Even though Audi’s rapid rise up the premium ranks in recent years has earned the brand a great many plaudits, recently the German company has also started receiving some criticism. The reason? Well, Audi’s design language has become so clearly defined and, in the eyes of some observers, so strict, that only models such as the R8 and, to a lesser extent these days, the TT, exhibit any degree of aesthetic flair. Perhaps for that very reason, Audi is about to embark on a launch cycle that will see it release some very interesting new vehicles, of which the Audi A5 Sportback featured here is only one. Question is… does its sense of style and individualism not leave a car such as the A4 – and even the A6 – under threat?
Elegant Sportiness for Audi A5 SportbackSharing much of its architecture with the A5 Coupe, the Audi A5 Sportback resembles this car nearly 100 % from the front. But from the A-pillar rearwards it is pretty much all new, and very different to most other Audis. The solidity that is part and parcel of most German cars’ designs has been replaced by an elegance that is almost Italian. The roofline is sweeping, the rear window particularly flat, and the haunches muscular. It is a car that is at once sporty and elegant. Size-wise, its swooping lines make it appear smaller than it actually is – the wheelbase is a substantial 2 810 mm long and the boot measures 480 L under that rear tailgate – so there’s been no compromise in terms of practicality (fitment of a space saver spare excluded).
Swing open the driver’s door and it’s not the Audi A5 Sportback facia that you will notice first, but rather the frameless door windows – true to coupe style. Once ensconced in the leather-trimmed and electrically adjustable driver’s seat, you may be surprised to find that, despite the narrow glass area and low roof, the cabin still feels spacious. The driver’s chair is height-adjustable, of course, and in typical VW group fashion the steering wheel boasts a very wide range of rake/reach adjustment. Rear legroom is also quite reasonable, but the rear seat is tailored for two only. Those occupying the rear are well catered for, though, because they get their own ventilation outlets and a very substantial fold-down centre armrest.
Back in front, and the facia is pretty much standard A5 coupe fare, though that’s hardly a bad thing. The quality is exquisite and the ergonomics near flawless. This 3,0 TDI model is also generously equipped with standard features, including; climate control, auto lights/wipers, radio/CD with multifunction steering-wheel, cruise control, six airbags and an electronic stability system (ESP). Extra-cost items include park assist and satellite navigation.
Excellent diesel engineAudi’s 3,0-litre turbodiesel engine remains one of the gems in the brand’s arsenal. It develops a whopping 180 kW, and the full 500 Nm of torque is available from a low 1 500 to 3 000 rpm. The latter point perfectly sums up the character of this engine. It is not only very powerful, but the power remains on tap across a wide rev range, resulting in very strong punch at almost any speed and an immediacy to throttle inputs that makes the Audi A5 Sportback hugely entertaining to drive. Quattro all-wheel drive and the superb seven-speed dual-clutch s-tronic transmission combine to also endow it with blistering accelerative capability – it scorches to 100 km/h in 6,1 seconds! And yet, what we have here is an engine that can, if used with some restraint, consume as little as 6,6 L/100 km.
All of this from a sporty luxury sedan that weighs more than 1,7 tonnes… Under that elegant body sits the very effective underpinnings of the A5 Coupe. With its wide tack widths, low centre of gravity, wide tyres and, last but not least, quattro all-wheel drive, the Audi A5 Sportback boasts prodigious levels of grip. It can corner at incredibly high speeds, and is very stable upon corner entry. The steering is similarly “solid”, with a very consistent feel, but not much feedback. Overall, this is a car that impresses more with its capability than it entertains… And while the ride is certainly on the firm side, the Audi A5 Sportback’s feathers aren’t easily ruffled. It is an extremely comfortable and economical cruiser. But when the mood grabs the driver, however, and he/she mashes the throttle into the carpet and switches the transmission into “Sport” or even “Manual” mode, it also turns into a devastatingly fast sports sedan. Wonderful.
Audi A5 Sportback - VerdictPriced around R50 000 more than an equivalent A4, the Audi A5 Sportback is a very enticing new proposition in the executive car segment. Think of it as a slightly smaller Jaguar XF, and you’ll have a good understanding of its character. Besides the good looks and stable handling, the real gem in this package is the engine – the 3,0-litre turbodiesel must rate as one of the best on the market at present. So, yes… some practicality is sacrificed because the Audi A5 Sportback is a four-seater only, but we don’t think this will be a deal breaker. In fact, cars such as this Audi A5 Sportback may just lure new converts to the Audi brand.
• Classy looks • Excellent engine • Grip and poise • Fuel economy • Quality
We don’t like:
• Not much… four-seater only • Pricey
Engine: 3,0-litre, V6, turbodiesel Power: 180 kW @ 4 000 rpm Torque: 500 Nm @ 1 300 rpm Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch Wheels: 17-inch alloy Top speed: 250 km/h 0-100 km/h: 6,1 seconds Fuel economy: 6,6 litres/100 km
• Jaguar XF 3,0 V6 Diesel Luxury: It has been a long time since Jaguar has been this competitive. The XF is a stunner and when equipped with this 3,0-litre diesel engine, remains an entertaining car. The interior is spectacular.
• BMW 330d Individual Steptronic: OK, the 3 Series may be a “traditional” compact executive sedan, but if you’re looking for an entertaining diesel express, then look no further. Slightly cheaper than the Audi A5 Sportback, and just as fast.
• Mercedes-Benz C350 CDI Avantgarde 7G-tronic: Like the BMW, offers exceptional performance and economy wrapped in a regular-shaped body. Not quite as entertaining as the BMW, and not as interesting as the Audi A5 Sportback. Feels bulletproof.