2018 Audi A5 Sportback first drive: The best of both worlds

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In the market for an Audi A7 but want something a bit smaller? There’s an Audi for that in the form of the A5 Sportback — an A7 that has been shrunk in the dryer just a bit. It’s Ingolstadt’s latest addition to its stateside lineup and we’re still a little surprised that it took this long to get here: The A5 Sportbacks have been on sale in Europe and other markets since 2009, and they’ve just seen a complete redesign. This means North America joins this regularly scheduled program already in progress, with almost a decade of sales elsewhere in the world having shown demand for the fastback sedan with four rings on the grille.

The Audi A5 Sportback is actually based on the A4 sedan, but it trades the three-box sedan formula for something a little more coupe-like complete with a positively huge hatch, a sleek greenhouse, room for five passengers and frameless doors. BMW has mined this segment in the U.S. with the 4-Series Gran Coupe (and as we all know German automakers seldom exploit newly discovered niches unchallenged). To be fair Audi was here first, at least in this size category, and given the warm reception that its larger and pricier A7 sibling has received the odds are already in its favor.
 

2018 Audi A5 Sportback

The A5 and S5 Sportback is on sale now, adding to the A4/A5 range.

A 2.0-liter turbocharged four powers the A5 Sportback, pumping out 252 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, which is enough for sprints from 0 to 60 in 5.7 seconds with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Power goes to all four wheels courtesy of Audi’s Quattro system. A glimpse of the cargo area with the rear seats folded down proves the car is anything but small on the inside: The A5 serves up 35 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats down, and a still-respectable 21.8 cubic feet with the seats in this upright and locked positions, with the generous hatch opening being far more cargo-friendly.

Sounds like a station wagon? The A5 Sportback, just like the upcoming VW Arteon we’ve just driven, gently treads into this IKEA-ready territory all while offering a business-like interior that offers over 2 inches more legroom than the A5 coupe, not to mention more generous front and rear headroom. This baby A7 sits 1.6 inches lower than the A4 sedan, though you’d be forgiven for having a hard time picking it out from a row of A4s — the two cars track closely in just about all dimensions. When it comes to interior tech, the A5 Sportback borrows much from the A4/A5 range including the optional Audi virtual cockpit, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, and standard features including the latest Audi pre sense safety suite.

For those who prefer their versatility with a little more oomph, Audi also offers a meaner S5 Sportback alongside the A5, powered by a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine borrowed from the S4/S5 good for 354 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque.
 

The Execution

Audi brought us to Seattle to try out the A5 Sportback; no surprise it serves up confident handling and a stiff chassis while still offering plenty of comfort in everyday driving, leaning close to the road manners of its A4 and A5 siblings.

The 2.0-liter four is a relaxed engine that works well enough with the seven-speed gearbox, which can punctutate its shifts with a noticeable pull here and there; it can also be operated via the steering-mounted paddles. Just using your right foot suffices in most traffic settings, even Seattle’s, with the four-cylinder refusing to get winded even when called upon for some B-road heroics. The 40/60 front/rear torque split helps the A5 feel more like a rear-wheel drive machine, but Quattro is still there to provide grip, even on mildewed Pacific Northwest pavement seeded with pine needles. The A5 offers quick-enough reflexes in the corners and smooth cruising on the standard 18-inch wheels. The suspension soaks up the odd pavement cracks with an indifferent thump from the wide tires.
 

2019 Volkswagen Arteon first drive

There’s not much chance to open up the A5 amid Seattle’s 24/7 rush hour, but a few quick sprints along roads that served as the backdrop to the original “Twin Peaks” TV series show off the well-tuned suspension and reflexes, especially when hunting for locations from the show. At speed the A5 keeps the road manners of in-town cruising, offering a slightly firm but well-damped ride that permits a bit of float, striking a good balance between sport and comfort.

The fastback bodystyle is a suit the A5 wears well, trading just a bit of a ingress/egress ease for taller rear-seat passenger space for its profile. That’s a small price to pay for good looks, and the tighter headroom still feels well within A4 margins, especially given the extra legroom over the A5 coupe.

2018 Audi A5 Sportback cargo

With the rear seats folded down, the A5 Sportback offers a cavernous cargo section ready for IKEA or antiquing.

2017 Audi A4 Allroad review driven and reviewed

The Takeaway

The Sportback takes best of coupe and sedan bodystyles and adds impressive versatility; it’s the best of three worlds really, though the new A4 Allroad and its magic suspension will probably lure away a few A5 Sportback shoppers who need the full longroof.

Overall, the A5 Sportback does a good job of making the standard A4 sedan look restricted by its 20th century three-box formula. The price premium over a comparable A4 is negligible, with the Sportback landing right in the middle of A5 coupe price territory as well, which will make it an easy option to pick.
 

On Sale: May 2017

Base Price: $43,575

As Tested Price: $52,100

Drivetrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged I4, AWD seven-speed S Tronic DCT

Output: 252 hp @ 5,000-6,000 rpm; 273 lb-ft @ 1,600-4,500 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,704 lb

0-60 MPH: 5.7 seconds

Fuel Economy: 24/34/27(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)

Observed Fuel Economy: 29 mpg

Pros: Flexibility, exterior looks, ergonomics, capable engine

Cons: Transmission can be clunky, slightly firm ride on 18-inch wheels


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