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Audi’s small luxury Q5 SUV is neither plush nor sporty

Audi gives a slightly new look and some interior refinements to the 2021 version of its Q5. It’s attractive in and out, but drivers looking for sporty handling or plush seats may be disappointed.

The 2021 Audi Q5 gets some exterior refinements for the model year, along with a bit more horsepower.
The 2021 Audi Q5 gets some exterior refinements for the model year, along with a bit more horsepower.Read moreAudi

2021 Audi Q5 45 TFSI Quattro: So much fun, you won’t care about comfort?

Price: $53,040. Premium Plus Package adds panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise, and more for $4,800; Navigation Package adds $1,500; 20-inch wheels, $800; more below.

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “slick looks, stylish interior, plenty of technology features,” but not that it’s “not as capacious as some rivals, short on driving character, stingy complimentary maintenance plan.”

Marketer’s pitch: “A best seller.”

Reality: Painful and not that fun.

What’s new: The Q5 got some exterior refinements for 2021, plus added rear-headroom-chopping Sportback versions, plus a 13-horse boost and a mild hybrid system.

Up to speed: The 2.0 TFSI four-cylinder creates 261 horsepower. It takes the Q5 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, according to Audi, but I didn’t feel overwhelmed by great speed. (A Q5 55 model adds 101 horsepower through a hybrid power train and shaves 0.7 seconds off that time.)

Shifty: The T-Bar shifter in silver and black makes a handsome, grippable companion. Knock it hard to the front (past Neutral) for Reverse or pull it back to toggle between Drive and Sport. The Q5 works through the seven gears nicely, and of course, shiftability is available.

On the road: You’d think Sport would be enough sportiness in an Audi, but you would be wrong. The driving dynamics also adjust through buttons near the heater controls underneath the stereo.

Dynamic mode seemed to offer the best handling by far, and it made curving country lanes a real treat.

But the handling of the Q5 Quattro could not hold a candle to the A6 Allroad Quattro I’d tested earlier; that station wagon is an absolute delight to drive. (Although for another 25 grand, I guess it should be.)

» READ MORE: Ode to an Audi: 2021 A6 Allroad Quattro is a wagonload of joy

Driver’s Seat: Another delight of the A6 Allroad was the seat, which was a comfy, supportive, and an all-around good companion.

The Q5 seat, on the other cheek, was a much harsher place. Firm, uncompliant, it didn’t exactly hurt my back, but it certainly didn’t help. I showed up for one trip with some back pain and just kind of groaned when I sat down. It’s not the end of the world, but life could be so much nicer.

A longer trip into Philadelphia confirmed the squirm: I ended the trip feeling a lot worse than when I started. Heck, I sat in Audis for a couple seconds at the 2020 Philadelphia Auto show, the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and I exchanged glances, and both said “Nope.”

The birch inlays add a nice touch to the dashboard, and the gauges are beautiful, digital versions of analog dials.

Friends and stuff: Rear seat passengers will have a nice experience, as long as they get the corners. The seat offers more cradling and perhaps even more comfort than the front. Headroom, legroom, and foot room are all quite nice.

The middle passenger, though, will suffer dearly, with a tall hump, a perchy seat, and an intrusive front console.

Cargo space is 25.85 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 54.06 with the seat folded.

Play some tunes: Well, if the seats won’t bring you joy, at least the auditory sensations should provide some distraction. The Bang & Olufsen sound system with 3D sound ($950) seems like a gimmicky name, but the tunes took on a resonance I haven’t heard since … the last time I drove an Audi.

Controls in the Q5 were more standard issue than the A6 Allroad. This time around a simple touchscreen handled almost all of the moves, although a console dial controls volume.

Keeping warm and cool: Dials control the temperature, and buttons control all the other HVAC functions. It all works fairly seamlessly.

Night shift: Headlights are bright and clear, but other drivers will sometimes flash their lights at you. It didn’t seem as epidemic as in the Chevy Tahoe, though. Interior lights are beautiful, and accent lights add a nice touch.

For whom the toll sells: Nationwide toll collection technology is among the stranger features I’ve noticed on window stickers recently. Audi reports the toll transponder built into the vehicle’s rearview mirror allows drivers to access toll road services in the United States and parts of Canada.

Fuel economy: The vehicle averaged about 24 mpg over the previous 700 miles, according to the long-term memory data. It dropped to 23 for Mr. Driver’s Seat. Audi recommends premium fuel.

Where it’s built: San José Chiapa, Mexico

How it’s built: The Q5 gets a predicted Consumer Reports reliability rating of 3 out of 5.

In the end: Looking back at past tests, I’d say the Volvo XC60 and Acura RDX are worth a closer inspection, and even the BMW X3.