Trending December 2023 # Review: Bowers & Wilkins’ P5 Wireless Hits New Highs In Bluetooth Headphone Luxury # Suggested January 2024 # Top 19 Popular

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Back when white earbuds dominated the market, Beats by Dre proved that mainstream customers were willing to pay $300 for large wired headphones and nearly $400 for wireless versions — even plasticky, overly bassy ones. The subsequent shift towards big headphones nearly killed makers of premium in-ear models, leading many audio companies to mimic Beats’ formula. But there were holdouts: iconic audio companies including Bowers & Wilkins refused to compromise their materials or change their sonic signatures to match Beats. Instead, B&W offered premium-priced headphones made from premium-quality materials, and let customers pick between plastic Beats or metal and leather alternatives.

Today, Bowers & Wilkins is debuting P5 Wireless ($400), a Bluetooth version of last year’s luxurious P5 Series 2 (and the since-discontinued original P5). Mixing chrome, brushed aluminum, and ultra-soft sheep’s leather, P5 Wireless is virtually indistinguishable from P5 Series 2 apart from its ability to operate with or without a 3.5mm audio cable. Classy in ways that even the top-of-line Beats Pro can’t match, P5 Wireless is the first Bluetooth headphone I would recommend to fans of classic premium audio gear…

Key Details:

Bluetooth wireless version of B&W’s deluxe, sheep’s leather and metal on-ear headphones

Includes 17-hour rechargeable battery, dual-mic audio

Elegantly integrated controls

No compromises from prior P5

Incredible comfort, great looks

It’s fair to describe P5 Wireless as a dead ringer for P5 Series 2, since almost every detail from the wired headphone has been kept intact for the wireless model. You still get the black brushed aluminum, diamond-cut silver bezeled ear cups, adjustable chrome arms, and padded jet black leather inside the headband and ear cups.

B&W’s materials look and feel truly deluxe: it’s easy to picture using P5 Wireless alongside an Apple Watch with a black Classic Buckle, a space gray iPhone 6, an iPad Air 2, a 12″ Retina MacBook… or all of the above. These are executive-class, executive-style headphones.

If you look closely, you’ll see that P5 Wireless is missing P5 Series 2’s chrome stripe between the front and back of the headphones. In its place is a black plastic housing roughly twice as thick — 5mm versus 2.5mm — which is the only adjustment B&W made to accommodate P5 Wireless’s added electronics. The right ear cup’s back hides the relocated three-button remote control and one microphone of a dual-mic system; the right bottom has a micro-USB port, the second microphone, a power/Bluetooth pairing light, and a nifty power switch that hides a pressable Bluetooth pairing button.

I don’t often praise control designs — particularly on wireless headphones, which have long suffered from gawdy buttons and ill-conceived gimmickry such as touch surfaces — but P5 Wireless gets everything right in both tactility and subtlety. The volume, track, play-pause, power, and pairing controls hide in places that are easy to reach, and function exactly as they should when you want to use them. There’s no need to jab towards your skull to press a button, or rub a secret touch surface like you’re scratching your earphones. B&W’s button design is as elegant as the rest of P5 Wireless.

Sonically, the P5 Wireless continues the P5 Series 2’s sound signature and overall performance, which is a generally good thing, particularly given the shift from purely wired to wireless Bluetooth technology. Amplifier noise — often an issue with wireless headphones — is generally not detectable, and there were no audio hiccups or dropouts during my testing. The sonic balance skews towards mid-treble, with reasonable highs, strong mids, and good lows, lacking only in the lowest bass notes. If you love bass (and a clubby echo to go along with it), you’ll find more of it in a pair of Beats Solo 2 Wireless headphones; that’s P5 Wireless’s only obvious deficiency, but made up for with a little added clarity across the rest of the audio spectrum. On a related note, phone callers told me that B&W’s new dual-microphone system sounded excellent, rendering my voice as clearly as the iPhone in handset mode — no easy feat.

Having tested literally all of B&W’s headphones over the years, I’ve been consistently impressed by the high-quality design and materials, as well as improvements introduced in new models. Each of the company’s first outings in a given headphone category has been strong, most notably its fantastic first in-ear headphones (C5, replaced by C5S2), its jaw-droppingly gorgeous original on-ears (P5), and its even more opulent over-ears (P7). Similarly, P5 Wireless roars out of the gate as a sophisticated Bluetooth wireless headphone — so premium that people will justifiably dream of receiving a pair as a gift. While it compares in price to the P7, the wireless functionality has been executed very well, and the overall experience feels deluxe enough to justify the cost. If you’ve been thinking of investing in a really nice set of wireless headphones, P5 Wireless offers the most compelling reason yet to take the plunge.

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Noblechairs Review – The Epic

After spending a considerable amount of time testing and reviewing the Noblechairs Hero gaming chair, it was time to move onto a new project. We decided to stay in the Noblechairs family, mainly because we have the entire range in office, but more importantly it allows us to compare the two in-depth to see which one truly comes out on top!

As many will know, choosing a gaming chair can be an extremely time-consuming task thanks to the overpopulated nature of the current market. That’s where WEPC comes into the equation. We spend hours of time, in house, testing, and comparing the best gaming chairs money can buy to inform you which ones are worth your time and money.

Today we get to test the Noblechairs Epic Real Leather chair which, we feel, is somewhat of a cross between a gaming chair and an all-around office chair. I’ve been using this chair for the best part of a month and I feel now is the time to make my final verdict on what is currently, one of their most affordable chairs.

Before we get into the specs and performance, let’s go over some brief pros and cons of the epic, Epic gaming chair. See what I did there? Nevermind… pros & cons!

For those reading this in the UK, why not head over to overclockers to check pricing and availability.

Chair Type

Office

Maximum Load

265 lbs

Dimensions

26.4 x 27.9 x 55.1 inches

Sitting Height

19″ to 23″

PROS

Premium design and materials

Great for tall people

Real leather

Plenty of color options to choose from

Four directional arm rests

CONS

On the expensive side when compared to the rest of the market

Could have better back support

What’s In The Box?

Noblechairs, like most chair manufacturing brands, if truth be told, take extreme care when packaging their products. The Epic came wrapped in several layers of protective plastic & polystyrene to help prevent scratches and other potential damage hazards. The box itself was a thick double-layered cardboard that was built to house the chair perfectly leaving no room for internal maneuverability.

In the box you will find the following:

Backrest

Seat

Armrests

Wheelbase

Tilt mechanism

Hydraulic piston

Hydraulic sleeve

Tilt levers

5 x PU casters

Side covers

Screw set

Head pillow

Lumbar pillow

Assembly

The assembly process for the entire Noblechairs range has been engineered and developed to make assembly as user-friendly and intuitive as possible. This being said, the Epic chair wasn’t the first of the series to be assembled, making it a very easy process second time around.

We put all the parts flat on the ground then followed the simple step-by-step instructions to make sure assembly went as smooth as possible.

The hardest part of the process is fitting the chair to the base because it can be a little fiddly.

Apart from that, the only thing worth noting is that the mechanism that works the backrest is pre-loaded so to speak, so don’t touch the leaver or you WILL get a nasty injury. Check pic below.

Apart from that, the only thing worth noting is that the mechanism that works the backrest is pre-loaded so to speak, so don’t touch the leaver or you WILL get a nasty injury. Check pic below.

How Does It Compare?

I feel the best way to compare this chair is to break the process down into a few different areas. This way it will give a more rounded comparison and a better picture of what the chair has to offer.

As a gaming chair

As the Epic is primarily, a gaming chair, it would only be natural to compare it with other gaming chairs first and foremost. So, how does it stand up against the top gaming chairs in today’s market?

The first thing that is worth mentioning is the build quality and materials used for this chair. They are clearly high quality and built to last which you don’t always get in the gaming chair market. Especially with all the lower budget brands floating around at the moment.

The style is certainly in tune with the rest of the gaming chair industry thanks to the bucket racer becoming the go-to design. It does have 4D armrests which add an extra level of adjustability which again, isn’t standard on all chairs.

However, when comparing it to the likes of Secretlab’s Omega, I feel the chair falls a little bit short. No disrespect to the Epic, it’s a great chair, this being said though, the Omega is an amazing chair.

Overall, I’d say it was well up there as far as gaming chairs go. Certainly, one to consider if you’re looking for top quality.

As an office chair

Comparing the Epic with some of the top office chairs out there is an unusual one, mainly because the design is so out there.

The main features of an office chair are comfort and style, which, if I’m being honest, I don’t this chair has. From a gaming point of view, the Epic looks great. However, I couldn’t see this in an office environment, not unless you run some sort of computer website!

As an everyday desktop chair

Now, even though we don’t think the Epic would make a great office chair, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make a great home desktop chair, does it?

As far as looks go, I personally think the Epic looks great. The design of this chair, which we’ll touch upon in more detail shortly, looks great in a home environment. Furthermore, the comfort, over short periods of time is really quite enjoyable.

If you’re looking for a quality, well-built chair which is going to stand the test of time, then I think the Epic would be a great selection.

Why not have a look at our best gaming chairs guide to see what we ranked as the best of 2023.

Well, let’s first talk about the Epic’s design.

Obviously, you don’t have to choose white, however, the model we got sent was the all-white edition which certainly narrows their target market. Personally, I think the white looks pretty good, however, I did wear a freshly bought pair of black jeans on it and you can clearly see where I’ve been sat, so I’d probably recommend against it. Unless you’re super clean.

Colour aside though, the Epic comes in 3 different materials forms which include PU leather, Real leather and the luxurious Nappa leather which, as you probably guessed, will increase the chair’s price exponentially. It is also the blueprint for some of their special edition models which include football team designs to eSports designs alike.

Discussing our chair though, you can tell straight away quality engineering and materials have been used to make this chair. The stitching looks and feels well made, as does the overall skin to be honest. We have the real leather version which feels superb. We compared this to the PU leather of the Hero and the difference is clearly for everyone to see. If you have it in the budget, I would highly recommend real leather, there is no substitute.

Moving onto the armrests, as I mentioned earlier, they are four directional meaning they move, up/down, left/right, backwards/forwards and swivel 45degrees in either direction. Unlike many gaming chairs where the armrests feel quite flimsy, I was pleasantly surprised to see Noblechairs had equipped the Epic with some rather robust feeling armrests. The actual rest feels on the firm side but definitely offers solid comfort as well, so don’t be put off by that.

Finally, we have the base, which has been constructed out of high-grade metal and has a nice luxury finish to it. When assembling the chair, I noticed the base is quite weighty which fuels me with more confidence especially when referencing how long I think this chair will last.

Overall, I think the Epic looks pretty good. Even though it isn’t ideal for an office environment, that’s not to say it wouldn’t look great in your house or a part of your gaming setup, quite the opposite actually.

Features

With most top tier, premium gaming chairs, it’s not just looks and comfort which draw the consumer in, they also come with a huge list of features and benefits. The Noblechair Epic was no different. Let’s jump straight into what I believe to be the most practical and noteworthy features the Epic comes equipped with:

Armrest

Functionality aside, the armrests feel very robust which is something you don’t always see either. Let’ s take the Secretlab Omega for example. That chair is fantastic, however, the armrests feel quite flimsy and I can see issues surfacing somewhere down the line because of it. The Epic on the other hand, I can’t see this problem occurring anytime soon, they really are superbly built, as is the entire chair.

Tilt Mechanism & Backrest

Like all Noblechairs, the tilt mechanism of the Epic is superb and can be adjusted via a sensitivity dial underneath the chair. Whether you have it firm or quite loose, the actual movement it provides is smooth and fluid. I did notice that the ’tilt sensitivity’ as we’ll call it, was definitely affected by the position of the backrest. All the more reason to have a sensitivity dial I suppose.

The backrest itself was definitely on the firm side and provided average to good backrest once I found the sweet spot. You might have to play around with the position a bit before you find the ideal spot.

Even though it was a racer bucket seat, it still gave back support to people over 6foot which is definitely a plus.

Pillows

The pillows are definitely a plus as many chairs don’t come with them at all, however, when you compare them to the memory foam pillows that come with other high-end gaming chairs, the Epic’s simply don’t cut the mustard.

You do get some additional functionality with Epic’s pillows though. One has been designed to accommodate the headrest position, whereas the other, has long straps that wrap around the backrest vertically meaning you can suspend the pillow almost anywhere. If truth be told, I couldn’t actaully find a practical position for the pillow and don’t use it, however, a few people really enjoyed it in the office so it gets a thumbs up from those guys.

It’s a tough question really because, with most chairs, it all comes down to what you like the feel and look of. This works really well for gamers, with a cool design and a nice racer bucket seat which does provide comfort and back support. It’s well built and made with quality materials so you know this thing is going to last years into the future.

However, for me, I found the chair a bit too much on the firm side. Some people will  love that – it’s just a personal preference that’s worth noting.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for a racer style bucket chair that is well built and going to last, the Epic is recommended. However, if you want a chair with extra comfort and cushioning, you should look elsewhere.

Interested in the Noblechairs Epic? UK readers can head over to Overclockers to see pricing and availability. 

Xiaomi Mi 4 Review

The Xiaomi Mi 4 joins a growing list of smartphones, particularly out of the Chinese market, that are starting to feature some metal in their build. While it’s not the full unibody metal construction that you’d get with the HTC One (M8), the metal skeleton of the Mi 4 contributes not only to the sturdiness of the phone, but also to its good looks. The buttons on the right side are also metallic, with the placement of the power button below the volume rocker making it very to reach. Up top is where you’ll find the headphone jack, with the microUSB charging port and a speaker placed on the bottom.

The rest of the build material is a glossy plastic, which makes the phone a little slippery, and a little bit of a fingerprint magnet. That said, the size of the phone makes it very easy to handle, with the flat sides of the metal frame allowing for good grip. The 5-inch display has relatively thin bezels around the sides, adding to the slenderness of the device, and one-handed use is also a breeze. The capacitive keys are found below the screen, along with an LED light, that is active when charging the phone.

Handling the Xiaomi Mi 4, you definitely get the feeling that it’s a sturdy device, and while the look may be somewhat unoriginal, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look good.

Xiaomi will soon sell products in the US, but phones and tablets won’t be offered.

The Mi 4 features a 5-inch 1080p display, resulting in a pixel density of 441 ppi, numbers we’d certainly expect from any device that is hoping to compete with current flagships. Colors are quite vibrant, and the contrast allows for some deep blacks, making media consumption and even gaming every bit as good as they should be. Viewing angles are great too, with the image losing fidelity only at extremely sharp angles.

If you look closely around the screen though, you’ll see a small black line framing the image, which adds to the overall bezel size. It’s not a big deal by any means, and is not as big an offender as we’ve seen on some other displays, but is still something worth making a note of.

Under the hood, you’ll find the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor, clocked at 2.5 GHz, and backed by the Adreno 330 GPU and 3 GB of RAM. The processing package is par for the course when it comes to flagship devices, and offers the kind of power you’ll need to do everything, from work to play, easily.

Playing games in particular was a lot of fun on this phone, and I noticed little to no slowdowns in even highly processor-intensive games. One game I got sucked into, Shadow Fight 2, not only showcased the gaming prowess of the device, but also showed off the contrast possible on this display.

One issue I have to mention is that the upper half of the device did get noticeably warm. While the heat did not affect performance in any way, it did make for a slightly uncomfortable handling experience while gaming.

When it comes to hardware, we start to see the issues with using a Chinese market smartphone outside its home country. For starters, this version of the Mi 4 connects only to HSDPA networks, making the internet experience less than ideal for US audiences. This is something I’ve faced with other smartphones in the past, but in the case of the Mi 4, I’ve unfortunately had a lot of connection issues, and have been unable to use mobile networks consistently. That said, a version that is 4G-capable and able to connect to Western mobile networks is coming soon, which is great. When I did find some connectivity, phone calls came in loud and clear.

The external speaker at the bottom of the device is also capable performer. When listening to music or playing high-calibre games, sound is quite loud and rich, and I didn’t feel the need to reach for my headphones all the time. If you do like to use the external speaker for media consumption, you won’t have much to complain about. When it comes to storage, 16 GB and 64 GB variants of the Mi 4 are available, but there is no microSD support.

The issue of poor network connectivity unfortunately made it difficult to have any conclusive battery testing, so instead I’ll talk about my day to day experience with regards to battery life. Standby time seems to be really great, and letting the phone sit idle for almost an entire day didn’t dent battery life. I did do one specific test using a looped season of a TV series at half brightness and volume, and while the phone died before I could get a screenshot of the battery usage, it definitely took at least 8 hours to reach single digits.

The real difference between the Mi 4 and any other flagship device comes to the fore in the software department. While it’s based on Android 4.4 Kitkat, much of what you’d expect from an Android-based OS is turned on its head on the Mi 4’s MIUI software.

The biggest departure from the norm is the lack of an app drawer. Bubbly icons sprawl across all the homescreens, and the only way to organize them is to use folders. Keeping a clean interface is possible, but if you download a lot of apps, it will take some effort to keep things clean and organized. That aside, menus take on the same simplistic but attractive style, and just about everything moves about in some interesting transitions.

Diving in deeper is where you’ll find quite a lot of customization, which makes MIUI a hybrid of sorts, where you’ll find the rigidity of iOS style homescreens, combined with Android’s customization prowess in any other aspect. A powerful theming engine offers a slew of themes and options to personalize your device.

The notification dropdown can also be customized by a good amount, with the option to sort icons in rows or grids, and even to show certain additional information, such as your current bandwidth speed. Long press functionality can also be programmed for the capacitive keys.

Google Play Services are not available with the Chinese version of the Mi 4, but it’s not hard to install it yourself, and luckily, the Play Store was pre-installed on my unit out of the box. It’s nice to have to ability to install your own apps, but I did see the Play Store crash quite frequently. Xiaomi’s own apps are still in Chinese here, making them impossible to use for anyone who can’t read the language.

At the very least, you can say that MIUI is continually improving, with updates available on a weekly basis. Ultimately, it’s a very attractive operating system that takes a different approach to Android, and shouldn’t be discounted just because it doesn’t have an app drawer.

Beats Solo Pro Review

Once upon a time, you were buying into a very particular audio style with a pair of Beats headphones. Lots and lots of bass was the recipe of choice. Since then things have evolved, and as a result the Solo Pro are much more suited to a broader range of musical styles.

There’s a welcome clarity to the audio. Yes, there’s no shortage of bass, but it doesn’t overwhelm the treble and mids. I suspect the fact that, with active noise cancellation holding ambient noise at bay, you can have the overall music volume lower without missing out on detail helps there too.

I’m all over the place with my musical tastes, but the Solo Pro held up both with vocal-heavy musicals at one end and thick, heavy electronica at the other. With external noise cancelled out, tracks have a broad soundstage to occupy, and the Beats coax that out nicely. Whereas once upon a time you bought Beats headphones for a certain type of music, the Solo Pro are happy to jam along with whatever style you’re into – even if it’s wide-ranging.

It’s worth trying the Solo Pro out in an Apple Store before you buy them, partly because of the fit but also because there’s no way to adjust the EQ. If you don’t like Beats’ tuning, you should look elsewhere for your headphones. Beats does have an Android app, but that’s just for managing pairing and handling firmware updates; there’s no equalizer or different musical profiles, as many other headphones offer.

Similarly, there’s no way to adjust the level of active noise cancellation, beyond switching between full ANC and Transparency mode. In the case of the Sony’s, for example, you can slide between full isolation and a more ambient mix, or have the headphones automatically adjust according to your environment. Beats, though, takes on all those decisions itself.

That’s not to say it’s not a clever system. Microphones on the outside of the headphones track ambient sound, and then calculate the inverse waveform to remove that from what you hear. Further microphones on the inside of the earcups, meanwhile, monitor what you’re actually hearing compared to the original track’s waveform, and then adjust the ANC algorithm thousands of times a second to make sure you’re not missing out on detail in your music.

It works great in busy urban streets or with droning background noise like on planes. To my ears, Sony’s ANC still has an edge, but either is going to be transformational if you’re moving from regular, non-noise cancelling headphones.

Where the Beats do shine is in Transparency mode. Effectively that provides a mixture of ANC and ambient sound, so that you can still be somewhat aware of what’s going on in the world around you. It’s useful for not getting run down in the street because you didn’t hear a car coming, or allowing coworkers to get your attention in the office.

Other ANC headphones have such a mode, but Beats’ stands out as being particularly well tuned. There’s no tinniness or lag to voices, nor distracting echo; even my own voice sounded relatively normal, British accent notwithstanding. That’s all the more important since, as with full ANC, there’s no way to manually adjust the balance in Transparency mode.

2023 Ford Bronco Sport Review

2023 Ford Bronco Sport Review – A name to live up to

The new 2023 Ford Bronco Sport is not the new Ford Bronco, a faintly odd sentence you find yourself saying fairly frequently in parking lots and at traffic lights when you’re driving a bright red Badlands trim example. Blame until-now-untapped enthusiasm for the Bronco brand and the high profile resurrection of the nameplate this year – oh, and Ford’s massive “BRONCO” lettering across the grille – for that, and get used to some staring.

The “true” new 2023 Bronco arrives later this year, but to tide us over there’s the 2023 Bronco Sport with some of the styling, some of the cachet, and some of the off-road talent. At least, that’s Ford’s big pitch for what you could, cruelly, describe as an Escape crossover playing dress-up as a Weekend Warrior.

Certainly, the Bronco Sport and its Escape cousin share some guts. Ford’s C2 platform is underneath – meaning the baby-Bronco also has DNA in common with the Lincoln Corsair – and familiar engines are under the hood. You can have the Bronco Sport with the 1.5-liter EcoBoost turbo three-cylinder engine with 181 hp and 190 lb-ft of torque, or step up to the 2.0-liter four-cylinder version with 245 hp and 275 lb-ft. Either way there’s an 8-speed automatic transmission.

The bad news is that, unlike with the Escape, there’s no hybrid engine option. The good news is that 4×4 AWD is standard on the Bronco Sport, rather than optional as on the crossover.

In fact there are two 4×4 systems. Most Bronco Sport models get a version of the Escape’s AWD with programming nudged in an off-road direction. The Badlands trim – that I reviewed – gets a twin-clutch rear differential, with torque vectoring and a differential lock. That can push all of the engine power to one of the rear wheels, should you find yourself in a particularly tricky situation.

My colleague Vincent had already been left impressed by just how capable the Bronco Sport actually is in off-road situations (much to, quite frankly, his surprise). Badlands trim gets a suspension lift – raising ground clearance from 7.9- to 8.8-inches – and boosted dampers, too, and adds Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl to the five drive modes – Normal, Sand, Slippery, Sport, and Eco – in Ford’s G.O.A.T. (Goes Over Any Type of Terrain) terrain management system.

You access that with an easily-twiddled knob in the center console, surrounded by chunky buttons for the 4WD lock and other features. The whole Bronco Sport cabin keeps to that burly, glove-friendly off-road feel too. Knurled rubber knobs, big HVAC controls, and a generally clean layout add up to a dashboard with some personality. Sure, not all of the plastics are the same soft-touch that Ford has used judiciously, but it works well both aesthetically and practically, with no shortage of cubbies (with grippy rubber linings).

Indeed, the Bronco Sport is full of thoughtful features. The separately hinged rear-glass was useful for dropping in bags of shopping in tight parking lots while the front 180-degree camera, though intended to help you squeeze through perilous mountain passes, proved just as handy at avoiding curbs. Ford Co-Pilot360 is standard across the board, with pre-collision assist with automatic braking, lane-keeping, blind spot warnings, and auto high-beams. Upper trims get Trail Control, which is basically low-speed cruise control for off-roading, and adaptive cruise control with lane centering for the highway.

SYNC 3 supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with a wireless charging pad as standard, but I do wish Ford had used its newer SYNC 4 on the 8-inch touchscreen as that looks and operates more cleanly. You also get the FordPass Connect smartphone app, which allows for optional remote start, unlock/lock, and other features from your phone. A 10-speaker B&O audio system with subwoofer is optional.

The front seats are comfortable and well-padded, though Badlands trim keeps dual-zone climate control as an option. You do get studier fabrics and materials on it than some of the other, plusher Bronco Sport trims: the Badlands has rubberized flooring, a matching cargo floor, and tough velour seats that feel like they’d be easier to clean.

In the back, the Bronco Sport’s height means headroom isn’t an issue, but legroom feels tight. Rivals offer more space for your knees, and the useful zippered pouches in the seat-backs only eat into what you do get if you stuff them full. The 60/40 split bench lifts to reveal more storage or alternatively folds down, expanding the 32.4 cu-ft trunk to 65 cu-ft. The high roofline makes it big, flexible space, and there are hooks integrated around the edge to lash things down. Ford also offers various lights and outlets, including some built into the tailgate itself for those early morning or late night loading and unloading sessions.

The 2.0-liter EcoBoost may be familiar, but that’s no bad thing generally. Torque arrives rapidly, and leaves the little off-roader feeling perky and urgent around town. Highway cruising isn’t short on grunt either, though you hear more of the drivetrain than in rival crossovers. As for the suspension, that’s dialed in with the wilderness in mind – to avoid shaking your teeth out should you venture off asphalt – and, combined with fairly strong power-assistance on the steering, means that cornering can feel a little more remote than in some sportier alternatives.

Ford’s packaging means you can carry a pair of mountain bikes in the back, which is impressive. The 2,200 pound tow rating is less so, and the 21 mpg city / 26 mpg highway / 23 mpg combined economy ratings aren’t going to win the crossover any awards.

2023 Audi Sq5 Sportback Review

2023 Audi SQ5 Sportback Review

If the Q5 is Audi’s most popular model in the US, then the SQ5 Sportback is probably the aspirational upgrade for those wanting some extra sport in their SUV. Toting two extra cylinders compared to the standard car, a more interesting design, and no shortage of cabin tech, it’s punchy without forgetting about practicality. Indeed the biggest surprise for the SQ5 Sportback might well be that its strongest rival comes from within its own range.

Audi’s 3.0-liter TFSI V6 gas engine and 8-speed Tiptronic gearbox are familiar from elsewhere in the automaker’s line-up; so, too, is the quattro all-wheel drive. That’s no bad thing; here, the 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque offer a welcome uptick over the standard Q5 with its 2.0-liter four-cylinder, enough for a 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds. All the same, it’s worth noting that the Q5 plug-in hybrid – with 369 lb-ft and 362 hp – is actually more powerful than the SQ5 Sportback.

The regular Q5 feels adequate, if not exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm. Think family stalwart – reassuringly steady and balanced – with suspension on the firm side. For the SQ5 Sportback, the $3,000 S sport package adds adaptive air suspension and a rear differential along with its red brake calipers, allowing for more flexibility in the dynamics. Comfort mode, as a result, actually feels more cosseting than in the standard Q5 because Audi can dial in some extra compliance.

On the flip side, Dynamic mode – Audi-speak for what other manufacturers might call Sport – tamps down on SUV body roll and leaves the SQ5 Sportback far more poised and eager. This isn’t one of Audi’s most beastly RS-badged models, but there are definitely more opportunities for smiles as the combination of low-revs torque and compliant, predictable handling build your confidence. Even the 21-inch wheels – part of the $1,000 Black optic wheel package, and replacing the standard 20-inchers – don’t take much of a toll, with the horrors of all but the most wretched asphalt kept at arm’s reach.

You could say the same for the cabin, where Audi’s aesthetic is holding up nicely. Ambient lighting helps lift what could otherwise be a fairly sober interior, the glitter of the Carbon Atlas trim inlays a little subdued next to the black leather and Dynamica faux-suede surfaces. A 10.1-inch touchscreen is standard, with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, plus a panoramic sunroof, rear privacy glass, Audi’s pre safe suite of active safety tech, and both blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings.

It’s all very familiar if you’ve been in any other semi-recent Audi, though I prefer it when the automaker integrates the infotainment screen into the dash: the SQ5’s panel looks a little like an afterthought.

In sheer practicality terms, Sportbacks – or any of the other names rival manufacturers have for this more-swooping body style – are always going to play second fiddle to SUVs. The SQ5 Sportback, at least, tempers its compromise in the second row: rear headroom is, at 37.5 inches, down a mere fifth of an inch compared to the SQ5.

Cargo space dips a little more significantly, dropping a few cubic feet to 24.7 cu-ft normally and 51.9 cu-ft with the rear seats folded down. Still, it’s worth noting that if you’re not in the habit of loading above the shoulder line, that shortfall may not present such a headache. A power tailgate is standard, and the rear seats split 40/20/40 as well as sliding forward and backward, and having adjustable recline.

Things, though, do get expensive if you want the engaging best of the SQ5 Sportback. Though it starts at $56,100 (plus $1,095 destination), the Prestige package – with niceties like the virtual cockpit, OLED taillights, 360-degree camera, head-up display, navigation, adaptive cruise control, heated steering wheel and rear seats, and a heated and cooled front cup holder – adds $8,600. Another $1,150 adds dynamic steering, the Nappa leather seats are $1,000, and then the various other trim upgrades and such took my review car to $73,990 all-in.

At that point you’re in Porsche Macan S territory, and that’s a sporting benchmark the SQ5 Sportback can’t quite match. Audi’s SUV is definitely warmer and more enthusiastic than the standard Q5 Sportback, but the Macan still bests it both there and in badge prestige.

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