2021 Audi Q5 Plug-In Hybrid First Test Review: An Automotive Sybil

I’ve never named the cars I own, but the 2021 Audi Q5 plug-in hybrid I just spent a week in suggested a name for itself: Sybil. It’s the name of a 1976 film based on the 1973 bestseller that sensationalized the life of a woman named Shirley Mason, who claimed to be possessed by 16 personalities. During my time with the Q5 plug-in, it demonstrated a case of multiple personality disorder (now known as dissociative identity disorder) just as compelling as Shirley’s wildly popular story (strangely, much of her tale turned out to have been fabricated).

The Walter Mitty Luxe CUV

Almost from the moment the 2021 Audi Q5 plug-in hybrid arrived, I left for a week at my lake cabin. There’s no plug near where we park, so to ensure that the Q5’s topped-off battery pack retained sufficient energy to achieve optimum  performance when I tested it at our northern test track in Michigan’s thumb, I dutifully clicked through the few screens necessary to put the car in Battery Save mode. In this mode, the Q5 behaves like a mild hybrid, using only whatever battery energy it stores up when decelerating.

It will still motor out of the driveway in electric mode, but as soon as you accelerate to driving speeds, the Audi plug-in behaves like a 4,760-pound SUV being powered by a 248-hp, 273-lb-ft 2.0-liter turbo-four. With each horse tugging 19.2 pounds, she’s no firecracker. Tested in Battery Save, Sybil wafted up to 60 mph in a leisurely 8.5 seconds on the way to a 16.7-second quarter-mile pass at 81.7 mph. That almost precisely matches the performance of a less posh plug-in hybrid that lacks the Q5’s sporting pretensions: the 2.4-liter, non-turbo 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander. It’s an unflattering comparison.

The Poky E-SUV

Of course, the way society wants us to drive plug-in hybrids is in battery electric mode. Unless 70 percent or more of your driving is in this mode, you’ll never achieve the Q5’s flattering 43/64/50-mpg-e city/highway/combined EPA ratings. There’s a button on the center console that engages EV mode with a single touch, whereupon Sybil channels her even mousier 141-hp/258-lb-ft silent mime persona. With each overwhelmed horse now lugging 33.8 pounds, the Audi Q5 plug-in hybrid loafed to 60 in 16.4 seconds and shambled across the quarter-mile line in 20.9 seconds at 66.8 mph. That’s presuming you haven’t lost your patience and pressed through the kick-down switch at the end of the accelerator pedal’s travel to light the engine. We had to dig all the way back to the 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser powered by a wheezy 212-hp inline-six and four-speed automatic to find an SUV that accelerated almost as slowly (16.2 seconds to 60 mph, 20.1 seconds at 66.3 mph through the quarter).

The RS Q5 That Audi Doesn’t Offer

When I finally got our 2021 Audi Q5 plug-in hybrid (PHEV for short) out to the test track, engaged the Dynamic drive select setting, and let it run in its Hybrid mode, I finally unleashed all 362 horsepower (each now pulling just 13.1 pounds) and 369 lb-ft of combined gas and electric motivation. Suddenly, our mild-mannered Q5 transformed into the quickest Q5 variant we’ve tested, blasting to 60 mph in a scant 4.5 seconds and on through the quarter-mile lights in 13.2 seconds at 103.1 mph. That’s two-tenths ahead of the swiftest Audi SQ5 V-6 turbo we’ve tested, which is 308 pounds lighter and produces the same 369 lb-ft of torque, but just 349 hp. At full power, the unassuming Q5 plug-in runs neck and neck with its corporate MLB-platform cousin, the Porsche Macan S.

Note that the above performance was achieved using the pedal overlap, or “brake-torque” technique, to get the turbo spooling. If you simply floor the gas from a stop, the times slip two or three tenths and the quarter-mile trap speed drops to 98.7 mph. We usually only do two or three runs in each direction to achieve our best time, but with this plug-in Audi, I repeated back-to-back runs to deplete the battery and learn whether Hybrid mode performance would drop to match that of Battery Save mode. It did not. Presumably, repeated slowing from 100 mph recouped sufficient electrons to provide all 362 horses run after run after run.

Audi Q5 Quattro S-Line (PHEV) Acceleration in Different Modes

How Does the 2021 Audi Q5 Plug-In Hybrid Handle?

This does not feel like an RS Q5 when you twirl the steering wheel or mash the brakes. Those 308 extra pounds make themselves known, with stops from 60 mph taking 116 feet, up from the 104 and 107 needed by the SQ5 and Macan S. And although max lateral grip of 0.92 g is respectably close to the 0.94 g logged by its cousins, the Q5 plug-in lacks the playful dynamic feel of those lighter utes.

How Does It Rank as a Plug-In?

Those who are accustomed to driving full EV and PHEV vehicles may find the feel of this one odd, as the electric motor shifts up through the first several gears. Beyond that, the driving experience is fairly unremarkable. Instead of a traditional tachometer, there is a large power meter that basically indicates the driver’s right foot angle. Pushing that needle past about 55-60 percent power lights the engine when in EV mode. (The tach is relegated to an inch-long linear gauge.)

After my test session, with the battery indicating 0 percent remaining, I asked the navigation system to find the nearest public charging station. The top ones listed were all in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. I paged through and found a closer Level 2 charger in Port Huron, Michigan, and plugged in while I crunched the test numbers. The screen said it would take 4 hours for a full charge, and when I departed after 30 minutes I’d taken on 4 miles of electric range. From there I drove to the cabin in Battery Save mode, strung extension cords from one of my 110-volt outlets, and plugged the Q5 in. The info screen advised it would take 18 hours to add the remaining 15 miles of range, which proved correct.

Note that our 2021 Audi Q5 plug-in hybrid’s 14.1-kWh capacity is rated for 19 miles of electric range. For the 2022 model year, the battery size increases to 17.9 kWh, boosting range to 23 miles. Additional optimizations to the powertrain revise the output ratings, too, with the engine now rated for 261 hp at 5,250 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm. Neither the electric motor output nor the total combined system output numbers change, however. Audi lists a lower curb weight for the updated 2022 Q5 PHEV but attributes this to a revision in the standard equipment list. The EPA’s gas+electric ratings improve to 60/61/61 mpg-e, while the gas-only ratings drop to 25/27/26 mpg for 2022. Also note that the base price goes up $1,000.

Should You Consider an Audi Q5 Plug-In Hybrid?

Sure. With so many personalities, you’d never get bored of driving Sybil, er, the Q5 PHEV! Of course, if we shelled out some $60K for one, we’d likely settle down with its RS Q5 persona, whereupon we might wonder why we chose this heavy PHEV over a lightly optioned base Macan.

2021 Audi Q5 Quattro S-Line (PHEV)  Specifications

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