2021 Audi Q5 Sportback Review: Competent, But Not Excellent

The 2021 Audi Q5 Sportback follows in the now-long tradition of offering an SUV with a boxy shape, and then a similar SUV with a sloping, coupe-like roofline, started by BMW back in 2008 with the X6. The jellybean shape has become more refined over the years with Audi, Volkswagen and Lamborghini taking a decidedly more angular approach.

Like many of these sleeker SUVs and crossovers, the Q5 Sportback loses surprisingly little cargo space compared to its squarer counterpart. The bigger Q5 swallows 54 cubic feet of cargo with the seats folded down; the Sportback comes in with 51.9 cubic feet. With the second row of seats up the difference shrinks to just over a cubic foot.

The Q5 comes standard with a panoramic sunroof, front sport seats, lane departure warning and Audi side assist, which looks for streetside traffic when opening doors. The top-tier Prestige trim tested here adds the company's new Matrix LED headlights, ventilated front seats, a head-up display with traffic sign recognition, navigation and a premium sound system.

And that top trim makes the cabin look pretty with unfinished wood and chrome trim, as well as the leather seats. Unfortunately, those seats are a little stiff for the smaller driver, though they do feature enough side padding to keep the pilot in place. There's a larger amount of plastic in the cabin than expected for a vehicle at its price point, with the doors covered in a textured version.

2021 Audi Q5 Sportback
The 2021 Audi Q5 Sportback features a more coupe-like roofline than the standard Q5. Audi of America

The infotainment touchscreen is easy to use with big icons for navigation, phone, radio, settings and others, to aim for while driving. Redundant buttons covering the same features on the side of the 10.1-inch display. The volume dial is annoyingly on the passenger side of the gear selector, but the tactility is excellent. The radio can also be adjusted and tuned through buttons and dials on the steering wheel. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard.

The automatic climate control is adjusted by big, easy-to-read dials, and toggles help adjust the fan speed and mode. The point of all this is to be able to make changes without taking your eyes off the road, and Audi succeeded.

The SUV's powertrain is not nearly as successful of an implementation. The 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine does all the work (buyers need to step up to the SQ5 to get the more powerful V6). It delivers 261 horsepower (hp) and 273 pound-feet (lb-ft) of torque, good for a 5.7-second sprint to 60 miles per hour (mph) off the line.

In practice, the combination of the smaller engine, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT) and standard all-wheel drive feels a little sluggish. Dynamic, the most aggressive driving mode, is where this vehicle should stay. The Q5 also has Comfort, Auto, Individual and Off-Road modes (with a high ride height to match).

1 of 10

The transmission is surprisingly smooth for a DCT, which usually hiccup or surge when coming to a stop or taking off. However, the Q5 Sportback just doesn't have the pull that a buyer might want in a luxury vehicle without really holding it in gear. For reference, the SQ5's V6 lays down 349 hp and gets to 60 mph in a brisk 4.7 seconds.

The flip side of that is the fuel efficiency, which is impressive at an EPA-estimated 28 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway and 23 mpg in the city. In a real-world fuel fill up the Audi Q5 returned almost 27 mpg in mixed driving.

As far as coupe-shaped SUVs go, the 2021 Audi Q5 Sportback is better than most, but it does ride extra high thanks to its off-road driving mode and ability. That also slows down its reaction a bit and looks a little strange curbside.

The sleek Q5 Sportback ($48,895) competes with other rounded SUVs like the BMW X4 ($51,800), Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe ($52,500), Genesis GV70 (a steal at $41,500) and Alfa Romeo Stelvio ($45,550). The Cadillac XT5 ($43,995), Acura RDX ($41,00) and a few others will also compete for the same compact luxury buyers, and are also worth a look.

If buyers are looking for a competent and handsome crossover that won't have your neighbors in the driveway excitedly asking questions, the Q5 Sportback is a good place to start. The Alfa Romeo and Genesis deliver more visual drama and may court onlookers. For buyers looking to blend in, the German three are the easiest way to go.