What Is It?
Over time crossovers have become one of the most popular vehicle segments in America, and sales of the Audi Q5 premium compact crossover have analogously risen to make it the German brand’s best-selling model. For the 2021 model year, Audi gives the Q5 exterior a design update as well as a new plug-in hybrid-electric version for the U.S. market. The official model name is the 2021 Audi Q5 55 TFSI e quattro, but we prefer Q5 PHEV (Plug-in Hybrid-Electric Vehicle), or simply Q5 Plug-In to keep things tidy.
To experience the Q5 Plug-In, Audi provided us with a 2021 model finished in Daytona Gray pearl effect paint. The starting price for the Q5 55 TFSI e quattro is $51,900. The test vehicle also had a Premium Plus package, a Navigation package, a Bang & Olufsen sound system with 3D sound, and 20-inch Wheel Package for a total price of $60,740 including a destination charge of $1,095. Competitors to the Q5 Plug-In include the BMW X3 xDrive 30e, Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring, Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e and Volvo X60 PHEV.
The Audi Q5 Plug-In has a high level of standard equipment including the Audi Virtual Cockpit, heated front seats, 8-way power front seats, 3-zone climate control, S-line exterior trim, an Audi MMI touch display with a 10.1-inch screen, and sliding second-row seats with adjustable recline. Our test vehicle’s Premium Plus Package featured the Audi Advance Key, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, active lane assist, a heated steering wheel, a Top View Camera system and a panoramic sunroof.
Under the Hood
The 2021 Audi Q5 Plug-In’s hybrid powertrain combines a 2.0-liter TFSI gas engine with an electric motor positioned between the engine and the 7-speed S-tronic dual-clutch transmission for a total combined system output of 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. With standard quattro all-wheel drive, the Q5 55 TFSI e accelerates from zero to 60 mph in 5.0 seconds — seven-tenths of a second faster than the standard Q5 and a hair behind the high-performance SQ5, which clocks in at 4.7 seconds. With its 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery, the Q5 Plug-In has an electric-only range of 19 miles and receives an EPA combined rating of 50 MPGe for electric / gas mode and 27 MPG combined with the battery depleted.
The Q5 Plug-In automatically starts in all-electric mode when charged, but can also operate in hybrid mode to take advantage of both powertrains, or in a battery hold mode to reserve battery power for later all-electric use. Hybrid mode is activated automatically when the driver uses route guidance in the MMI navigation system to optimize battery power over the route, which helps reduce fuel consumption based on a variety of data points including speed limits, types of roads, and the latest data from onboard sensors.
Audi’s Standard predictive efficiency assistant increases brake-energy recuperation when approaching a slower vehicle or rolling downhill. When the 2021 Audi Q5 55 TFSI e quattro is equipped with available satellite navigation, the system also takes more information into account including upcoming curves and speed limits. Haptic feedback from the accelerator pedal and visual cues in the MMI and head-up display indicate the proper time to let off the accelerator to store as much kinetic brake energy as possible.
Audi redesigned the Q5 for the 2018 model year, adding styling cues from its larger Q7 sibling, including the Singleframe grille flanked by stylish LED headlights. For 2021 the look has been updated to the brand’s new SUV design language with a thinner, wider octagonal Singleframe grille and taller side air intakes that have sporty trapezoidal inserts. The profile reveals a redesigned side sill for a lighter look, and at the rear a new trim element connects the taillights and a new horizontal diffuser insert.
Over time, Audi has established a well-deserved reputation for producing some of the best interior designs in the auto industry. Our test car’s Black leather with Rock Gray stitching, accented by Gray-Brown Birch natural wood inlays, created an inviting setting. The Audi Virtual Cockpit is also one of the best digital displays offered, and in the Q5 Plug-In the display options include all necessary energy-consumption information. The latest Audi MMI is one of the best infotainment systems available, having both an intuitive interface and easily accessible information.
On the Road
The Q5 is already one of the best compact premium crossovers around, and the Q5 Plug-In offers the appeal of all-electric operation. When the battery is charged, the Q5 Plug-In starts in electric mode with the ability to automatically move to hybrid mode if additional power is needed. The driver controls whether the Q5 stays full electric or if the 2.0-liter turbo engine kicks in for additional power. With a little bit of experience, the driver will learn to feel the limit of electric-only power through the accelerator pedal, increasing pedal pressure for additional power from the gasoline engine when needed.
When fully charged, the Q5 Plug-In operates as an electric vehicle, providing nearly 20 miles of quiet and smooth electric range, with the additional advantage of the gasoline engine always being available if additional power or range is required. Unfortunately the Q5 Plug-In’s additional weight cannot be ignored — the crossover weighs 540 pounds more than the standard Q5, and 331 pounds more than the high-performance SQ5 — but it’s a fair trade-off. When fully charged the Q5 Plug-In can function as a fully electric vehicle, with the full power of the hybrid system always on tap.
No Left-Foot Braking
One thing we learned with the 2021 Audi Q5 55 TFSI e quattro is to be careful about left-foot braking. If both the brake pedal and accelerator pedal are pressed simultaneously the accelerator is cut. Although it may be for a fraction of a second, it seems longer in some situations when waiting for the accelerator to become active again. Recommendation: only one foot at a time on the pedals of the Q5 Plug-In.
Already the most popular model in the Audi lineup, the plug-in version of the Q5 adds a new variant with performance on par with the SQ5 — and the best fuel economy in the model lineup. The combination of all-electric efficiency and available hybrid power makes the Q5 Plug-In an attractive choice.