Even though Audi is seemingly hellbent on producing a different model for each and every one of its 100-year history, you’d be forgiven for questioning the imposition of five-door hatchback status on anything quite as pretty as the original A5 Coupé.
There is, however, method in this ostensible madness because, with Saab’s 9-3 hatch now defunct and BMW’s 5-series GT occupying the class above, the A5 Sportback now finds itself alone in offering this format to the premium D segment. So, if you want something posh of A4 size with a hatchback this – as Frank Zappa would have it in Stink Foot – just has to be the disease for you.
So what is the new Audi A5 Sportback? An A4 with a tailgate, or an A5 with four doors?
Bit of both, really. Size-wise, the 4711mm Sportback is 8mm longer than an A4, with a wheelbase just 2mm longer, at 2810mm. It’s also perceptibly wider, a front track of 1590mm gaining 26mm on the A4, and not quite as heavily sat on as it first looks, giving away just 5mm of rear headroom to the A4. Both rear legroom and 480 litres of loadspace are directly on a par with the A4.
Stylistically, A5 Coupe rules, which means, from the A-pillar forward, the Sportback shares the same, giant grille-enforced, gently bulbous hooter that’s the only thing to mar the former’s svelte couture. The remainder’s not inelegant by any means, though the rear doors do seem rather small, an impression reinforced by windows that grind to a halt some 35% short of their anticipated travel. Conversely, the tailgate glazing is long enough to pass muster as a two-man luge, which makes the absence of a rear wiper an odd decision. Audi says ‘not wanted on voyage’; probably a euphemism for ‘we couldn’t make it look right, so left it off.’
And how about under the skin of the A5 Sportback?
The UK will be offered a choice of four powerplants; 206bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo and 260bhp 3.2-litre V6 petrol engines, and 167bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 235bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesels. Lob in SE and all-the-show-without-the-go S Line trim levels and you have a 10 model line-up priced from £25,440 to £36,220, which equates to a premium of some £500 over a comparable A4.
All on board is pure A5 from the driver’s perspective, though I can’t recall having had such trouble getting comfortable behind the wheel of Audi for an age. And that’s largely down to the fact that I opted to drive the 2.0 TDI, set to be the UK best-seller and accounting for some 45% of total sales….
It’s hard not to climb aboard an Audi these days unaccompanied by a Mercedes mentality, this dictating that you expect to find only two pedals underfoot allied to some variation on the automatic transmission theme. The 2.0 TDI, however, will only be available in six-speed manual guise, and boasts a clutch pedal travel so long that correct operation could only be guaranteed with my chin resting on the steering wheel boss; a vociferously ergonomic argument in favour of Audi’s sublimely oleaginous, seven-speed DSG gearbox.
>> Click ‘Next’ to read how the Audi A5 Sportback drives
Presumably, then, it drives just like the A5 Coupe?
Strangely, not. Which has been exercising me more than somewhat because, aside from the front-wheel drive model addition of a hard-to-detect-the-effect electronic front differential lock, the undercarriage appears to be identical. Audis have never hit the headlines for steering feel or subtlety of ride but, even initially judged on relatively smooth Spanish roads, the Sportback does appear to be a firm stride in the wrong direction.
The powertrain’s lusty enough, but light steering which weights up under cornering without ever feeling quite accurate enough makes the Sportback feel larger and less wieldy than is often comfortable on twistier roads; more grip than handling. But what really upsets the apple cart is suspension which steadfastly refuses to settle. Thoroughly unresolved damping allows occupants to enjoy every road surface undulation and blemish in a manner which is entirely out of keeping with a car of this class. The Sportback will certainly thump along a motorway at 100mph with predictable insouciance, but proves unaccountably uncomfortable in most other environments.
Time spent in both the 2.0 litre and V6 petrol variants suggests this to be an across-the-board issue. The extra front end weight of the V6 proved no help to anything other than straight line velocity, and the 2.0 TFSI unit even had the temerity to introduce perceptible torque steer on more than one occasion.
Frustrating. Audi takes the trouble to identify a niche in the premium market that may well prove hugely popular, and then offers a good looking, beautifully screwed together car which simply can’t cut the mustard in the comfort and dynamic stakes.
Ironically, Audi reckons that 50% of A5 Sportback takers will opt for the S Line specification, which incorporates beefed up suspension. I may have to re-train as a dentist.