2021 Audi Q5 Review | A best-seller gets an update

James Riswick
·10 min read


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All signs point to the updated 2021 Audi Q5 continuing to be its brand's best-seller. Its oh-so-Audi design, well-stocked equipment list and reasonable pricing are obviously appealing attributes to those shopping in the crowded compact luxury crossover segment. It's also one of the better entries to drive, with the plug-in hybrid in particular impressing with its rapid acceleration, high fuel economy and negligible dynamic compromises. Given hefty tax credits, it's arguably the one to get.

All of that said, the 2021 Q5 rarely exceeds the efforts of its many competitors. In some ways, it's deficient: Its passenger and cargo space are unremarkable for the segment, and its interior quality is disappointing for both the segment and by Audi's usual high standards. Basically, it’s a solid, mid-pack choice, but there are more practical, stylish and/or dynamic choices out there.

What's new for 2021?

The current-generation Q5 gets its first significant update. The styling is tweaked, with each version (base, plug-in hybrid and SQ5) getting slightly different looks. The interior gets Audi's latest MIB3 infotainment system, which means quicker responses, a new user interface and an enlarged central display that's also now a touchscreen. The old MMI system's center console controls are gone, leaving a rather useless bin in their place. The available Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster is now a higher-resolution unit, while other feature updates include three-zone climate control, blind-spot warning and an upgraded front and rear automatic emergency-braking system added as standard equipment.

Mechanically, the base 2.0-liter turbo engine adds 12 extra horses and a mild-hybrid system for improved efficiency and refinement. The plug-in hybrid Q5 and the high-performance SQ5 powertrains carry over unchanged apart from the latter's recalibrated transmission.


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What's the Q5 interior and in-car technology like?

Quite frankly, the Q5's interior disappoints. Part of that is Audi's past efforts setting the bar so high, but it also falls short when comparing it to other vehicles in the segment. At first glance, the design is attractive and seemingly delivers the expected amount of luxury ambiance. Look closer, however, and you'll note the hard, Volkswagen-grade plastics on the center console and doors, or the unconvincing wood trim that's a step down from the previous-generation Q5.

Its functionality is also disappointing. Instead of redesigning the center console after removing the old MMI infotainment system's controls, Audi literally just left a hole. Or, rather, a bin the size of Kleenex packet. It joins two other bins of questionable use, including one adjacent to a USB port that's too small for any phone made since the iPhone was invented. One must also choose between using the cupholders and keeping items in the under-armrest bin due to a sliding cover that doubles as a wireless charger.

As for the new infotainment system, we miss those old center console controls – although touchscreen functionality is always welcome, there are functions that are better controlled with a knob and menu buttons. Many other luxury brands provide a redundant combination of touchscreen and center console controls. That said, Audi has arguably the finest touchscreen technology in the business. Its haptic feedback clicks back at you much in the way its physical buttons would. Besides imparting a sense of robust quality, it's also helpful when using on the move. And speaking of buttons, the Q5 maintains physical controls for the climate controls rather than the second touchscreen found in other Audis. We actually think that's a good thing – they are easier and less distracting to use.

How big is the Q5?

The Q5 is one of the smallest compact luxury crossovers, especially in terms of cargo capacity. Its 25.8 cubic feet of space behind its back seat is near the bottom of the segment and seemed even smaller than that in our testing – it fell short of the also-small Mercedes-Benz GLC in our luggage test. Now, the Q5 does provide greater flexibility than most due to its sliding back seat, which increases cargo capacity. That's definitely a good thing, but you also reduce passenger space in the process. That's not ideal since the back seat doesn't have much space to lose – in our back-to-back test drives of the Q5 and its key competitors, we found that it had the least spacious back seat.

When it comes to exterior dimensions, the Q5 is comparable to most competitors. Its curb weight is also mid-pack and its ground clearance comparably generous. That said, it feels much smaller when behind the wheel, but we'll touch on that more below.


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What are the performance and fuel economy?

There are three Q5 models, all with different powertrains along with slightly different styling. You can see each of those looks above. 

The standard Q5 (also known as the 45 TFSI Quattro) has a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four bolstered by a mild-hybrid system that powers to vehicle systems and effectively smooths out the automatic stop/start system rather than enhancing acceleration. A seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual is standard. Output is a competitive 248 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, with a 0-60-mph estimate of an also-competitive 5.9 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. "Quattro with Ultra" all-wheel drive is standard, indicating Audi's system that primarily drives the front wheels until circumstances require sending power to the rear.

The plug-in hybrid, or officially the "Q5 55 TFSI e quattro," adds an electric motor and 14.1 kWh battery to a version of the 2.0-liter turbo engine. Total output is 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, with the 0-60 time falling to 5.0 seconds. The EPA says it will go 19 miles on a charge, which is typical among plug-in hybrid crossovers, and useful enough to limit gasoline use for many commutes. In 84 miles of mixed suburban, highway and mountain road driving that started with a full battery, this Q5 averaged 29.3 mpg. It also has Quattro with Ultra.

On the other end of the spectrum is the SQ5 performance model, pictured below, which is powered by a 3.0-liter turbo V6 good for 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. It has a traditional eight-speed automatic (and a great one at that) and a sport-tuned version of Quattro (without Ultra) that also transfers torque between the axles but defaults to a rear bias. Apparently, weighing 331 pounds less than the hybrid isn't enough to overcome having 13 fewer horses – the SQ5’s 0-60 time is a tick higher at 5.1 seconds. That's well off the pace of the BMW X3 M40i (4.4 seconds) that also gets better fuel economy (21/27/23 mpg). The SQ5 returns 18/24/20 mpg.  


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What's the Q5 like to drive?

The Q5 feels smaller behind the wheel than most rivals, transitioning through successive corners with poise thanks to a well-sorted chassis and intelligent Quattro all-wheel drive. The ride is buttoned down and sophisticated, striking a terrific ride/handling balance without fancy adaptive dampers. The steering is rather numb, though, and the Dynamic effort setting is more like the one-size-fits-all setup of previous-generation Audis. In other words, it feels like the normal setting – Comfort and "Auto" have too much play and accentuate the numbness. Thankfully, an Individual mode allows for the heftier steering without the caffeinated Dynamic powertrain settings.

The standard 2.0-liter turbo engine most buyers will end up with is a strong engine backed up by one of the more intelligent, well-executed all-wheel-drive systems around. The seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual isn't quite as smooth as a traditional automatic, but it also seems likely that many won't notice.

We'd highly recommend considering the 55 TFSI e plug-in hybrid, which is far more powerful and efficient, and given federal and state tax credits, could easily end up being cheaper (or at least barely more expensive). The electric motor also smooths out the four-cylinder's edges in sound and feel, resulting in a level of refinement reminiscent of a V6. When driving with a full battery, the Q5 largely behaves like a full electric car with smooth, silent and torque-rich acceleration. We'd skip the Eco mode, which adds a disconcerting detented accelerator to coach you into driving economically (no thanks, it's not hard). There’s also inconsistency in the regenerative braking system, as the car will add more deceleration than expected at times, most notably when going downhill.

For those interested in the higher-octane Audi SQ5, we would suggest checking out our full first drive review. In short, though, it's not nearly the performance upgrade as a BMW X3 M40i or Mercedes AMG GLC 43, but it also costs many thousands less.

What more can I read about the Audi Q5?

2021 Audi Q5 First Drive

We dig deeper into the changes for '21 and provide a more in-depth review of the interior and driving experience.

 

2021 Audi Q5 Luggage Test

We look at how much the Q5 can fit behind its raised back seat ... including with that seat slid forward to add more space.

 

2018 Audi SQ5 First Drive

Our review of the high-performance SQ5, which is broadly unchanged mechanically from the 2021 version. 

 

2022 Audi Q5 Sportback Revealed

Coming next year is the "crossover-coupe" version of the Q5 that has a more aggressively raked roofline (that surely won't help the cargo situation). It's the answer to similar vehicles from BMW and Mercedes.


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What features are available and what's the price?

Pricing starts at $44,395 for a base Q5 45 TFSI, including the $1,095 destination charge, with the plug-in hybrid 55 TFSI e starting at $53,995. That does not include the $6,712 federal tax credit or potential additional state credits. The SQ5 starts at $53,995. All of these models are then broken down into sub trims: Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige.

Standard features on the Premium include LED headlights, roof rails, a power liftgate, front and rear parking sensors, various driver assistance technologies (see Safety section below), tri-zone automatic climate control, heated eight-way power front seats, leather upholstery (most competitors come with premium vinyl), a 40/20/40-split sliding and reclining back seat, two rear USB ports, and the 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay.

Key upgrades with the Premium Plus include adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability and steering assistance, 19-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, a top-view camera system, the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument panel and leatherette applied to various interior surfaces.

The Prestige bumps things up considerably in cost and equipment to include fancier exterior and interior lighting, acoustic glass, a power-adjustable steering column, heated rear seats, heated and cooled front cupholders, integrated navigation and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. Some of these upgrades are available on lower trim levels through packages or as stand-alone items.

What are its safety equipment and crash ratings?

Every 2021 Q5 includes forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, and lane-departure warning. The Premium Plus package adds lane-keeping assist along with an adaptive cruise control system enhanced by steering assistance and stop-and-go capability.

The government gave the Q5 a perfect five stars in all categories but rollover where it got a totally normal four-star rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it the best possible scores for crash protection and prevention, but hasn't tested the '21 models' new headlights yet.

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