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New car review

Audi Q5 Sportback review

Does squashing the roofline on Audi's excellent Q5 and charging more money make it a better car?

Summary

Compared to other 'coupé SUVs', the Audi Q5 Sportback is easy enough to recommend. But the regular Q5 is both cheaper and objectively better.

Review overview

Design
7
Comfort
8
Driving experience
7
Value for money
7
Safety
9

Summary

Compared to other 'coupé SUVs', the Audi Q5 Sportback is easy enough to recommend. But the regular Q5 is both cheaper and objectively better.

As the unstoppable SUV juggernaut continues on its path, demolishing every kind of regular car in its path, car companies are slicing the market for SUV-style vehicles into ever finer slices. So as well as every size from XS to XXL, it seems that “coupé SUVs” are now a thing.

Audi is already an expert at niche marketing, so it’s only natural that it has an offering here. If you’d like a medium-ish vehicle, Audi can already offer you an A4 saloon or Avant (estate), A5 coupé or cabriolet, A5 Sportback (five-door liftback) and the Q5 SUV. So if the Q5 is basically a butched-up A4 Avant on stilts, the Q5 Sportback is the equivalent of a high-riding A5 Sportback.

Like most modern SUVs, the Q5 Sportback is very much an on-road vehicle designed to look like it wants to go off-road. It also has four doors plus a rear tailgate, so this coupé SUV is neither a coupé nor an SUV. But is it actually any good, and why would you buy one over a regular Audi Q5 (or A5 Sportback, for that matter)?

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What’s new about the Audi Q5 Sportback?

In short, the back half.

From the front doors forward, the Q5 Sportback is almost identical to the regular Q5, both inside and out. From the rear doors backward, however, the roofline has been flattened down to create a liftback-style tailgate. That liftback shape reduces rear headroom as well as boot space above the window line, but other dimensions are pretty much unchanged.

These are fine margins in design. The original Q5 is hardly a squared-off brick-shaped thing in the first place, so the difference between traditional SUV and Sportback is not really that great.

Audi expects the Sportback to make up about a quarter of all Q5 sales, so it’s certainly a niche offering. And with many, many configuration options to choose from, good luck finding one in stock that precisely matches what you want…

How does it look?

Predictably, and apologies for repeating myself, the front half looks pretty much like any other Q5. There are some minor differences in the grille patterning and other plastic trim pieces, but you’d really need to look at a Q5 and Q5 Sportback side by side to tell.

At the back, the liftback styling looks slightly awkward compared to the more conventional proportions of a regular SUV. To be fair, you could say much the same about any ‘coupé SUV’. It certainly looks much better resolved than the BMW X4, but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear…

What’s the spec like?

The Q5 Sportback will be available with a choice of one petrol engine, one diesel engine and a pair of plug-in hybrids. There will be the usual bewildering array of six trim levels, although not every trim is available with every engine option. Finally, there’s a range-topping SQ5 diesel (also available in two trim levels) that is rather different in overall specification so we’re not going to talk about it here.

Like most Audis, the standard wheels do tend to look a bit small. The entry-level spec (Sport) comes with 18-inch alloys and the S line has 19-inch alloys. Our test model was an S line with optional 20-inch wheels, and they look much better. The bigger wheels do make the ride firmer, but Audi knows full well that most of its customers will accept that compromise and happily pay for the upgraded alloys.

In terms of safety, the Q5 Sportback continues Audi’s form in providing good levels of accident avoidance technology and also protecting you in the event that a crash does occur.

Independent safety authority Euro NCAP has recently confirmed that the Q5 Sportback inherits the Q5’s five-star safety rating from when it was tested back in 2017. This may seem obvious, but car manufacturers are required to show proof that any body style variants will perform similarly to the originally tested version, which Audi has now done.

What’s the Audi Q5 Sportback like inside?

Up front, it’s all very familiar – not just from the Q5, but also the A4 and A5 models. The basic dashboard layout has been around since the current A4 was launched back in 2015 and although it works perfectly well, it’s now looking a bit last-generation.

The chief culprit here is the central ten-inch infotainment screen, which looks like a cheap Android tablet glued onto the top of the dashboard. Given that everything else in the cabin lives up to Audi’s reputation for high-quality interiors, the touchscreen is disappointing. It works OK, although it’s a bit sluggish and the graphics look quite dated compared to some of the latest systems from rival brands.

As part of Audi’s latest round of updates to the A4/A5/Q5 family, the traditional (and excellent) Audi control dial has been discarded in favour of a touchscreen. This is presumably great when sitting in an Audi showroom, but it’s rubbish when you’re bouncing along bumpy British roads and just want to change the radio station. Yes, there are steering wheel controls that you can use and yes, every other manufacturer is doing the same thing, but it’s still a backwards step in terms of user experience and safety. At least the air-conditioning controls still use physical buttons.

On the other hand, Audi’s digital driver display remains the best in the business. The shift from analogue dials to digital screens has been hit-and-miss across the car industry with some manufactures over-styling their graphics at the expense of clarity, but Audi’s display is exemplary in both its presentation and ease of use.

Unsurprisingly, it’s in the back seats and boot where things have changed as a result of the sloping roofline. Rear headroom is tight – I’m 180cm tall (5’11” in old money) and I think I’d be bumping my head on the roof over speed bumps.

Similarly, you lose the ability to load much stuff above the window line in the boot of the Q5 Sportback. Below the window line, it’s all much the same as the regular Q5. Audi claims you lose ten litres of boot space (510 vs 520 litres), and optimistically describes this as “enough for 12 carry-on suitcases”. Quite why you’d want 12 carry-on suitcases for a maximum of five passengers isn’t explained, however. The seats fold 40/20/40 so you can still get some oversize baggage in the boot if you don’t have a full complement of passengers.

What’s under the bonnet?

With the latest Q5 and Q5 Sportback range, you get a choice of a 265hp petrol engine, a 204hp diesel engine or a 300hp plug-in hybrid combination of a petrol engine with an electric motor. However, if you want the very top-spec Competition Vorsprung model, that comes with a 367hp plug-in hybrid unit instead. Both the petrol and diesel engines come with mild hybrid assistance to improve fuel economy.

As with all new Audi engines, the power units are branded with the most confusing naming system ever devised so we’ll just ignore it.

Regardless of fuel type, all Q5s come with a seven-speed automatic gearbox and Audi’s latest variable all-wheel drive system to ensure each wheel gets the right level of traction for the conditions.

Worth noting is that the CO2 emissions on the petrol unit are quite high, at 202g/km (192g/km if you don’t have the big wheels). This means that first-year road tax on our test car worked out to an eye-watering £1,345. It then drops to £490/year for the next four years, based on current tax rates.

Directly connected to high emissions is unimpressive fuel economy, so Audi expects the 2.0-litre diesel engine to be more popular – despite the overall new car market abandoning diesel in droves. We’d still caution against buying any diesel car unless you do a lot of long-distance driving.

What’s the Audi Q5 Sportback like to drive?

We drove the petrol-engined Q5 Sportback in S line trim with the optional 20-inch wheels. If you’ve read any reviews of pretty much any Audi model from over the last decade, then none of what comes below is going to come as a surprise.

Firstly, the 20-inch wheels make the ride quite bouncy. It’s not a dealbreaker, but the Sport model on standard 18-inch wheels would be much better. Audi knows that you’ll all ignore this and buy the S line model with big wheels anyway, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Performance from the 2.0-litre petrol engine is decent enough without blowing your socks off. It can be a bit laggy under acceleration and doesn’t feel as responsive as you might expect for a 265hp power output – other mid-size SUVs with similar spec feel more rapid in real-world driving – but overall performance is good enough for most needs.

The seven-speed transmission is a dual-clutch gearbox, which Audi has been using for more than a decade now with continual improvements. It’s very smooth and, importantly, it can switch between first and reverse quite quickly when you’re exiting a parking space or attempting a three-point turn. This was a bugbear of double-clutch gearboxes in the past where you’d be waiting ages for the gearbox to sort itself out while you blocked traffic in every direction…

Touring is quiet and refined, apart from the constant jiggling of the sports suspension and big wheels on every bump or ripple in the road. Like most cars, the power steering is electric and feels quite detached from the front wheels. You turn the wheel and the car goes where it’s told, but you don’t really feel anything. The turning circle for quick U-turns is surprisingly good, as I tested at least four times by repeatedly missing the designated turn-offs on the drive route.

Verdict

A verdict in two parts, then. On its own, the Audi Q5 Sportback is a good car that offers a good blend of performance, comfort and safety. Build quality seems to be excellent, although Audi’s reliability record has been a bit iffy over recent years according to various ownership surveys. Compared to a BMW X4, Mercedes GLC Coupé, or other sporty SUVs like the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, it’s easy enough to recommend.

But the question becomes trickier when you ask the obvious question: Why would you choose a Q5 Sportback over a regular Q5? You’re paying an extra £2.5K or so for the privilege of less read headroom, less boot space and slightly questionable rear window styling. If you like the way it looks then fill your boots, but the regular Q5 SUV is both cheaper and an objectively better car.

Similar cars

Alfa Romeo Stelvio | Audi Q5 SUV | BMW X4 | Jaguar F-PaceMercedes-Benz GLC Coupé | Porsche Macan | Range Rover Velar | Volvo XC60

Key specifications

Model tested: Audi Q5 Sportback 45 TFSI quattro S line
Price (as tested): £55,235
Engine: 2.0-litre petrol
Gearbox: Seven-speed automatic

Power: 265 hp
Torque: 370 Nm
Top speed: 149 mph
0-60 mph: 6.1 seconds

Fuel economy (combined): 33.6 mpg
CO2 emissions: 202 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (2017)
TCE Expert Rating: 80% (Overall Q5 range, as of June 2021)

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Stuart Massonhttps://www.thecarexpert.co.uk/
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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