We drive Audi's bigger Sportback

Audi’s A5 Coupe is, even to the most prejudiced observer, a strikingly elegant car. Sporting near perfect proportions, simple lines and clean surfaces it embodies the best of contemporary Audi design.

There is, unfortunately, a problem with the A5 Coupe – inherent to its very two-door configuration.

What to do if you desire the A5’s aesthetic gracefulness yet require seamless rear passenger access? With the launch of the A5 Sportback, the answer appears to be self-evident.

Cabin plainly wonderful in terms of shape and texture. A4 platform irritatingly truncated footrest space and positioning when converted to right-hand drive...Rear side airbags are an optional R4 480.

Stylised A6 or A5 hatch?

With no clear market competitors (Merc’s CLS is far more expensive), you might be wondering (with some justification) whether A5 Sportback is simply a hatchback A5? Or perhaps even a chic A6 alternative…It’s neither though, which makes it even more alluring.

Audi’s added two additional side-doors (and a third accessing the luggage bay) to the A5’s gorgeous styling. So what you end up with is a car which silhouettes Coupe elegance in profile, yet enables smart rear passengers entry and debussing.

Is having additional passenger doors, a hatchback and sloping roofline genuinely desirable though?

Well, if you’ve ever watched a Red Carpet event (or been out with another couple and used a Coupe as transport) you might understand the A5 Sportback’s reason de etre.

Ever seen pictures of Paris Hilton trying to extract herself from the back of some regal Coupe with a gaggle of Paparazzi around? Hardly the last word in elegance, now is it?

Perhaps you’ve received a brusque stare from the wife when in her cocktail dress when she is expected to clamber from the recessed rear seats in your Coupe via the front driver and passenger doors?

My point? Coupes are elegant transport when used by two people, yet become pedantically chore-like when anyone else joins for ride.

Consequently you can clearly see where Audi’s product planning was at when they conceptualised the A5 Sportback - Coupe style with four-person portable practically.

Pretty and practical. A5 Sportback is perfect for four-person families who abhor the Avant configuration, yet need plenty of room.

Four-up only?

Four person portability? Well, yes - the A5 Sportback’s rear accommodations lacks a central seatbelt arrangement.

Those rear seats are mounted as low as possible too, which ensures rear passengers don’t scuff their heads against the roof trim courtesy of the A5 Sportback’s radically sloping roofline. This is unlike BMW’s X6 for instance, where if you’re older than 12 you can barely occupy the rear seats with a modicum of comfort…

A5 Sportback designer Markus Gleitz was on hand in Umhlanga for the launch and walked us through the car highlighting the process behind his design.

Suffice to say - it’s an unwittingly pretty car. Images though, don’t do it justice. Not at all.

Sportback designer Markus Gleitz demonstrating what difference a few millimetres make with some black masking tape.

Those frameless side windows differentiate it from Audi’s conventional sedan fare. The sloping rear roofline (A5 Sportback is a notable 36mm lower than A4) is exquisitely framed by an anodised aluminium surround, an idea Gleitz says was influenced by Apple’s iPhone.

For a car which carries 30l more luggage space than a comparable A4 sedan (with a generously practical opening aperture for easy-loading) A5 Sportback is splendidly stylish.

Front-wheel drive?

Beyond the outstanding exterior surfacing and slightly revised cabin seating arrangement, A5 Sportback carries over the A5 range’s mechanicals.

A lack of manual shift transmissions is hardly surprisingly at this end of the market, with all three engine derivatives sporting dual-pedal transmissions.

Entry to the A5 Sportback range is in the form of a front-wheel drive 2.0 FSI, powered by the familiar VW Group sourced direct-injection four-cylinder engine. Powering up to 155kW and 350Nm (20Nm better than its 3.2 FSI big brother) it shifts through Audi’s eight-speed multitronic continuously-variable transmission.

We didn’t drive the 2.0 FSI version on launch, yet gauging our previous experience with its engine (in the Q5) we have no qualms concerning Audi’s low seven second claim for the entry level Sportback’s 0-100km/h sprint times. Especially bearing in mind its (relatively) low 1 525kg mass…

Driving enthusiasts aghast at the 2.0 FSI being solely available in front-wheel drive configuration should be placate by the presence of Audi’s anti-lock braking actuated electronic front differential lock (EDL).

Golf6 GTI owners will be familiar with the EDL system, which applies pulse braking intervention on the inside cornering wheel when it starts spinning (or loses contact patch security over a severely broken surface).

By ‘locking’ a spinning wheel via pulse braking, the differential is duped into thinking it’s secure, operating in a very tight radius corner, thereby enabling all available torque to be reassigned to the opposed wheel. It’s an infinitely better way of managing challenging traction scenarios than conventional ECU modulated traction control – which simply cuts engine power to spoil the fun.

Optional ten-spoke alloys are stunning. Add Audi’s S line package (R41 600) and you have a pretty handy performance Sportback – or is it a dynamic Coupe hatchback instead?

Six-cylinder quattros

Audi’s trademark quattro all-wheel drive (with automatically locking centre differential) remains in operation on the other A5 Sportback models - both powered by six-cylinder engines. If your budget stretches beyond the 2.0 FSI, good luck trying to decided which of the quattro models to sign for.

In terms of urge the 3.0 TDI’s 170Nm rotational force advantage renders it the quicker car (0.5 sec keener from 0-100km/h), yet the 3.2 FSI counters with delightful throttle blipping and acoustics when downshifting as you navigate challenging back roads at speed.

With money (and fuel quality concerns outside the major urban centres) left out of the equitation, the 3.0 TDI wins outright as the choice A5 Sportback to have.

Quiet. Quick. Frugal. Direct injection V6 turbodiesel rightfully headlines A5 Sportback range.

Focused, yet relaxing drive

Although our launch vehicles were fundamentally underspecced (no optional Audi drive select, Sports rear differential or magnetic ride damper control), they still handled everything the rainstorm afflicted KwaZulu midlands could dish up.

Strong rains had reduced many of the excellently entertaining roads from Eshowe to the KwaZulu toll roads to dangerous fare – with horrendous potholes dotting the apex lines of most corners. In these conditions, the Sportbacks felt surefooted and I was very happy to be in an all-wheel drive car.

Although the electronic power steering has that slightly over-geared feel just off-centre, if you add the optional drive select, trick rear diff and magnetic ride you’d have a very dynamically sorted car in either 3.2 FSI or 3.0 TDI trim.

The dual-clutch S tronic transmissions fitted to both six-cylinder models are outstanding for dynamic driving applications. They could, perhaps, be construed as being even too keen at times - at least for drivers used to the smoothness (and cushioned throttle response) in shifting regime of traditional planetary geared automatics.

Stately cabin experience

As swift as the six-cylinder Sportback’s were, the most impressive characteristics imparted during the driving experience were astoundingly low levels of tangible vibration and acoustic resonance – from either road surfaces or mechanicals.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s the sloping roofline, larger glass surfaces of the hatchback configuration or some trick sound deadening, but the A5 Sportback was one of the eerily quietest cars I’ve driven in a long time cruising at the legal limit.

A warning to the teenagers of the world though. If your squeeze’s parents take delivery of a Sportback, forget about dotingly caressing a leg en route to the family vacation home, they’ll hear the sound of skin touching jean - it’s that quiet in the cabin at speed…

The A5 Sportback is dynamically capable. Stylish too. It's even capable of easily transporting a fridge (or comparably bulky white goods) thanks to the low slung load sill and 980l load bay capacity (with the rear seats dropped). All things considered, A5 Sportback makes a lot more sense than it should. 


A5 Sportback 2.0 FSI R414 500
A5 Sportback 3.2 FSI R502 500
A5 Sportback 3.0 TDI R511 500

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