaped quad exhaust outlets. My tester was also equipped with options such as the $1,000 21-inch wheels and the $600 Black Optic Package, which added matte black roof rails and blacked-out exterior trim.

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2021 Audi SQ5 Interior

Exterior view of the 2021 Audi SQ5

Even though the 2021 Audi SQ5 is a legitimate performance SUV, the interior is all about class and comfort. The most obvious change made inside the new SQ5 is the huge 10.1-inch infotainment screen, but my favorite update is the new steering wheel.

This thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped unit replaces the previous boy-racer flat-bottomed version, and better fits the overall luxury vibe the SQ5 gives off. Just opening the door reveals spectacular quilted Nappa leather leather seats, which are a $1,000 option. Speaking of options, the $9,600 Prestige Package stuffed this cabin with all the convenience and tech options you could ask for, including a Audi virtual cockpit, head-up display, Bang & Olufsen audio system, panoramic sunroof, and heated rear seats. The aluminum foot pedals and $500 carbon fiber inlays added a sporty touch, while my favorite part of the cabin was the sliding wireless smartphone charger positioned atop the heated and cooled front cupholder.

Being a compact SUV, the SQ5 can prove to be a bit tight for a full load of adults, but the seats do provide as much comfort as could be expected from a vehicle this size. Front passengers get treated to manually adjustable extendable thigh supports, while the rear occupants have the ability to tilt the seatbacks slightly. With all seats in place, the SQ5 can hold 25.8 cubic feet of cargo, and folding the seats flat opens up 54.1 cubic feet of space.

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2021 Audi SQ5 Performance

Exterior view of the 2021 Audi SQ5

The updated 2021 Audi SQ5 looks and feels better, but Audi didn't stop there. Now on paper, the powertrain configuration may be identical to the outgoing model, as both feature a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission and Audi's quattro all-wheel-drive system. The engine even carries over the same output, laying down an impressive 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. But tweaks to the transmission (such as the gear ratios and axle drive ratio) result in a zero-to-60 mph run that's almost half a second quicker. That means 4.7 seconds for 2021 vs 5.1 seconds for the 2020 model. Stomping on the gas to test out that acceleration reveals a hint of turbo lag right off the line, but after that, hold on for a thrill ride!

While straight-line speed is smile inducing, the SQ5 is best enjoyed along twisty roads. This SUV was already born for cornering, and the optional $3,000 S Sport Package makes things even better by adding in a sport rear differential and a height-adjustable adaptive air suspension. Steering inputs and braking feel are both at sports car levels, resulting in handling capabilities worthy of Audi's coveted "S" logo. At highway speeds, the interior is whisper quiet, but when you lower the windows, that's when you get to hear the 349 ponies come to life. The SQ5 might have been bred for performance, but with EPA-rated estimates of 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, it still returns decent fuel economy.

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2021 Audi SQ5 Safety

Exterior view of the 2021 Audi SQ5

The 2021 Audi SQ5 has not been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the standard version of the Q5 did receive a 5-Star overall crash rating. This tester added rear side airbags for an extra $350, and the aforementioned Prestige Package also included Active Lane Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control with Traffic Jam Assist.

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2021 Audi SQ5 Overall

Exterior view of the 2021 Audi SQ5

Standing as an alternative to all of the blunt-instrument style performance SUVs, the 2021 Audi SQ5 is a precision scalpel that is quick, nimble and incredibly fun to drive.

A base 2021 Audi Q5 delivers plenty of luxury and style for its $43,400 starting price, but opting for the added performance of the 349-horsepower SQ5 means the cost of entry is $56,100. The SQ5 used for my review was packed with about all of the tech, convenience and handling options Audi offers, which resulted in an as-tested price of $71,790.


Jeffrey N. Ross | Jun 28, 2021

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2021 Audi SQ5 Specs

Layout

4-door, 5-passenger, AWD

Engine/Transmission

Turbocharged 3.0L V6, 349 hp, 369 lb-ft
Eight-speed automatic

Mileage

18/24 mpg (city/hwy)

NHTSA Safety Rating

N/A


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