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2018 Audi A5 Sportback: First Drive Review

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author photo by Russ Heaps July 2017

Imitation being the greatest form of flattery, the 2018 Audi A5 Sportback does a rip-roaring job of complimenting its hugely successful A7 cousin. Nearly everything we love about the A7 finds its way into the A5 Sportback, especially that cleverly disguised rear hatch.

If you're wondering what the A5 Sportback really has that the A5 Coupe doesn't, you're probably not alone. At first blush, the Sportback seems somewhat redundant. In terms of industry sales, cars are having a tough go of it. Why take on the expense of introducing a new model to further fragment already dwindling car sales? Two reasons, really: The A5 Sportback has a lot more passenger and cargo space than the coupe. And it isn't really new.

Learning that this stunningly handsome 4-door Sportback has been available in Europe for several years might lead you to wonder what took Audi so long to bring it to the states. Who cares? It's here now, along with its highly caffeinated version, the S5 Sportback. Audi rolled out both for media to sample at its U.S. press launch in Seattle, Washington a few weeks ago.

Mini Me

Although the Audi A5 Sportback looks as though mad-genius engineers shoved an A7 into some sort of incredible shrinking machine, in most respects, it has more in common with the A4 on which it's based. Although it sits 1.6 inches lower than the A4 sedan, it nearly matches the A4's exterior dimensions in every other respect.

Sure, the A5 Coupe scores high for looks; however, coupes in general, while stylish, simply aren't as functional as 4-doors. Yes, they're furnished for four or five passengers, but rear-seat occupants almost always get the short shrift on head and legroom. The A5 Coupe is no exception. The A5 Sportback remedies some of the Coupe's shortcomings by adding in 0.4 inches of extra front-seat headroom, 0.9 inches of rear-seat headroom and 2.4 inches of rear-seat legroom. It's no coincidence the Sportback has a wheelbase advantage of 2.4 inches over the Coupe, stretching the total length by 2.3 inches.

Not only can the A5 Sportback actually comfortably carry passengers in its back seat, it provides more cargo space for their stuff as well. At 21.8 cu ft. (just about 3 cu ft. shy of the A7), the Sportback has twice the amount of cargo-carrying capacity behind its rear seat as the Coupe. With its back seat folded, the space balloons to 35 cu ft., leaving room to spare for seven full-size suitcases.

Loading those seven suitcases is made easier by the slick design of the Sportback's rear hatch. Hinged farther forward into the roof than typical hatches, the Sportback's rear door makes a huge opening, allowing the loading of oddly shaped items.

Locomotion

Many of Seattle's streets seem to have been laid out by the same crazies responsible for designing the platoon of roller coasters at Ohio's Cedar Point. As you complete the current steep climb, cresting a hill, you see the next dizzying grade ahead. Seattle is a workout for any mechanical conveyance. Showing no lack of confidence, Audi chose this as our initiation to the A5 Sportback.

A 40/60 front/rear torque split helps the illusion that you're piloting a rear-wheel-drive car when traction isn't an issue, particularly when spiriting it through the twisties, as we did once out of the city. In town, however, having four wheels sharing the load certainly helped out whenever additional traction was required. When the rear wheels begin to slip, as much as 70 percent of the torque can shift to the front wheels.

A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission consigns production from the 252-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine to the wheels. Its 272 lb-ft of torque is more than sufficient to launch this 4-door, even when pointed uphill. On the open road, it cruises with quiet efficiency.

Getting to 60 miles per hour from a complete stop takes 5.7 seconds by Audi's watch. Just over 15 gallons of premium gasoline fills the tank. Government estimates of mileage are 24 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway.

The Works

Swap out the A5 Sportback's powertrain with the familiar Audi 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 and an 8-speed Tiptronic automatic tranny and you have the S5 Sportback. That's not quite the extent of it. Both the A5 and S5 have a 5-link suspension arrangement both front and rear. In the S5, however, the suspension tuning is more aggressive. The front brakes on the S5 Sportback are a tad larger as well.

Generating 354 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, the V6 delivers a 0-to-60 time of 4.5 seconds and a top speed of 155 mph. Amping up the performance scrubs away some fuel economy: Government estimates put mileage at 21 mpg city/30 mpg hwy.

The Inside

It wouldn't be an Audi review without some praise of the cabin. Craftsmanship, comfort, convenience and panache characterize the A5 Sportback's interior. We've already waxed on about its roominess, but it's also worth mentioning its user-friendly controls. The standard MMI control panel and 7-in display provide management over a wide range of systems. You'll need to upgrade to the Premium Plus or Prestige grade to pick up some sought-after goodies like navigation with an 8.3-in display, Virtual Cockpit, a head-up display and the suite of driver-assist/safety tech, like blind spot monitoring.

A number of functions are at your fingertips on all A5/A6 Sportbacks through placement on the 3-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with its manual-shift paddles. Other across-the-nameplate standard features are leather seating, tri-zone automatic climate control, 12-way power-adjustable front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, a rearview camera and a 10-speaker audio system with two USB ports, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The Players

Sneaking under the A5 Coupe's starting cost of $43,775 with factory delivery fee, the A5 Sportback opening price is $43,575 for the Premium grade. Moving up the trim-level pecking order is the $46,575 Premium Plus and the top-of-the-heap Prestige at $51,175. Only two trims comprise the S5 Sportback grade range, beginning with the Premium Plus at $55,375. The S5 Sportback Prestige rings the register at $59,775.

The End

If you like the A7 but long to downsize, the A5/S5 Sportback checks all the boxes. Fetchingly attractive and capable and loaded with the usual-suspect luxury features, it's a hard-to-resist sporty alternative to the larger A7 and comparatively cramped A5 Coupe.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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2018 Audi A5 Sportback: First Drive Review - Autotrader