2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback Review: Fun-First and Utilitarian Enough

I’m a stick in the mud when it comes to SUVs and crossovers. I grew up with trucky, un-fun (as high-speed driving goes) SUVs built on ladder frames, and early unibody crossovers weren’t much different. Sure, performance variants have come and gone over the years, but they’ve still stuck to the theme of “fast boxes.” Manufacturers have started building silly “coupe crossovers” in recent years, and Audi jumped aboard that train with the hottest and most chopped-top variant of their popular Q5, the 2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback.

Coupey, swoopy crossovers have baffled me since their introduction. Why would you want to make your utility vehicle less utilitarian? I got to put my thinking to the test, as the SQ5 Sportback showed up just in time for me and my boyfriend to move. I’d hired movers, but we needed to haul some boxes from a rented storage unit. Alright, Sportback, let’s see if you can be equal parts fun and useful.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

What Is It?

This is a 2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback. Audi’s Q5 has been the brand’s most popular vehicle for quite some time, and the SQ5 has been available as the performance variant since 2014. What’s new for 2021 is the raked roofline, available on both Q5 and SQ5, called Sportback.

The basic 2021 Audi SQ5 soldiers on since this second generation’s 2018 introduction. It’s powered by the Audi “EA389” 3.0 liter V6, which uses a single turbocharger to produce 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Motivation is sent through a ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic and to the ground via Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system.

Included on my 2021 SQ5 Sportback was the “S Sport” package, which adds an adaptive four-corner air suspension, red-painted brake calipers, and a nondescript “sport rear differential.” That blas√© description on the Audi build-and-price tool glosses over the fact that the rear differential is suddenly a limited-slip unit with torque vectoring.

Further down the options list, my SQ5 Sportback included variable-ratio Dynamic Steering as its other performance upgrade, alongside the top Prestige equipment package (Bang & Olufsen sound, “matrix-design” LED headlights, 360-degree camera with parking assistance, and other driver assistance tech) and the 21″ Black Optics package (21″ wheels, blacked-out trim, and summer tires).

MSRP of this 2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback Prestige was $73,990 including destination.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback gray interior

Forget Utility: the SQ5 Sportback as a Hot Hatchback

I know, it’s a crossover, and those are all just lifted hatchbacks and wagons in the first place. Compared to many, the Audi SQ5 Sportback isn’t trying to come across as very off-road-y, it’s not actually that tall, and it lowers itself a bit when you click the Drive Select buttons until “dynamic” is highlighted.

Further, the SQ5 Sportback sits on the MLB Evo platform, which is shared with some other Audis and extended-family Porsche’s Macan. The Sportback comes in around 4,321 pounds, and you actually take a 33 pound weight penalty for choosing the Sportback over the more-square SQ5, according to Car & Driver.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

On the move, the turbocharged V6 is eager, but it’s not a straight-line kind of girl. You’ll have the most fun when you find some curvy sections of road, slide the monostable shifter over to the semi-hidden manual gate (just push to the right, it’ll go) and keep the tach in the middle of its range. Here, everything is happy and the SQ5 Sportback comes alive a bit more. The ZF eight-speed responds quickly to your commands, but you have to move the shifter to its manual mode so it won’t get bored with what you’re doing in Drive or Sport and upshift mid-corner.

Turn-in and corner exit are both just easy, aided by that torque-vectoring differential out back. I had confidence for days, and I suspect the SQ5 would’ve been even more fun had I been on a track with more room to play. One line item that didn’t necessarily add to the experience was the variable-ratio steering rack. Perhaps it being so unobtrusive is part of the magic.

Audi folks may cringe, because the notion of a “hot hatch” is for the Volkswagen brand and Audis are serious cars for serious people, but the SQ5 Sportback felt like a big, adult hot hatch. It was a fantastic drive, made better by the well-built, tall-person-friendly interior. Controls fell readily to hand and proportionally, it felt as though Audi had built the car for me and no one else. I was truly that comfortable behind the wheel.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback

Moving with the SQ5 Sportback

Despite the SQ5 Sportback being a more-than-reasonable amount of fun to toss through off-ramps and around back-road curves, the appeal of crossovers is their flexibility. After I was done doing silly brappity things on fun roads, I dropped the back seats and went over to the U-Haul storage facility near our new place. We had a mix of small, medium, and large Home Depot boxes to move, and I really, really didn’t want to make more than one trip.

Spoiler alert, we made two trips. The Sportback part of the SQ5 Sportback didn’t allow us to stack boxes in a way that allowed everything to fit at once and the hatch to close. A non-Sportback variant would have been shaped just differently enough to allow success.

Of course, people don’t move on a daily or weekly basis, but having a vehicle shaped like the Sportback does affect your ability to bring home bulky items from Home Goods or an antique shop (do SQ5 owners go antiquing?) on a whim. The “normal” SQ5 would provide a bit more room, but in either case, these aren’t the biggest vehicles. Consider the larger SQ7 if you’re looking for the most utility from your Audi.

2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback cargo space

Final Thoughts

I’d rather the SQ5 Sportback be an honest hatchback, but Audi would sell about six of them in the United States if they built such a thing. Americans love our crossovers and I see why the Q5 lineup does so well for the Audi brand. It’s a good size, generally, and in SQ5 form becomes a very enjoyable thing to drive.

Audi’s addition of the Sportback body style to the SQ5 is one that I enjoy for the looks and hesitate to get excited about given the lost utility. Thankfully, they’re offering both choices of rear end design, and no matter which you choose, the 2021 Audi SQ5 is a great option for the enthusiasts among us.

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