7
It has the material lustre, refinement and performance you’d expect, and most of the practicality, but the by-the-numbers design leaves something to be desired

What is it?

Imagine how different a company Audi must feel today than it did 10 years ago. Once the envy of the industry, the firm’s formerly phenomenal growth curve now looks to have permanently levelled off. Its closest competitors have overtaken it. The ex-boss and a couple of his lieutenants have ended up in court. Perhaps even more worryingly still if you’re an Audi employee, though, must be the prospect of the product strategy that has fuelled the company’s rise now suddenly seeming to have run out of road.

It was with those odd-numbered, designer Sportback saloons that the firm really started putting on the sales volume back in the noughties. Back then, too, came the Q-prefixed SUVs, whose appearance on the roads none of us can have failed to notice, and none of which seemed to miss its target market.

With another brand-new, big-selling, mid-sized model along every year, how easy it must have been for besuited salesmen in shiny showrooms, over a couple of phone calls and meetings, to manoeuvre a regular client from A4 to A5, from A5 Sportback to A4 Avant, and then into a Q5; each time squeezing just a little more monthly bunce out of a customer who likes the brand, always wants the latest thing, and has the disposable income to change their car like some of us buy shoes. That, folks, is how you grow a premium car brand in the modern world: with fresh product along every five minutes.

And now? Well, that product expansion plan has played itself out to the point that new arrivals are Sportback versions of Q-car SUVs (and that gigantic product strategy Venn diagram on the office wall in Ingolstadt can’t have much vacant space left on it). Eighteen months ago, along came the first – the Q3 Sportback – and now we’ve got a bigger Q5 take on the concept.

What's it like?

This is a sleeker, better-looking Q5; well, that’s the idea. Competition for the likes of the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupé. Model for model, a Sportback will cost you about £2500 more than a Q5 SUV, and although it offers marginally less cargo and passenger space than the regular Q5, it’s hoped that most customers won’t notice what they’re giving up. It’s hoped they will notice the styling, which gives the Q5 Sportback the usual plunging roofline, slightly bigger grille, bolder ‘implied air intakes’ (eurgh), and better-defined surfacing features than the regular SUV.

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From June this year, when UK deliveries start, you’ll be able to get one with a choice of bottom-end, mild-hybrid four-cylinder petrol or diesel engines; in V6 TDI-powered SQ5 performance guise; or with either of a pair of petrol-electric TFSI e plug-in hybrid powertrains. All versions bar one get a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox as standard (the SQ5 is an eight-speed torque-converter auto). All versions have quattro four-wheel drive, with the more economy-minded ones swapping Audi’s Torsen centre diff for an intelligent electronic clutch-based coupling. Lower-end trims have fixed-height coil suspension, and pricier upper-end ones get adaptive air springs.

Mechanically, that’s all the same choice as you’ll find in a regular Q5, though; so convincing yourself to trade in your existing SUV and sign up for a Sportback as soon as possible might not be that easy if you're a strictly rational thinker. I’d need some convincing. Then again, I’m not a particular fan of Audi’s current approach to design - and if you are, and you like what you see here, who could argue?

This is clearly not a bad-looking car, but it is trying quite hard (and ultimately in vain) not to look like a very predictable mid-sized German SUV. There’s a lot of chrome on those bumpers, isn’t there? It looks to me suspiciously like a Q5 that’s ‘living its best life’ after having had ‘a bit too much work done’. And that may very well make it absolutely perfect for the intended audience, but in terms of pure design appeal, at least to these eyes, it’s some way from being in the league of a Range Rover Velar or Porsche Macan.

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Inside the car is a cabin that seems of a slightly bygone era compared with Audi’s latest new-model arrivals, both large and small. The fascia’s not quite so rakishly angular in its styling as was that of last year’s A3, nor has it been nearly as widely decluttered as the bigger Audis now have. There are still plenty of rows of physical buttons and knobs for adjusting things here: what joy.

Second-row passenger space is just a little bit meaner than you might expect from a high-sided car but will still be big enough for most full-sized adults. The boot lacks the dishwasher-swallowing loading height of a proper SUV, although it's pretty generous in other respects. Unless you’re in the dishwasher trade, then, the compromise to practicality does indeed seem pretty negligible.

One thing that you won’t find in the Q5 Sportback is any kind of separate input device for the infotainment system. The regular Q5 lost its touchpad as part of its recent facelift, and so the free-standing 10.1in tablet-like infotainment system is touchscreen only. It’s actually pretty easy to navigate thanks to a useful system of menu shortcuts.

Our test car struck a high standard for both fit and finish and material richness, with a mix of black and brown leather and wood veneer trim that made for a welcome change from the typical black-or-grey-with-aluminium-or-carbon garnish that you typically find in a modern Audi. Since the Audi UK model configurator makes no mention of the combination, though, we fear it may have been a quirk of left-hand-drive German specification, which seems a shame.

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To drive, the Q5 Sportback is every bit as plush- and luxurious-feeling as the cabin. We tested a 2.0-litre 261bhp 45 TFSI petrol, and it had plenty of accessible torque and outright potency; good drivability and crisp responsiveness, with a readiness to rev when you need it to; and first-class mechanical refinement at a cruise (although wind noise isolation narrowly misses the same high standard).

Real-world economy was the snag. You’ll be doing well to see better than 30mpg in varied daily use. But the car is certainly slick and dynamically adaptable on the move, with some power in reserve. The seven-speed S tronic gearbox works away very unobtrusively, and when you select a lower gear for yourself and let the powertrain work hard, the Q5 responds as urgently as most would surely want from a mid-sized luxury SUV.

Even so, it isn’t engaging to drive; nor is it really trying to be. Our test car had Audi’s air suspension, which worked very well to isolate the chassis from intruding lumps and bumps, and kept it level and under control at pace. But steering is only medium-paced, pretty light and filtered-feeling. Chassis response, handling balance and body control are of the sort that make for cast-iron stability and composure at speed, but not for a sense of agility or particular cornering poise.

Should I buy one?

This latest shiny new SUV 'thing' is a quiet, smooth, swift, precise, assured, luxurious modern Audi right down to the bottom of its (optional) 20in alloy wheels.

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Let's be honest, though: it’s filler. A bauble to dangle in front of someone before the music of their monthly PCP deal stops and they chip off to dispose of their 'disposible' elsewhere. It's not the only new car you could describe in those terms, granted, but I can't think of another that I've driven in a long time that has felt quite so much like it. 

The Q5 Sportback exists because people buy cars on fairly short, fixed-term finance agreements. Sure, it's a nice car, but underneath it all, it's hardly different from a regular Q5. When it’s no longer the shiny new showroom arrival, I wonder how much will really be left to recommend it.

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bol 7 April 2021

While I enjoy the debate about batteries and seeing all the old tropes dragged out again by people who can't be bothered to look at the facts...

Thats another horrid looking Audi.

I wonder how long it is going to take them to equate the chintz and the bling with the loss of market share? It's 20 years since I owned an Audi. Hopefully in another 20 they'll have gone full circle and will be making stylish, cutting edge cars that I wouldn't feel embarrassed to own. 

scotty5 7 April 2021

I see the word 'premium' being used again. I've owned a few Audi's in years past and there was a definite hike in quality form VW let alone other brands. When changing my car last year I went to look at a Q5, the Sportback was the only model on display. Having just been to look at a Skoda Kodiaq, I sat in the Q5 S-line and thought where has the extra £15k been spent? The car had a few options on it, but it didn't have self parking nor did it have a heated steering wheel nor did it have a heated screen and that's because they weren't available even as an option. Premium?

And then when I looked at the boot, no hidden underneath storage, and rather than a retractable luggage cover, came with this stupid split hard cover that if you needed to remove, had nowhere to be stored. It really lacked any design imagination.

Out of all the cars on my shortlist, this was the easiest to dismiss. The Audi's I owned during the late 90's felt a little special whereas today, well it just comes over to me as paying for a badge. Even if it were the same price as a Kodiaq, I'd have still chosen the latter.   

Roadster 7 April 2021

A thinly veiled swipe towards the myriad of if Audi models now available and their subsequent pursuit of chasing profits and resultant devaluing of the brand, and Matt is bang on.

 

Audi, along with BMW and Mercedes, probably have entrants in more classes of car than any other marque and in doing so they have long left behind the core qualities that made their cars actually desirable and worth the extra money above non-premium brands. Audi, BMW and Mercedes have become so common and so attainable that they’ve lost their exclusivity and desirability while what made them all premium brands and justifiable of their prices has since disappeared, even to the point where they don’t have any edge over non-premium brands to justify their still premium prices. And most of it is a result of each company looking at and copying each other and consequently losing sight of what once made these brands desirable and a status symbol.

 

Less than 20 years ago Audi had just 5 models in their line-up; A3, A4, A6, A8 and TT and all available with only a limited number of trim options too. And BMW and Mercedes weren’t that far off with much smaller ranges compared to the myriad of cars they offer today. The true mainstream premium brands of today are the ones who aren’t chasing huge volumes and not wanting to occupy every single class of car, such as Alfa, Jaguar, Lexus and Volvo.

Cobnapint 7 April 2021
These true mainstream premium brands (Alfa - premium?) of which you speak, aren't selling in the volumes that the big 3 German vt'rands do though are they?
If they all had a tiny range like they did years ago, you lot'd be moaning like fk about the limited choice and them being one trick ponies etc etc.
shiftright 7 April 2021

Agreed. The German Big Three have become as common place as Escorts in the 80s, and many of their models are simply not that good or worthy of the badge. They count on massive brand exposure and their brilliant Spin Machines to move product, and they do, but it seems a bit Emperor's New Clothes on closer inspection. How special can a premium brand be when everyone and their sister has one? I'd take an Alfa, Jaguar or Volvo over any of the default German automotive uniforms.Also, Audis have become fussy, inelegant and in some instance, downright ugly. I recall the era form the late 80's to the mid 00's when they were confident, tailored designs. Hopefult the new Etron GT is the beginning of return to form.

giulivo 7 April 2021
aren’t chasing huge volumes and not wanting to occupy every single class of car, such as Alfa, Jaguar, Lexus and Volvo.

I think they would be chasing huge volumes if they could; I don't think tiny volumes are intentional.

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