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car review

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Audi has done incredibly well in Canada with the Q5, but it’s not immediately obvious why this compact SUV often crushes its rivals in the sales charts.

It looks handsome, but it isn’t particularly remarkable, nor does it offer more space or power than the competition. It isn’t a smoking-hot deal, either. The Q5 is simply good. It’s vanilla, a jack-of-all trades, master of none, and – if we’re being honest with ourselves – that’s exactly the sort of machine most drivers need.

Through the first three quarters of this year, the Q5 outsold all of its rivals by a hefty margin, according to Goodcarbadcar data.

Despite that success, Audi decided the Q5 needed some spice. Enter the SQ5 Sportback, a belated entry into the sporty, fastback SUV genre. Up front, the Sportback is all business, but at the rear it has a sweeping roofline that flows back like Patrick Swayze’s mullet. Under the hood, the regular Q5′s four-cylinder motor has been tossed out and replaced by a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6. The big engine gives the spicy Q nearly 100 extra horsepower, for a total of 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.

There are more powerful SUVs out there. Mercedes, BMW, Porsche and Alfa-Romeo all offer more extreme, extra-hot versions of their compact SUVs for devout and deep-pocketed driving enthusiasts, but Audi does not. There is no RS Q5, and, frankly, the world doesn’t need one.

The driver is faced with Audi’s giant all-screen 'virtual cockpit' instrument cluster, which is highly customizable and great to see as standard equipment.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

While driving the Sportback, there’s a momentary delay as the turbocharger spins up and the eight-speed gearbox finds a suitable cog, but then the SQ5 rears up and charges forward with authority. The V6′s muted growl won’t annoy passengers, yet it offers a noticeably more full-bodied soundtrack than the four-cylinder could muster.

It’s a pleasant surprise to find a luxury SUV with sporty aspirations that nevertheless prioritizes giving passengers a relaxing ride instead of flat-out corner-carving prowess. The SQ5′s steering is numb, but unflappably accurate and not so heavy as to make driving a chore. Our test car came with the optional $1,500 air suspension, which is cushy enough for bad city streets and doesn’t wilt on a good twisty road. It’s a happy medium, ideal for the daily grind.

If you’re looking for a coupe-shaped SUV like this, we’ll assume you’re willing to sacrifice the comfort of rear-seat passengers in the name of style. Even so, since the SQ5 is among the smaller members of the compact SUV class – in terms of width and wheelbase, the distance between the front and back wheels – the rear seats were already tight to begin with.

The driver is faced with Audi’s giant all-screen “virtual cockpit” instrument cluster, which is highly customizable and great to see as standard equipment. That said, it’s a shame Audi got rid of the physical controls for the 10.1-inch central touchscreen. It’s always nice to have real buttons as shortcuts to oft-used functions, such as navigation or music, because you don’t need to take your eyes off the road to press them. But we’re living in a touchscreen world.

If you’re looking for a coupe-shaped SUV like this, we’ll assume you’re willing to sacrifice the comfort of rear-seat passengers in the name of style.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

All told, the $68,450 SQ5 Sportback is roughly $20,000 more than the bare-bones Q5, which is a huge premium, but still on par with European rivals.

What Audi has done here is smart. The SQ5 Sportback adds a pinch of spice to the Q5, with the swooping roofline and big V6 engine, but at its heart this is still a vanilla, jack-of-all-trades SUV, only faster. If you’re looking for a sports car in practical clothing, look elsewhere. For most people, though, the relatively tame SQ5 should be just right – unless you’re ready and able to go electric.

In that case, you’d do well to wait for the fully electric Audi Q4 e-tron SUV, which is due to arrive later this year. It’s slightly smaller than the Q5, but it should be similarly spacious inside because it’s built on a dedicated EV platform. There’s no need to leave space for things like a transmission tunnel or a big V6 engine up front. Not only that, the Q4 will have some interesting new high-tech features and – starting at just under $60,000 – it’s significantly less expensive than the Tesla Model Y and Audi’s own SQ5.

The Sportback loses out on 26-litres of trunk space over the regular SQ5, which, in a compact SUV like this, makes a difference.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

Base price/as tested: $68,450 (2022) / $79,885

Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6

Transmission/drive: eight-speed automatic/all-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 12.5 city, 9.7 highway

Alternatives: Audi Q4 e-tron, Lexus RX 450h, BMW X4 M40, Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 Coupe, Porsche Macan S, Tesla Model Y, Genesis GV70, Cadillac XT5 V6, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Volvo XC60 Inscription, Jaguar F-Pace P340, Range Rover Velar R-Dynamic

Looks

Unmistakably Audi, but not especially memorable.

Interior

Diving into the option list is a less expensive proposition than it is with other luxury brands and the SQ5 is well equipped as-is. Rivals do offer a larger range of colour, trim and customization options.

Performance

It’ll do 0-100 km/h in 5.0 seconds, just shy of rivals like the Macan S or Mercedes GLC, but the Audi can handle itself just fine on a twisty road. The eight-speed gearbox doesn’t always deliver the speediest shifts, and the automatic engine stop/start can be jerky so you may find yourself switching it off. A torque-vectoring rear differential is optional, but probably overkill for most buyers.

Technology

For the money, the SQ5 comes with a lot of nice standard tech. To the base Progressiv trim, all we’d add is metallic paint ($890), rear side airbags ($500) and the $1,700 driver assistance package, which brings lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, among other things.

Cargo

The Sportback loses out on 26-litres of trunk space over the regular SQ5, which, in a compact SUV like this, makes a difference. For that reason, we’d recommend the less expensive non-Sportback model, unless you absolutely love the look of the fastback.

Verdict

A jack-of-all-trades, master of none, the SQ5 Sportback adds power without compromise on comfort.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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