2023 Audi SQ5 Sportback: Love at First Sight?
No. I’ll get that out of the way first. When this 2023 Audi SQ5 Sportback first popped up on my list of review vehicles I legitimately got excited. After a quick trip with Tucker to my parent’s house and back, shortly after receiving the vehicle, I was done. Never have I been ok with the thought of returning a press vehicle the day it arrived, until this one. Fortunately for the Audi and my family, the story doesn’t end there.
We ended up keeping the SQ5 for the full week and even took it on a weekend trip to Dallas to celebrate seven years of marriage, and it was within that extended time with the sporty compact SUV coupe that I began to see some of its merits.
First: the engine. Audi’s turbocharged 3.0L V6 engine makes a fun 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an 8-speed automatic and Audi’s famed quattro all-wheel drive mean it is relatively easy to achieve the claimed 4.7 second 0-60 mph acceleration. And with an Autobahn-friendly 155 mph top speed, this is not your average crossover or SUV. the noises coming from under the hood and the associated rush of acceleration make stabbing the throttle a fun experience for many of the senses. Releasing the accelerator also results in a satisfying woosh from the turbocharger blowoff valve. All this added to me not seeing the EPA-estimated fuel economy numbers, but I had a smile on my face, which makes up for the increased fuel costs.
The adjustable suspension was another fun addition to the SQ5. Much like the Acura MDX Type S we recently tested, this SQ5 could raise and lower for different driving occasions. While we never took this one off the pavement, it certainly could find a ski chalet or solitary cabin in the woods if so desired. Selecting the “Dynamic” drive mode meant a hunkered-down stance with minimal airflow underneath the SUV. Audi even included buttons in the cargo area to adjust the height of the vehicle’s height when loading luggage. Six different drive modes all have their own specific settings for the suspension, engine noises, and throttle mapping. I personally enjoyed Dynamic and left it there for the majority of my time behind the wheel.
The third positive experience was the interior in all its Magma Red Nappa Leather glory. The seats were comfortable and supportive with manual thigh supports on both front seats. The quilting was pleasing to the eye touch as was the embossed “S” badge on the backrest. The Magma Red seats came at a price I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay in the heat of a Texas summer. Audi does offer a warm weather package for about $600 that includes ventilated front seats and manual sunshades over the rear windows, but not when optioned with these beautiful red seats, bummer. The carbon fiber accents let occupants know this is a sporty vehicle if the driver hasn’t already worn out the passengers with all the specs of their new Audi. One thing Audi absolutely nails is in-vehicle ASMR. Everything you touch and interact with makes such a satisfying noise when you adjust it. Whether it’s the tri-zone climate controls, the buttons for the different drive modes, or the ratcheting center armrest, everything in the Audi’s interior makes such a great noise you can just sit inside moving things to pass the time. This is a very well-put-together cad that feels solid and never lets a stray rattle or unwanted noise harsh the vibe in the cabin.
Keeping things chill (or hot) is a feature we have not had in any other vehicle we have tested yet: heated and chilled cupholders. Well, cupholder, singular. The passenger side cupholder would keep beverages either chilled or hot depending on the desires of the person using it, all controlled by a button just above the cupholder.
The cupholders were the first sign all was not perfect. When using the cupholders, the QI wireless charger that could slide forward and back had to stay in its rearmost position as it would cover the cupholders otherwise thus making occupants choose between phone charging, drinks, or center console storage as it would retreat into the center console. This limits storage in the center console and the cupholders as the charging pad has to be somewhere and those are the only two options. It does work exceptionally well charging both Holli’s iPhone 13 and my iPhone 14 Pro Max just fine.
Our phones weren’t as happy working with the Apple CarPlay in this Audi. Past MMI systems have worked well in both wired and wireless CarPlay operations for us, but this one was an anomaly. When it decided it did not want to interface with our phones there was no convincing the Audi otherwise. Plugging our phones into the USB-C port would not even begin CarPlay operation if the Audi had decided against displaying my phone’s contents on the crystal clear 10.1-inch infotainment screen. When it did work, however, things were clear, snappy, and as expected from an Apple CarPlay interface.
The screens continued behind the steering wheel with a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster with Audi’s Virtual Cockpit. The information displayed was easy to read if not necessarily the most intuitive in overall design. If you like using built-in GPS systems, the full cluster could be replaced with a Google Maps-supplied satellite view. I had no real complaints with this Virtual Cockpit, but I generally left it in its dynamic setting with the “Long Term Memory” trip computer readings on the left side. While many different things could be chosen to be displayed in this space, there was hardly a screen I would say stood out as notable in its design or informational usefulness.
Speaking of questionable but not necessarily bad designs, the exterior of our SQ5 test vehicle was interesting. The Q5 SUV comes in either a traditional square back SUV profile or a sportier Sportback coupe-like silhouette. We had the Sportback which looked a bit odd. I compared the overall design to a bloated sedan that looked as though someone had puffed up an S4 from the inside. Honestly, hardly any of these SUV coupes have really made me swoon, the lone exception is the Genesis GV80 Coupe concept I covered at this year’s New York International Auto Show. Outside of that yet-to-be-produced Korean offering, those from German marques like Audi, BMW, and Mercedes have all left me confused as to why you would sacrifice storage space for a shapeless bubble-butt on a vehicle that is supposed to be ready to carry tons of gear.
Storage space in our Sportback was a decent 18 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 52.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded flat. Those numbers aren’t stellar, and the Genesis GV70 SUV has considerably more space while maintaining a more cohesive and sporty exterior profile.
One last thing the Audi did well was lighting. With its Matrix LED headlights, running lights, and sequential turn signals up front, and its OLED taillights with sequential rear turn signals, this Audi has a signature look when driving around town.
Driving the SQ5 was an initial disappointment for a few reasons, the first of which was its confusing engine start/stop feature that attempted to kill the engine in traffic before the vehicle had come to a complete stop. This left the vehicle lurching to a stop as if I were still learning how to drive. When this happened, I found myself not standing firmly on the brake pedal, which caused the engine to almost immediately whir back to life as quickly as it had shuddered to a stop, completely defeating the start/stop feature’s purpose. In order to enjoy driving this vehicle in traffic, it is almost a necessity to defeat this supposed fuel-saving feature as it was hard to ignore as I try to do in most press vehicles. Easy fix though, just press the defeat button and it’s all better.
Another shortcoming of the SQ5 in traffic was the 8-speed automatic gearbox. It almost felt reluctant to oblige my frequent stabs of the throttle, lagging behind my desire to move forward at a rapid rate of speed. Sure, I could use the plastic paddles on the back of the steering wheel, but I shouldn’t HAVE to. Putting the gearbox in “S” (versus “D”) but letting the vehicle decide the gears was the best solution, rendering quick and snappy shifts when I wanted them. Yet another grievance fixed with a simple adjustment as the driver, but I ask… why should this be necessary? Shouldn’t it just be good out of the box? Only to be made better with certain settings?
The large disc brakes also showed that they were more suited for exploring curvy backroads vs. traversing city traffic. They almost bit too good, rendering quick stops though when paired with the overeager engine start/stop feature rough and unpleasant.
It wasn’t all bad. Once I got the SQ5 to its happy place with open twisting stretches of asphalt, the Audi came alive. This was a fun vehicle to take on my favorite driving roads through the piney woods, but at $76,515 it’s hard to ignore my list of grievances. At that price, you could find a better proper SUV for exploring off-road or a more sporty sedan, coupe, or cabriolet versus trying to get this conglomeration of all those ingredients. This felt like it was trying to be a Swiss Army knife of vehicles: sporty, sleek, off-road capable while taking a family of up to 5 around on Nappa leather comfort.
If I were to spend $76,000 on an SUV that is meant to be fun to drive on curvy roads while still looking good and being able to haul cargo I’d be looking at the competition from
Korea…in fact, I have. A review of my pick at this price coming soon.
2023 Audi SQ5 Sportback Prestige Specs:
3.0L TFSI® V6 Engine
369 lb-ft of Torque
Eight-speed Tiptronic® Automatic Transmission
quattro® All-Wheel Drive
4.7 second 0-60 mph Acceleration
155 mph Top Speed
Five-link Front and Rear Suspension with S-specific Adaptive Damping
6 Piston 13.8-inch Front and Single Piston Rear Calipers
Fake Quad Exhaust Outlets
Six Driver-selectable Drive Modes
Seating for 5
Heated Front Seats
Rear Bench Seat with Fold Down Center Backrest
Magma Red Nappa Leather
Heated Steering Wheel
Carbon Fiber Accents
12.3-inch Digital Gauge Cluster with Audi Virtual Cockpit
10.1-inch Audi MMI Infotainment Screen with Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
19-speaker, 755-watt Band & Olufsen® Sound System with 3D Sound
Tri-zone Automatic Climate Control
Matrix-designed LED Headlights
Heated and Cooled Cup Holder
21-inch 5 Twin-spoke Turbine Wheels in Titanium Finish
255/40 R21 Pirelli P Zero Summer Tires
Power Liftgate with Vehicle Height Controls in Rear Cargo Area
Proximity Key with Push Button Start
Up to 18 Cubic Feet of Storage Behind the Rear Seats
Up to 52.3 Cubic Feet of Total Storage with All Seats Folded
EPA Fuel Economy 19/24/21 (city/hwy/cmb)
Starting Price: $59,900
Price As Tested: $76,515