Audi builds on the Sportback formula — the A5 has sedan space, coupe styling and wagon practicality
THE choice of luxury cars these days is enough to make your head spin.
The humble sedan has been swamped by sports cars, twodoor coupes, four-door “coupes”, high-riding all-road station wagons, SUVs with “coupe-like” profiles … the list goes on.
Audi has led the trend, notching up more than a decade of record sales on the back of niche models no one knew they wanted. One of those was the Audi A5 Sportback, a more practical four-door alternative to the A5 coupe.
At its local launch in 2010, it was billed as having the space of a sedan, the svelte looks of a coupe and the practicality of a wagon.
It built up a healthy following and helped keep the Audi sales juggernaut rolling.
Seven years later, some customers have succumbed to the itch and been tempted by other brands — or other Audi models — and sales have dipped.
But the German maker is fighting back with a new Sportback that delivers the latest in semi-automated driving, more powerful and efficient new engines, retuned suspension and a roomier cabin that reinforces its reputation as a style leader.
Performance is helped by a body that is 80kg lighter than its predecessor, a new sportier dual-clutch gearbox on the cheapest model and engine revisions throughout the range.
Audi claims the cheapest A5 will do the 0-100km/h sprint in 7.5 seconds, while the next step up the ladder, the 185kW 2.0litre with all-wheel-drive, will complete the sprint in 6 seconds flat. Fuel use is also down.
A new turbocharged V6 replaces the supercharged engine on the previous S5, shaving four-tenths off the 0-100km/h time to 4.7 seconds, performance that would give some V8s a run for their money.
Prices have risen by between $1000 and $6000 but there’s more standard equipment, including the virtual cockpit, on the cheapest model
The list of standard equipment on the A5 is impressive, starting with the digital cockpit, satnav, AppleCarPlay and Android auto projection on the centre screen and digital radio.
ON THE ROAD
The Sportback will win a lot of prospective buyers over before they leave the showroom floor.
The cabin is all class, from the mood lighting to the softtouch surfaces, the smell of leather and the hi-tech instrument readouts.
The standard virtual cockpit is the highlight, displaying satellite images of your route on the instrument display. Thankfully Audi has resisted the temptation to fit a touchscreen and you scroll through menus with a dial — it’s easier and less distracting to use.
The cabin is bigger than its predecessor but it’s still not particularly roomy. The handsome form of the A5 wins over function so leg, shoulder and headroom in the back is adequate rather than generous.
Two extra doors and the wagon-style lifting tailgate mean it’s more practical than the coupe, though. Boot space is on par with the A4 sedan with the rear seats in place. Lay them flat as you would in a wagon or SUV and the load space is doubled, with a long floor and wide opening for bigger items.
From the driver’s seat, there’s plenty to like, although the optional “traffic jam assistant” with auto steering input seems a little gimmicky. On our test drive, it left too big a gap to the car in front, the auto steering didn’t work all the time and if the engine shut down at the lights, you had to reactivate the autopilot.
A lot of the stuff that impressed us on our A5 was optional. The asking price blew out from $85,100 to $101,606 with options included.
We drove the more powerful of the two 2.0-litre turbo petrol engines and it’s a punchy and refined job that has plenty of low-down grunt but also doesn’t mind being revved. Matched to the sharp-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch auto, it always has plenty of power on tap, particularly in “dynamic” mode, which sharpens throttle response and gear-shifts.
The A5 is up to the challenge on a twisting road, with plenty of grip and well-sorted suspension. Our test car had adjustable dampers and we found the sports setting was the pick — it was firmer, but better controlled on rough surfaces. Ultimately, though, the A5 is not as engaging as its BMW or Benz rivals, mainly because the steering is too light and lacks feel for spirited driving.
Gripes aside, the Audi is a polished grand tourer — comfortable, luxurious and more practical than the coupe.