– Powerful economical engine
– Fair cabin space and features
– Good ride and handling
– Taller rear passengers complain
– Limited steering feedback
– Too grippy for tail-out antics?
The last time we drove an Audi was in 2005, so getting our hands on a new one after so long was a great opportunity to see how the brand had evolved in the space of a near-decade. What we have here is a facelifted 2014 Audi A5 Sportback, a more stylish variant of the A4 sedan, which seemingly retains Audi’s trademark qualities we experienced back in the day, while also bang up to date with new tech.
The styling is flawlessly handsome, a more practical outcome of the “four-door coupe” trend, since Audi went for a liftback body-style. With more aggressive LED-lined headlights, frameless doors and fancier 19-inch wheels in addition to an “S-Line” kit, the A5 Sportback looks decidedly ready for business, although we can’t help but get a sense that we’ve seen it all before, ever since Audi introduced that big gaping grille treatment which several others have since copied.
The interior is trademark Audi, with clean lines, nice textures and red backlit buttons. Large parts of the dash, centre-console and doors are covered in soft-touch materials, although we would’ve liked if they’d gone all the way and covered the glovebox lid as well. Aluminium inlays and leather upholstery rounded out the tightly-finished cabin in our test car.
Being the S-Line version, our Nappa-leathered car also came with sportier front seats, well-bolstered and power-adjustable, while the rear bench can be split-folded to boost the already-generous boot space under that heavy tailgate. Legroom and headroom, both are pretty decent too, at least for average-sized passengers. There are uncovered cup-holders in the front and a couple more in the back, while four door pockets round out the basic storage spaces.
An LCD screen with a rotary-dial controller forms the basis of the all-encompassing “MMI” multimedia system which integrates the navigation, strong CD/MP3 stereo and Bluetooth phone. The stereo and a/c have their own separate controls, although their usage and location are rather unconventional, so it takes a while to get used to. The auto a/c was unstressed given the February winter weather, so we can’t comment on its effectiveness, but it did have rear vents. Further features included auto up-down power windows, sunroof, smart keyless entry and start, parking sensors with camera, electronic parking brake, HID headlights with LED running lamps, foglamps, multiple airbags and cruise control. Fancier features such as blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise were missing from our car, although we assume you could option those up if you’re ready to pay for all that.
Barring the Audi S5, the 3.0-litre “TFSI” supercharged V6 is the largest motor you can get with the A5 Sportback. It makes a healthy 268 hp from 4780 rpm till 6500 rpm, with 400 Nm of peak torque from 2150 rpm to 4780 rpm. Mated to an “S-tronic” 7-speed dual-clutch automanual gearbox and “Quattro” all-wheel-drive, it has all the trappings of a fuss-free long-distance cruiser. We timed our fresh-engined car at 6.5 seconds, while consuming 12 litres/100 km of fuel, both impressive figures, especially considering that this compact car weighs in at a hefty 1790 kg. There’s also an automatic engine start/stop system to save fuel at traffic lights, but we left it off.
The Sportback backs up its sporting looks with sports-sedan handling, largely thanks to the S-Line suspension that’s part of the package. With wide 255/35 low-profile tyres wrapping those 19-inchers, there is an abundance of grip. Aided by all-wheel-drive, it is pretty much unflappable at above-average speeds on city roads. Body roll is kept well at bay, and its limits are pretty high. Given enough space to experiment, you’ll understeer once over the limit though, and this isn’t the kind of car to allow tail-out antics either. It is strictly of the grip-driving variety, with great wet-weather capability, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for hooliganism.
The brakes are great, easy to modulate and strong in occasional hard stops. The steering is nicely weighted, but offers limited uneven feedback. The paddle-shifters are good in manual mode, quick on the trigger, and the transmission’s automatic mode is smart on the move. However, there is a tiny initial delay in response when moving off from a standstill, so you have to compensate for that when jumping into busy junctions. That delay mostly disappears in “dynamic” mode, while the steering gains a bit more weight and the transmission holds gears into the higher revs, making for a more engaging driving experience.
We left it in “comfort” mode for cruising though, which relaxes the revs a fair bit. The adaptive suspension is always a bit on the firm side, no matter which setting you choose, but it’s always compliant on most roads and never crashy over harsh bumps, as we’ve come to expect from all German sports-sedans. Rear visibility is decent, although it can get a little bit harder to see once that sloping rear window gets dirty. Road noise is not apparent at 120 kph, and the engine is silent too. Wind noise is noticeable, likely a side-effect of those frameless doors, but it never reaches annoying levels even at higher speeds.
The Audi A5 Sportback is the most stylish car you can get in the luxury compact segment here, and oddly enough, the most practical as well. It’s fast and capable in its own right, although those looking for more sideways “fun” of the illegal kind won’t get it from this car. But then again, most potential owners are looking specifically for the kind of drama-free speed in all sorts of road conditions, which is something that only an all-wheel-drive vehicle can provide.
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