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2021 Audi Q5 PHEV review: Comfortably car-like driving experience

Are you looking for an electrified luxury compact crossover that drives like a car? Take a look at the 2021 Audi Q5 PHEV. Unlike most modern utility vehicles, the Q5 embraces its car-like character. From its looks to the way it drives and the ambience you get sitting in it, the Q5 doesn’t shy away from its on-road roots. The plug-in hybrid flavor promises more power and efficiency but does it come with any compromises?

2021 Audi Q5 PHEV exterior

2021 Audi Q5 PHEV front three quarters 03 1
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The 2021 Audi Q5 PHEV flies under the radar because it doesn’t advertise its electrified nature. Your only hint is the door for the charging port on the driver’s side. Other than that, the Q5 PHEV looks similar to the standard model. It features an evolutionary exterior that’s right in line with Audi’s restrained design language, which has resulted in many timeless vehicles. The curvaceous side profile adds a modern look, especially when combined with the clean lines. In front, you find Audi’s corporate face sporting a trapezoidal grille with softer angles and flanked by large lower air intakes and techy LED headlight clusters. The taillights have the same theme as the headlights and are connected by a single chrome strip.

2021 Audi Q5 PHEV interior

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

You see the clean, uncluttered theme continue inside the Q5’s cabin. The dash is nicely laid out and retains physical buttons and knobs. In typical Audi fashion, fit and finish are impeccable, everything you interact with feels expensive, the controls are satisfying to operate, and high-quality plastics abound. The unpolished wood trim adds a modern flair and complements the metal bits nicely. Generous sound insulation keeps the cabin quiet on the highway; you barely hear any noise coming even with the optional 20-inch alloy wheels.

The Q5 easily accommodates four passengers and their gear. You can fit a third occupant in the rear bench’s center position but that person will have to sit with their legs straddled because of the massive center tunnel. Sizable door pockets accommodate big water bottles while the center console has a sliding tray for your smartphone. Thanks to the battery being placed under the cargo floor, the Q5 PHEV has the same spacious cargo area as the non-electrified model. Standard sliding 40/20/40 split-folding rear seats add flexibility. We’d also suggest getting the available front sport seats because the backrests in the base thrones are a little flat and lacking support for your lower back. The four-way headrest, on the other hand, is a welcome addition.

2021 Audi Q5 PHEV tech features

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Audi’s latest MMI interface is one of the best infotainment systems on the market. The main 10.1-inch touch screen is responsive and has beautiful graphics. Its menu layout is incredibly simple and there aren’t many submenus. Virtual cockpit, Audi’s take on the digital gauge cluster, logically renders information with everything arranged without much clutter. You can also customize it extensively, enabling you to show maps and other information in front of you instead of the main display. The 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D surround sound system is a must-have option because of its crispness and ability to evenly cover the whole cabin without sacrificing clarity.

The Q5’s driver assistance features work well and help minimize stress levels on longer journeys. Lane-keeping assist actively keeps you centered without any abrupt corrections and will even help you take gentle curves on the highway. Adaptive cruise control, which is standard on the Premium Plus and Prestige grades follows traffic seamlessly. Should vehicles ahead slow down, the car will do so without jerking you around thanks to the gradual accelerator and brake applications. Even in gridlock, the crossover crawls smoothly. The distancing component leaves enough space for evasive maneuvers in its closest setting but not enough for someone else to cut you off. If another car manages to do so, the Q5 reacts by easing into the brakes to maintain or increase your distance.

2021 Audi Q5 PHEV driving impressions

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Efficiency isn’t the only reason to get the Q5 with the plug-in hybrid system. The 2.0-liter turbo-four gets paired to an electric motor, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and a 14.1-kWh lithium-ion battery. Combined, the Q5 PHEV makes 362 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful model in the lineup. The electric motor effectively eliminates turbo lag, giving you effortless acceleration and allowing the crossover to feel lighter on its feet than its 4,619-pound curb weight might suggest. The transmission snaps off shifts quickly and responds immediately when you put your foot down. In certain instances, the powertrain could operate with a little more refinement. When accelerating from a stop, the gas engine sometimes comes on abruptly. Even when you switch the transmission to Sport mode or select Dynamic mode via the Drive Select menu, there are times where you feel vibrations as the 2.0-liter four-cylinder comes to life.

Audi’s AWD system remains a mechanical unit even in the Q5 PHEV. That means when you step on the accelerator, you don’t feel the car clawing away for traction. Power gets distributed effectively through all four wheels, giving you better acceleration, stability, and grip. That complements the Q5’s chassis, which offers a nice balance between ride and handling. The Q5 is composed through turns and does a fine job absorbing all kinds of road imperfections from ruts to potholes and expansion joints. Great body control adds to the crossover’s composed, car-like nature, allowing it to exude a confident feel and drive smaller than it is. You also get a tank-like sensation as you go down the road thanks to Q5’s solidity. Accurate steering makes it easy to maneuver the Q5 in tight spaces. The weighting, on the other hand, is a little too light even if in Dynamic mode, giving the crossover a disconnected character.

A smidgen more consistency in brake operation would go a long way in improving the Q5 PHEV’s driving experience. In some instances, the handoffs from regenerative to friction braking can be too sudden, resulting in you getting jerked around and a grabby pedal.  The Q5 increases regenerative braking when you’re approaching a slower or stopped vehicle and when going downhill, allowing you to recuperate more energy for the battery. You need to be delicate on the brake pedal once you feel the vehicle increase the regeneration levels as you’re slowing down or descending from altitude. If you don’t, you’re not going to stop smoothly in a consistent manner, possibly resulting in angry passengers. During most driving situations, the amount of recuperation you get via regeneration isn’t enough to enable one-pedal driving, meaning it’s best used for coasting.

Charging the Q5 PHEV from 0 to 100 percent using a level 2 or 240-volt charger takes just over two hours. A standard wall outlet increases that time to about six hours. Keep EV mode for city driving because using it on the freeway quickly drains the battery. Putting your foot all the way down on the accelerator pedal activates the kick-down switch, which calls for full power. Inputting roughly 25 to 30 percent keeps the car in EV mode; add more and you’ll hear the gas engine roar to life. There’s also a noticeable detent when operating the accelerator pedal that lets you know where to not push any further if you want to keep driving emissions-free.

2021 Audi Q5 PHEV pricing

The 2021 Audi Q5 PHEV starts at $52,995 for the base Premium trim. Our midlevel Premium Plus test car with several options including the Navigation package, 20-inch wheels, and the Bang & Olufsen audio system stickers for $60,740. The Q5 PHEV is eligible for a $6,712 tax credit along with state incentives.

2021 Audi Q5 PHEV final verdict

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Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The 2021 Audi Q5 PHEV may just be the one to get because it gives you all the strengths of the standard model and adds more power and superior efficiency to the mix. Between the car-like driving experience, roomy interior, and user-friendly tech features, this crossover checks a lot of boxes. Electrification just added a lot of goodness to its repertoire and made it a stronger, more compelling entry in the luxury compact SUV class. Add to that an exterior that’s aged nicely and you get a well-rounded, multitalented vehicle that appeals to a broad range of consumers. Yes, the Q5 PHEV has some flaws and it doesn’t travel that far in EV mode but it does so many things well that most consumers will be fine with the trade-offs so they can have their cake and eat it too.

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Audi
  • Model: Q5
  • Trim: Premium Plus
  • Type: 4-door, compact luxury crossover
  • Combined horsepower: 362
  • Torque: 369 lb-ft
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 25/29/27
  • EV range: 19 miles
  • Pros: Car-like ride and handling, quiet interior, intuitive user interface
  • Cons: The engine can sometimes turn on abruptly, brake pedal operation could be smoother, overly light steering
  • Base price: $52,995
  • Price as tested: $60,740
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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