Mountain Wheels: Ultra-sporty Audi SQ5 Sportback provides sedan-styled performance |

Mountain Wheels: Ultra-sporty Audi SQ5 Sportback provides sedan-styled performance

The sleek Audi SQ5 Sportback is pictured on one of those forest-fire sunset evenings earlier this year. With 349 horsepower, it’s a high-performance machine.
Andy Stonehouse/Courtesy photo

Be careful what you hope for, electrified car fans: The next three weeks see me driving the fully electric, all-wheel drive VW id.4 plus a Hyundai Kona EV and even the electric-hybrid Jeep Wrangler 4xe, so you will have your Christmas wish lists all sorted out.

In the meantime, a ritzy mountain favorite that might be a telltale sign of the economic changes taking place in Summit County, where single-family home purchases are now higher than ever. Thus, a fancy 2021 Audi SQ5 Sportback, which might traditionally be more of an Aspen or Vail kind of ride.

Audi itself minimized its national press loaner program, so I’ve only driven a couple of new models in two years. But the speedy and very impressive car serves as kind of a halo model to the technology found in the more popular Q5 and Q3 SUVs, so I think it’s still appropriate.

Priced at $66,640, which was a whole $10,000 worth of upgrades and options from sticker price, it’s a bit of cash but certainly a lot of flash. The Sportback is a new option that, like the A5, A7 and e-Tron models, gains a more coupe-like design than the standard SQ5.

The S part of the vehicle’s name refers to performance and style upgrades that include a 3.0-liter turbo V-6 engine with a mild hybrid energy recuperation system, giving the Mexican-assembled German (with a Hungarian engine) 349 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. Add to that the Quattro all-wheel drive system and it is certainly a mover, able to do zero to 60 in 4.7 seconds and absolutely fly along in pretty much any weather possible, as I am sure you have seen other members of its family do on mountain passes.

What surprised me the most about what might be an unpleasantly rigid ride if it were found in an equally upgraded Mercedes, was the pliability of SQ5’s optional sport adaptive air suspension. On road, it allows the still very SUV-shaped vehicle to corner in a fashion much more like a low-riding sedan, with racy stability as the tradeoff — but none of the teeth-rattling, track-car nonsense of an over-welded AMG Benz.

And it’s still pretty capable off-road, as I found during some time on gravel, as it was riding on 20-inch, grippy but still performance-style Continental Cross Contact all-season tires. I keep forgetting to run the vehicle’s adaptive drive mode selector in actual, dedicated off-road mode; the do-everything Allroad setting provides a mix of stability and speed when you’ve left pavement or when you venture out into the snow.

I have to admit that there was more than a tangible whiff of turbo lag, even in the higher-response performance mode, but once it passes about 30 mph, it feels resoundingly and almost unstoppably fast.

That 3.0-liter power is quite relentless and sounds great when the high revs kick in, and it’s pretty easy as a result to get 15 mpg while giving it all it’s got. Conversely, I also notched up to 44 mpg with more gentle driving, though I would say the 24 mpg highway-driving figure on the EPA sticker might be the right middle ground — with some self-control.

SQ5 is also an attractive vehicle that’s scaled to help avoid Big SUV ugliness; the lines are clean, curved in the back and maybe even a little stubby with the rear hatch open, but all of the details and the S-specific facial features (and even red brake calipers) all give it a lot of presence.

Best of all, height is still geared toward easily sliding into those impressively bolstered and glove-like Nappa leather seats, not clambering aboard. Though the curb-hugging height of the front and rear parking sensors maybe helped to explain why they seemed to always be beeping at me, nonstop. Rear seating is also ample for SQ5’s size.

Mine had a cabin upgraded with real carbon fiber, a Bang and Olufsen 3D sound system and a race-styled wheel, with the performance to back up that gesture.

The updated layout brings a console with two slightly odd open-topped bins and a sliding cup holder/charging bed, plus an ignition button that’s perhaps a little hidden.

I appreciated the ability to minimize the sometimes overwhelming all-digital instrument display; navigation was not activated on the 10.1-inch MMI touchscreen, negating its utility.

Like all the modern German automobiles, the lane-keep program very much does what it wants, not what you would like, so I kept it off for my own travels.

Andy Stonehouse

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