2021 Audi SQ5 review

Diesel is dead? At Audi, it's just getting started. The SQ5 TDI is a better car than the petrol it replaces, and a reminder of how good diesel performance can be.

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Scott Collie
Scott Collie
Deputy Editor
PROS
  • Torquey diesel engine
  • Impressively refined ride
  • Generous list of standard inclusions
CONS
  • Rear seat space is good, not great
  • External exhaust speakers are a bit naff
  • We didn't get to spend longer behind the wheel

Who said diesel is dead?

With understated looks and an effortlessly torquey diesel engine, the first Audi SQ5 has a cult following among owners.

You can imagine their frustration, then, when the second-generation model revealed in 2017 ditched the diesel in favour of a petrol engine in Australia.

Having teased the true believers with a limited-edition model in late 2020, Audi is bringing diesel power back permanently with the facelifted SQ5.

While it’s down 9kW on the outgoing petrol SQ5 TFSI, it has 200Nm more torque and a quicker 0-100km/h time of 5.1 seconds.

A more coupe-styled Sportback version will follow in the second half of 2021, while the petrol has been removed from the range entirely.

It’s taken five long years for the diesel SQ5 to return. Was it worth the wait?

How much does the Audi SQ5 cost?

The sole 2021 Audi SQ5 model is priced from $104,900 before on-road costs, unchanged from the special-edition diesel offered late in 2020.

It’s $15,000 more than Audi asks for the previous Q5 flagship, the 50 TDI, and lands the SQ5 in one of the hottest parts of the mid-sized SUV market.

Over at BMW, the X3 M40i kicks off at $113,900 before on-road costs, while the Mercedes-AMG GLC43 starts at $120,600 before on-roads.

Neither are diesels, however. If a thirsty petrol isn’t your style, there’s also the Volvo XC60 T8 Polestar plug-in hybrid from $100,600 before on-roads.

What do you get?

Audi hasn’t held back with the standard equipment in its regular Q5 range, and the approach has carried over to the range-topper – the SQ5 is loaded with kit.

Externally, the SQ5 differentiates itself from the regular Q5 with a set of 21-inch alloy wheels and adaptive suspension that sits it 30mm lower than stock, with a bodykit rounding out the changes.

Inside, there’s a 10.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto, along with factory satellite navigation and a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D premium sound system.

There’s a head-up display, Matrix LED headlights, keyless entry and start, privacy glass, a panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging, tri-zone climate control, heated front sport seats, Nappa leather upholstery, and paddle shifters.

Even the roof racks – the removable horizontal cross bars as well as the running rails – are standard, which is apparently the case across the Q5 range.

Options are limited, but include OLED tail lights ($2500), a black exterior package ($1300), air suspension ($2250), and a quattro sport rear differential ($2990).

Metallic paint is a no-cost option, and Audi is finally offering an interesting palette in Australia.

Along with the typical German rainbow, there are two blues and a deep green on offer. Go on, you know you want to.

Realistically, you could walk away having paid list price and not be disappointed. Both our test cars were priced at about $110,000 before on-road costs.

Is the Audi SQ5 safe?

The Audi Q5 range has an ANCAP rating of five stars from 2017.

That’s based on an adult occupant protection score of 93 per cent, a child occupant protection score of 86 per cent, a pedestrian protection score of 73 per cent and a safety assist score of 56 per cent.

Standard safety equipment includes:

  • Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection
  • Adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist
  • Lane-keep assist
  • Rear cross-traffic alert
  • Front and rear parking sensors
  • Surround-view camera system

What is the Audi SQ5 like on the inside?

A new Audi has a beautiful interior. Stop the presses, and let the Pulitzer Prizes roll in.

Audi has thrown everything it has at the SQ5 inside, which means previously-optional touches like Nappa leather seat trim, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system, acoustic window trim, a powered steering column, and acoustic glass is all standard.

It makes for a super luxurious, super refined cabin. Every thing you poke or prod feels high quality, and it all looks suitably high-end.

The bones were good. The updated Q5 range gained a new infotainment system for 2021 (goodbye, rotary controller) driven by a 10.1-inch touchscreen with sharp graphics and lightning responses.

It’s dead easy to navigate thanks to its big, colourful icons and haptic button-like clicks to confirm an input.

Unlike the new A6, Q7, and Q8, the Q5 doesn’t feature a touchscreen for climate controls. Instead, you get good old-fashioned buttons that make a satisfying click when you press them.

Audi’s digital instruments are the best in the business, blending a pin-sharp satellite map with just the right amount of customisation.

They aren’t as flashy as MBUX or as stylised as BMW OS7.0, but they’re unquestionably better in the real world.

Wireless Apple CarPlay worked flawlessly, and the sliding wireless phone charger is a good addition to the Q5.

It’s a bit annoying the pad either covers the cupholders or the space beneath the central armrest though, given needing to access the storage and having a coffee aren’t mutually exclusive.

The front seats are perfect for a long-haul cruiser, with plenty of under-thigh support and enough bolstering to keep you in place on twisty roads. They’re heated, naturally, and have memory to back their powered adjustment.

Storage space is abundant around the cabin, from the twin cupholders to the under-arm bin, decent door pockets, and under-dash slot.

Rear seat space is also good, although it’s not quite as spacious as a BMW X3 back there. Legroom is acceptable behind taller drivers, and headroom is good despite the standard fit sunroof.

With air vents, a standalone climate control zone, and two USB ports back there, there’s nothing for the kids to complain about.

Speaking of the panoramic sunroof, it really is massive. Not only does it flood the cabin with sunlight, its opening is genuinely huge. It’s more convertible than cat flap, which isn’t necessarily the case with its rivals.

The new Q5 has up to 520L of cargo capacity in five-seat configuration, expanding to 1520L with the rear backrests folded flat.

What’s under the bonnet

Like the outgoing special edition SQ5 TDI, the new model features a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 with a 48V mild-hybrid system.

Although it shares its bones with the engine in the pre-facelift SQ5 TDI, the 2021 engine is running a new Evo3 tune. It has a smaller turbocharger designed to spool up faster, and a more sophisticated exhaust treatment system that cuts NOx levels below those of the outgoing petrol.

It produces 251kW of power and 700Nm of torque, and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

While it’s down 9kW on the outgoing petrol SQ5 TFSI, it has 200Nm more torque and a quicker 0-100km/h time of 5.1 seconds.

That makes it 0.3 seconds quicker than the petrol model, albeit unchanged from the pre-update TDI.

The SQ5 uses 7.0L/100km on the combined cycle and has CO2 emissions of 185g/km. It has a 70L fuel tank.

How does the Audi SQ5 drive?

Our time in the SQ5 was limited to an hour-long highway blast through New South Wales, so more time is needed in a range of conditions to get the full picture.

First impressions are very good though.

Everything that was good about the first diesel SQ5, and the limited-edition second-generation car of course, is still good about the 2021 model.

First up, it’s a torquey beast down low. Peak torque is a towering 700Nm, and it comes on song at just 1750rpm – 750rpm lower than before, thanks to the latest mild-hybrid system from the boffins at Audi Sport.

Where the first-generation SQ5 was a twin-turbo, and the limited-edition had a larger single turbocharger, the latest model pairs its electric hybrid compressor (capable of spinning at 60,000rpm) with a smaller, variable-geometry snail.

In practice, it means you can roll into the throttle and know the engine will respond with a mighty shove in the back. Lean on the accelerator a little bit and the eight-speed automatic will stay in a tall gear, allowing the engine’s prodigious torque to claw you along.

Push a bit harder and it’ll drop a gear to push you deeper into the meat of its muscle, really bury the accelerator and it will drop two in search of peak power at 3800rpm.

However you want to go about it, the engine is always impeccably refined. It’s smoother and quieter than you’d expect of a diesel, and the main sound in the cabin comes from a subtle fake sound generator.

Outside it still sounds like a big V8 engine thanks to a more overt sound generator for the benefit of passers-by.

Air suspension is an option, but it wasn’t fitted to our testers. Instead, they rode on the standard adaptive dampers which, based on a rural highway run, do the job just fine.

The ride is always more taut than you get in a non-S Q5, but it still smooths out the nastiest pimples on the road. It feels indomitable at highway speeds, like you could point the nose at the horizon and just keep driving until you hit it.

Low-speed impressions are limited for now, save for the fact the steering has more weight to it than in more mundane models, and the engine burbles away like a wobbly bent-eight.

How much does the Audi SQ5 cost to run?

The 2021 Audi SQ5 requires servicing every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.

In addition to a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, Audi offers a five-year servicing plan priced at $2940.

CarExpert’s take on the Audi SQ5

Diesel is dead? Rubbish! Diesel is only just getting started.

Based on our brief first taste, the SQ5 is better than ever to drive, and still blends day-to-day practicality with high-speed cruising ability like few other cars.

It even comes absolutely loaded with standard equipment, which is rare in the world of expensive performance cars.

We’ll need a slightly longer stint behind the wheel to label it the king of its class, but the Audi SQ5 has a very, very good shot at the crown.

Click on the images to view the full gallery.

MORE: Audi Q5 news and reviews

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Scott Collie
Scott Collie
Scott Collie is the Deputy Editor at CarExpert.
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Ratings
Overall8.3
Show Breakdown
Cost of Ownership 8
Ride Comfort 7.8
Safety 8.3
Fit for Purpose 8.5
Handling Dynamics 8.3
Interior Practicality and Space 7.8
Fuel Efficiency 8
Value for Money 8.5
Performance 8.8
Technology Infotainment 8.5

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