Audi’s most popular model gets a midcycle refresh but leaves us wanting a bit more.
Just before 2020 ended, we had the chance to drive the 2021 Audi SQ5, the sportier variant of the Q5 powered by a punchy V-6 engine. Like we noted back then, the SQ5 delivers the best of both worlds. It's a comfortable SUV that's great for everyday driving, but also more dynamic when the road turns twisty. Now, we've driven and tested the 2021 Audi Q5, the toned-down normal version that competes in the compact-luxury-SUV segment, one of today's most popular. As you'd expect, then, the Q5 is indeed Audi's most popular model, making up 25 percent of the brand's sales, with the conventionally powered, non-S version responsible for most of that chunk (the balance includes not just SQ5s, but also Q5 PHEVs).
In order to be a popular player in one of the toughest segments, the Q5 has to bring plenty of goodness to the table, no? It combines attractive styling with a well-appointed cabin, all while keeping its prices competitive—something hard to find these days in the luxury game. For the 2021 model year, the Q5 received a midcycle refresh inside and out to bring more glamour and a bit more tech.
2021 Audi Q5: More Soft Than Sporty
As one would expect, the regular Q5 is toned down compared to the S variant, and that was notable during our time with this SUV. Powered by a 2.0-liter turbo I-4 with 261 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, the Q5 employs a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that sends power to all four wheels thanks to Audi's Quattro system. The engine is mated to a 12-volt mild hybrid system that's new for 2021, and which adds a combined 13 hp over the 2020 model.
That combination makes the Q5 a decent SUV on the road. The engine is lively, and while it lacks the push of a V-6, it feels completely adequate for an SUV this size. The one complaint we have is with the transmission taking too long to downshift, which we experienced mostly when trying to pass on the freeway. The engine also has a bit of turbo lag, which combines with the transmission issue to compound the sensation that it's weaker than reality when trying to pile on speed or pass another vehicle at freeway velocities. When reaching a cruising speed, though, the Q5 is in its element.
Drivers can choose between five driving modes—Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic and Individual. We spent most of the time driving in Auto, but even when we turned on Dynamic mode, the Q5 had the same laggy feel as in Auto or Comfort. Even so, at the test track, associate road test editor Erick Ayapana was able to go from zero to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, which is a strong number. Pedal overlap causes the transmission controller to launch at about 3,000 rpm, after which gearshifts are much more immediate and aggressive, according to Ayapana. That may be the trick to get an eager start, but it's not how you drive every day. Compared to a 2018 model, the 2021 Q5 was faster to 60 mph by 0.2 second, perhaps thanks to the mild hybrid system.
Overall, the ride is settled and comfortable. Whether you drive over harsh pavement or ruts, the suspension does a good job absorbing those imperfections before they get into the cabin. Even on twisty roads, the body is well controlled with little noticeable roll, but chief tester Chris Walton had mixed feelings during our figure-eight test, noting poor body control under braking and cornering. "The transmission, even in dynamic mode with S Drive, was not intelligent enough to hold second gear on the skidpad," Walton added.
Besides increasing power output and (potentially) lowering the Q5's acceleration time, the mild hybrid system also helps with fuel economy. For 2021, the Q5 delivers 23/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined, an increase of 1 mpg in city and combined ratings over last year.
2021 Audi Q5: Comfortable And Elegant
Inside, the Q5 blends a mix of premium quality and high tech. While it doesn't have the same avant-garde interior aesthetic as do the Q7 or the Q8 (these have a two-screen infotainment/HVAC setup on the center console), the Q5 features a 10.1-inch touchscreen atop the dash. It displays Audi's newest infotainment system—MIB 3—which is easy to use and fast to respond. The graphics are top notch, and the way everything is organized makes it easy to get around without having to dig through menus. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are wireless, and you can use voice commands to do unusual things like change the temperature or other settings in the car.
Our Prestige model—the Prestige trim costs $10,700 over a base Q5—checked pretty much every available box, which included everything from the 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen premium audio system with 3D sound to Audi's "virtual cockpit," whereby a 12.3-inch display serves as the instrument panel and can show real-time Google Maps graphics. Our model also came with other goodies like a head-up display, a 360-degree bird's eye view camera system, and a panoramic sunroof.
To maximize comfort, Audi also offers heated and cooled front cupholders, heated rear seats, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. The second-row seats fold almost flat in a 40/20/40 configuration, making it ideal to fit long items between the seats while maximizing passenger space.
And you'll want to maximize the room, as interior space is one of the areas where the Q5 needs to improve. Second-row legroom is a tad tight for adults with long legs. At six feet tall, this author's legs touched the back of the front seat with the driver's seat set to his driving position. Though there weren't any problems with headroom, the noticeable drivetrain hump also interferes with foot room whenever you have three passengers in the rear.
2021 Audi Q5: Safety Tech
Like some other luxury brands these days, the Q5 brings some standard safety systems but charges extra for others. Blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, and parking sensors are standard across the lineup, but adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist is only available with the Premium Plus and Prestige packages—the two (out of three) highest trims.
These safety systems work well enough on the highway, keeping the Q5 centered in its lane even when lane markings weren't totally clear. We'd like to compare the Audi's systems to those from BMW and Acura, which are among the tops in the segment, to see which truly stands out.
Is The 2021 Audi Q5 Worth It?
Our Audi Q5 Prestige checked out at $56,840, a pricey ask no matter how you look at it. That's several thousand dollars more than a loaded Acura RDX or Lexus NX, but is in line with its loaded German counterparts. Should you have a tighter budget, the Q5 starts at $44,395, with the middle-tier Premium Plus package adding $4,800.
Despite the somewhat lazy-feeling powertrain, it's easy to see why the Q5 is Audi's most popular model. After all, most folks won't stand on it like we do during our holistiic evaluations, and this compact luxury SUV serves up tons of amenities, a well-appointed cabin, and fresh styling that should continue to resonate with a lot of customers. The Q5 is far from perfect, but it does a lot of things well and we can't see this newer version giving up much ground to BMW, Mercedes, Acura, and friends.