words: Paul Rivera, photos: Paul Rivera and Audi of America
In January, 2009, Audi unveiled the Sportback Concept at the Detroit North American Auto Show. The design was well received by the press and public alike and the first generation A5 Sportback rolled into European dealerships by the following summer. Alas, America never got the car though the A7 Sportback launched later would come here as a smashing success, which may have inspired Audi to reconsider the second time around. For the 2018 model year, we now get the A5 Sportback, and it is a stunning car at that. Featuring the utility of a wagon, with the styling of a 4-door coupe, it is a stylish and beautiful alternative to a 4-door sedan, and more practical than a 2-door coupe. Pricing starts at $42,600 vs. $69,700 for the aforementioned A7-about $27,000 less making the Sportback body style even more appealing.
For our market, there is just one powertrain available-a 252 hp with 273 lb ft of torque, 2.0 liter 4-cylinder coupled with a 7-speed S-tronic gearbox and quattro. While the new A5 coupé and A4 sedan both have a 6-speed manual available, Audi has chosen thus far not to offer it in this new-for-this-market body style.
Walter de Silva penned the first generation A5, and many of his styling cues can be seen in the second generation A5 as well as the new A5 Sportback. Curvy and sensuous lines are imbued into this new Sportback. While the A4 sedan is a tidy and neat design, it does not have the sexy lines of the Sportback. Looking at the body, every viewed angle is met with fine styling details. Like the ur quattro coupé of 1981, there flared fenders, imparting a broad visual stance and giving a feeling of strength. A low roofline and sloping back define a coupé appearance. Part of the new Audi design language brought forward by Audi design chief Marc Lichte is a broader front grille and slim headlights. You can see that here as well as in the new A8. Like several of the new Audi models, the front grille is now 3-dimensional with an aluminum trim accenting a stepped pattern. Along the sides of the hood where it meets the front doors, there is an aluminum accent trim that seems like a bonnet latch of sorts.
Opening the rear hatch, you are greeted with a large and easy to load area, with the seats able to fold down and create a fairly cavernous and practical place for anything you need to haul. It all looks great to me. Xenon headlights are standard on the base model with LED headlights a part of the Premium Plus package and above. LED taillights with dynamic sequential signaling are standard on all models.
Inside, Audi continues the tradition of well-built and beautiful interiors. This particular test car was painted with Monsoon Gray Metallic, with handsome leather interior-an excellent color combination. High gloss dark brown walnut wood inlays set off the feeling of being ensconced in luxury. As part of the Navigation package, Audi virtual cockpit complemented the 8.3” center LCD display above the console. Play with this tech for any period of time and you’ll likely learn to see it as essential when you order your next car, with navigation and other data displayed directly above the steering wheel within your line of sight looking ahead.
Four doors makes it easy for your passenger ingress and egress, at least as compared to a 2-door coupé. Front and rear headroom seems ok for even 6’4” passengers. However, the sunroof does occupy some space.
Besides great cabin comfort and a quiet ride, one of the first things you will notice is the tone of this 4-cylinder motor. It almost seems as if Audi engineers intentionally dialed in deep throaty tones into this engine that are reminiscent of the brand’s venerable 5-cylinder. With the peak torque of 273 lb-ft coming on from 1600 rpm, this car moves like a small V8 is in the engine bay.
0-60 mph is conservatively reported as 5.7 seconds, which makes this 2.0 TFSI-powered A5 Sportback comparatively faster than a stock ur-S4, B5 S4, and not far behind the V8 powered B8 S5. Amazing, and that’s before anyone willing to dip a toe into the aftermarket considers gains that may come from an ECU tune.
Competing for great engine noises is an optional 755-watt 3D sound system from Bang and Olufsen. With 16 power amp channels and 19 loudspeakers, you will be enveloped with quality sound, well worth the $950 cost, and comes standard in Prestige models.
With the 7-Speed S-tronic transmission, you can go through the gears manually, or let the car do the shifting. In the normal D mode, shifts are set more for economy and downshifts may require some prompting with the paddle levers on the steering wheel. In the S mode, downshifts come more easily and upshifts will hold higher revs. All in all, this is a harmonious combination of a willing and eager engine that loves to rev and sounds good doing it combined with a smooth shifting and responsive gearbox.
For driving impressions, the this A5 Sportback tester was taken to what L.A. locals call the Angeles Crest Highway. On the weekends the CHP and a zillion sportbikes, sports cars, and tourists clog the road and can impede personal progress. On the weekdays, further up towards Newcombs Ranch, the CHP thins out and you can have more fun.
The A5’s brakes are more than adequate with good pedal feel and modulation. I experienced no fade after repeated late braking, and scrubbing off excessive speed before turns came without any drama. The steel sport suspension that comes with the 19” wheel package is a good compromise for ride comfort and little bounce. The optional $1000 adaptive suspension may be a better choice if you plan a lot of brisk canyon carving, but is only available with the Prestige trim level. One option missing is the superb Sport Differential, and for that you will have to bump up to the S5. Standard rubber on the 19” wheel package is the Hankook Ventus summer tire. The fitment is quiet for the most part and quite sticky. When the tires break loose, the Sportback remains controlled and predictable.
With the 4-cylinder up front and the front axles farther forward-thanks to the MLB architecture, this is a well balanced chassis. Easily tossed and easily caught for highly enjoyable spirited driving. Fuel economy was well over 20 mpg average, and 30 mpg highway can be easily obtained at 70+ mph.
Perusing the Audi website and using their build configurator, it seems the Premium Plus trim gives you enough options to build a nicely equipped car coming in at about $53K. If you do prefer all the bells and whistles, a loaded Prestige will run you about $57K. Compare that to a loaded A7 at about $81K, it again comes up as a high value proposition.
What a great package of comfort, economy, luxury, pleasure, practicality, performance, price, and style. The A5 Sportback is a convincing alternative to an A4 sedan, and while an allroad is more for wagon lovers, the A5 Sportback still offers a tempting combination that may suffice for most needs while delivering many miles of smiles.
This story originally ran in the Fall 2017 issue of the Audi Club North America quattro quarterly print magazine. In order to subscribe to quattro quarterly, join the Audi Club North America HERE.