Segment darling. If you've been paying attention even a little bit, you already know that luxury compact crossovers are the latest fashion in car trends. In this privileged corner of the marketplace, the competition is stiff and the money to be made is significant. To win here, automakers need to be on their A game without exception.
Audi understands this, perhaps better than most of the players in this segment. That, at least, might be the best explanation as to why the 2021 Audi Q5 is such a darling of the market.
The Q5 is in part so well received because it's so well rounded. There's three engines to pick from, luxury accoutrements aplenty, and a driving experience that is classically Germanic in its comfort and solidity. It's no wonder the Q5 is Audi's best seller.
The 2021 model gets mildly updated styling, more horsepower for the base engine, and a new touchscreen interface. The styling tweaks might not be immediately apparent to anyone outside the Audi design team, but these updates nonetheless make the Q5 an even stronger player in this red-hot segment.
Potent base engine. Three different engines are on the menu for the Audi Q5. The most potent of these is the turbocharged six-cylinder in the muscled-up Audi SQ5; it's removed enough from the rest of the lineup that it's covered separately.
Of the two remaining engines, most buyers will gravitate toward the base 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. This turbo-four puts out a decent 262 horsepower, up from 248 hp last year. That's plenty of power for a base engine, but it isn't enough to be best-in-class; that title goes to the Acura RDX and its 272 hp. The Q5 still has more power its archrivals the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, however.
It goes from 0-60 mph in a quick 5.7 seconds, which is faster than the aforementioned Acura, the X3, and the Volvo XC60. It's nearly two seconds quicker than the Lincoln Corsair and Cadillac XT4 as well.
More impressive than straight-line speed is the smoothness and composure that this base engine emanates. There's nothing base about it, other than its position as the standard-issue powertrain. It mates up to all-wheel drive and a smart-shifting seven-speed automatic transmission. It's quick and confident in nearly all circumstances and always unperturbed.
Q5, hybridized. The other and more interesting option is the plug-in hybrid variant Audi began offering last year. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, remain an anomaly in this segment; outside of the Q5, only the Mercedes GLC offers such an option. The only other choice for eco-minded buyers are the all-electric Jaguar I-PACE, Tesla Model Y, and the fully-electric options from Audi and Mercedes.
The uniqueness of the PHEV Q5 should serve it well as more buyers warm to the idea of a hybrid vehicle. There's nothing odd, outlandish, or disconcerting about the fancy powertrain; all the goodness of the regular Q5 is still here in spades, like the quiet ride and confident handling.
The only complaint we have is regarding the general gusto of the gas-electric combination. The setup, a 2.0-liter turbo-four paired to a 14-kWh battery and a single electric motor, produces a full 349 combined hp.
It should deliver 60 mph in five seconds flat, but the weight of the electric hardware was apparent from behind the wheel. It was still fast and quick, just not so much as the numbers had us hyped for. This is no Tesla, in case anyone was thinking otherwise.
That probably doesn't matter too much – if you need speed, the SQ5 will more than satisfy. The bigger deal here for shoppers is range and efficiency.
Audi quotes 20 miles of total all-electric range and a two-hour charging time to recover a fully depleted battery. The EPA rates the PHEV Q5 for 27 miles per gallon combined when operating as a traditional hybrid, which betters the combined rating of the base engine by 3 mpg.
Whether the premium paid for the PHEV Q5 is worth the extra 3 mpg is another matter entirely. Pricing begins at just under $54,000 after destination, which is a full $11,000 more than than a base Q5.
Helping justify that upcharge are additional features like a full digital cluster, navigation, and 19-inch wheels. Still, the price might nonetheless give potential buyers reason to pause.
Tech prowess. A sleek, high-tech cabin has always been a centerpiece of an Audi vehicle, be it one from 20 years ago or one built yesterday. The Q5 is no exception to this. Technology doesn't just refine the experience, it defines it.
The heart of the matter is the infotainment system. This year sees an updated setup, with a new 10.1-inch touchscreen – that's up over 3 inches compared to last year's model.
Ensconced in that big screen is Audi's excellent MMI system. The software has been updated this year as well, and the result is faster processing speeds and improved graphics. There's also a voice recognition feature that manages to do a decent job.
Move up from the base Premium to the mid-level Premium Plus and there's also a standard 12.3-inch fully digital gauge cluster to augment the big touchscreen. It's an eye-pleaser with its customizable menus and attractive, high-definition displays. For models equipped with navigation, routes and maps can also be displayed here aside the usual readouts.
The higher trims also come standard with adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist, along with all the other active safety tech that's standard fare on all Q5 models. Between that and the digital cluster, we'd spend the extra coin for a Premium Plus.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Audi Q5 is a tough crossover to beat. It does everything right: ample power, decent gas mileage, and a nicely finished cabin earn the Q5 high marks in the most critical categories. The intuitive technology and its two optional powertrains lend further credence to its overall excellence.
If there's anything holding the Q5 back, it's the Audi styling. Classy as it is, there's more emotional, engaging designs from the competition. For proof, just take a look at the Lincoln Corsair or Volvo XC60.
But styling is a subjective matter. Objectively speaking, there's little to deride here. The Q5 does it all and does it well. Those in the market for a compact luxury crossover shouldn't dismiss this Audi without first giving it a fair shake.
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