by Karl Furlong
Audi's traditional sedans have often been criticized in equal parts for being too staid or looking too similar (at a glance, it's not easy to distinguish between an A4 and an A6). Enter the A5 Sportback. While it has four doors like these sedans, the A5 Sportback adds a coupe-like rear profile and, overall, really does come across as a more alluring proposition, at least from an aesthetic point of view. With no "four-door coupe" version of the Mercedes C-Class, the A5 Sportback has few direct rivals - chief among them is the aging BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe. A rather cramped rear seat is one of the obvious downsides of the A5 Sportback, but a refined and powerful turbocharged engine, a smart interior, and the availability of Audi's latest technologies blend together to create an appealing alternative to conservative Audi sedans.
Audi has refreshed the A5 Sportback's styling and upgraded the infotainment offering this year. The distinctive Singleframe grille is now flatter and wider than on last year's model - Audi says that the ventilation slits atop the grille hark back to the Audi Sport quattro from the '80s. Bigger air inlets, new side sills, and a diffuser insert are further updates. In the cabin, the major upgrade is the 10.1-inch touchscreen with Audi's latest MIB 3 infotainment software, said to be ten times faster than MIB 2. Among the system's enhancements is the addition of acoustic feedback, to improve the touchscreen's user-friendliness.
See trim levels and configurations:
Audi seems to have a knack for aesthetics in niche segments: vehicles like the e-tron, A7, and Q8 allow the brand's design department to have some fun while its bread-and-butter sedans/SUVs take care of the bottom line. The A5 Sportback is no different; it resists being brash but has more emotion in its lines than an A4 sedan. All models have 18-inch alloy wheels, the honeycomb Singleframe grille, LED headlights, a power tailgate, and door handles with chrome inlays. The Premium Plus adds matrix-design LED headlights and the Prestige gets one of Audi's party tricks: LED taillights with dynamic indicators and animation.
The A5 Sportback is similar in size to the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, with the main difference being in length, where the Audi is 4.6 inches longer. The A5 measures 187.3 inches long, 54.5 inches in height, and 79.9 inches wide with the mirrors included. A 111.1-inch wheelbase is concealed beneath the coupe-like body. Curb weight, regardless of trim, works out to 3,725 pounds.
Audi has kept it simple with the A5 Sportback range, employing its 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that generates 248 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. The TFSI engine is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and, as usual, the quattro all-wheel-drive system is used. Some purists may hanker after the BMW 430i's rear-wheel-drive dynamics, but quattro does provide extra peace of mind in icy conditions.
The combination makes for unfussed, potent performance. The A5 Sportback will complete 0-60 mph in only 5.7 seconds. Flat out, the A5 will reach a limited 130 mph. While you can go for the S5 Sportback for even more performance (we review this model separately), there is no need to because the regular A5 performs admirably in the real world. The engine is both quiet and responsive and it pairs perfectly with the quick-shifting transmission.
Audi's stubborn consistency is on full display when you first take the A5 Sportback for a drive. Finding fault with the A5 on the road is a futile exercise, the four-door coupe effortlessly blending high comfort levels with sharp, agile responses. The steering's weighting is spot-on and responds precisely to driver inputs. The security of the quattro system and the car's composure even in slippery conditions are further feathers in its cap. An S Sport Package is available on the top trim, adding a quattro sport rear differential and an adaptive damping suspension, but unlike some other cars, the A5 doesn't require this upgrade thanks to a fundamentally well-tuned setup.
Ride quality is controlled and absorbent. The A5 deals with bumps both big and small in an unflustered manner and, with excellent insulation, road noise fails to permeate the calm environment in the classy cabin.
The 2.0-liter turbo-four is not only powerful, but efficient, too. According to the EPA, it's expected to return 24/32/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. When the 15.3-gallon gas tank is filled up to capacity, a range of around 413 miles can be expected. These numbers are better than those of the BMW 430i xDrive Gran Coupe, which returns 21/31/24 mpg (although the RWD 430i returns 23/34/27 mpg). The A5 requires premium gasoline.
The A5 Sportback is a five-seater, but just two occupants will be happier at the back. The seats themselves are quite firm but provide plenty of support even if you'll be spending hours behind the wheel. All models have high-quality leather seating surfaces and in front, the seats have heating and eight-way power-adjustability. Legroom and headroom are good in front, but at the back, the sloping roofline limits headroom to 37 inches - by comparison, the more conventional A4 sedan has 37.4 inches of rear headroom. It may not sound like a big difference, but taller occupants will notice if they sit straight up, especially those consigned to the raised center rear seat. Ingress and egress are simple and, of course, it's much easier to get into the back of the Sportback compared to the A5 coupe.
With its hatchback-like body style, the A5 Sportback has a massive advantage over the A5 Coupe and Cabriolet models. The Sportback offers a generous 21.8 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks, far eclipsing the 10.9 cubes of the A5 Coupe. The large tailgate (with standard power operation) provides a vast opening for loading cargo, accommodating large suitcases easily - or several carry-ons - with ease. The 40/20/40-split-folding rear seat expands cargo room appreciably and is easy to fold down.
Interior storage space isn't quite as good. You do get twin cupholders in front, a slot on the center console for a wallet or phone, and an average-sized center console.
Three trims make up the A5 Sportback range and all are well-specified, even the base Premium which has three-zone automatic climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient LED interior lighting, heated and eight-way power-adjustable front seats, and a power tailgate. Along with six airbags, a rearview camera, Audi pre sense basic, and Audi pre sense city provide peace of mind. Moving up to the Premium Plus introduces wireless charging, front and rear acoustic parking sensors, and a memory system for the driver's seat. The Prestige tops the range with amenities like headlight washers, a head-up display, a top-view camera system, and adaptive cruise control.
This year, Audi upgrades its infotainment offering with the MIB 3 version, improving the speed of operation by up to ten times over MIB 2. Last year's infotainment system was already one of the better systems around, so the upgrade moves things along even further. The MMI touch display has a crisp 10.1-inch screen that makes interacting with the system a pleasure. Standard features on all trims include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, a natural language voice control system, and a music interface with front USB ports for data transfer and/or charging. On the base trim, the driver has traditional dials with a seven-inch display, while the Premium Plus trim and above adds Audi's virtual cockpit with a 12.3-inch TFT configurable instrument cluster. This trim also adds SiriusXM with a three-month trial subscription and rear USB charging ports, while the Prestige gets MMI Navigation plus and a six-month trial subscription to Audi connect prime, along with Audi connect plus.
The lower two trims feature a ten-speaker, 180-watt sound system, but the Prestige is the one that audiophiles will lust after as it has a booming 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 755 watts.
Last year, J.D. Power rated the A5 Sportback 83 out of a possible 100, indicating that it's a solid bet for reliability, quality, and the general ownership experience. Added to this positive perception is the fact that the NHTSA has not had to announce any recalls for the 2020/2019 model A5 Sportback.
Audi's new vehicle warranty runs for four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first, and 24-hour roadside assistance for four years is thrown in as well. A 12-year warranty for corrosion perforation is standard, regardless of miles covered.
There should be no concerns when it comes to safety with the Audi A5 Sportback. The NHTSA gave the A5 a full five-star rating for overall safety and the IIHS' findings are just as promising; the latter agency rated the A5 as Good for every crashworthiness test and as Superior for crash avoidance/mitigation.
These safety scores are thanks to the car's strong structure and the standard fitment of six airbags, a rearview camera, electronic stability control, ABS/EBD brakes, and tire pressure monitoring. Driver aids on the base model include Audi pre sense basic and pre sense city systems, which can anticipate hazards and warn the driver of them. The Premium Plus trim adds front/rear acoustic parking sensors, rear cross-traffic assist, and vehicle exit warning, while the Prestige gets the full gamut of driver aids like a top-view camera system, active lane assist, park assist, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, traffic sign recognition, and an excellent head-up display.
The perfect car - for the real world - doesn't exist, but the Audi A5 Sportback has a pretty good go at it anyway. Rear headroom aside, it's extremely tough to find fault with the A5 Sportback. It simply has all the bases covered: it's fun to drive yet comfortable, stylish to look at yet not too showy, and powerful yet efficient. Audi's knack for crafting upscale interiors lives on in the A5, with every surface exhibiting a quality feel. The increase in style has also come with a versatility advantage too, as the A5 Sportback has a larger trunk than every single one of the brand's sedans. BMW's 4 Series Gran Coupe is an interesting alternative, boasting the brand's famed rear-wheel-drive dynamics on the base model and being a little sharper through corners, but it's got a much smaller trunk and is based on the older, previous-generation 3 Series. Overall, it's another fantastic effort from the Lord of the (four) Rings.
An MSRP of $42,900 will get you behind the wheel of the A5 Sportback in its base, Premium trim. This price is exclusive of tax, licensing, registration, and Audi's $995 destination fee. The Premium Plus costs $46,700 and the Prestige tops the range at $52,600. Interestingly, these prices are identical to those of the A5 Coupe, despite the Sportback's extra pair of doors.
Of course, these prices also exclude any package upgrades. On the base trim, the Convenience Package adds $1,500 to the price and includes driver's seat memory, advanced keyless start/entry, and rear cross-traffic assist, among other items. Moving up to the Premium Plus avails the Black Optic Package at $1,300 with darkened exterior trim, plus you can spec navigation ($1,600) and the Warm Weather Package with seat ventilation ($1,300).
Audi has done a good job of structuring its trims so that upgrading to the mid-range or top-tier trim feels worthwhile, yet the base Premium doesn't feel sparse at all. We'd go with the mid-range Premium Plus because it adds the excellent Audi virtual cockpit, wireless charging, and rear cross-traffic assist - all are useful features. We'd restrict the options to around $2,000 so as not to encroach on the Prestige's price, so the boxes we'd tick are for metallic paint and the driver assistance package that adds adaptive cruise control and active lane assist.
We're pretty sure that many young executives looking for a luxury sedan have walked into Audi dealerships heading straight for the well-known A4, only to be confronted with the sleeker A5 Sportback. Without hesitation, we'd advise them to take a closer look at the Sportback before signing anything. The one advantage to the A4 is a broader range as it starts at $37,400 for the less powerful 40 TFSI which has 188 hp. Comparing apples with apples, an A5 Sportback in the same trim and with the same engine is around $2,000 pricier than the A4. Audi has kept the A4 fresh with a series of updates so both cars have access to the same tech and both have immaculately crafted cabins. The A5 Sportback has a bigger trunk, but the A4 has a more accommodating rear seat. Each car rides and handles in a similarly unflappable manner. If it were us, we'd spend the extra cash on the more emotive A5 Sportback, which wraps most of the A4's talents in a more appealingly styled body.
The BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe is to the (previous-gen) 3 Series what the A5 Sportback is to the A4. That means a sleeker alternative to its more conservative sedan counterpart. At $44,750, the base 430i starts at just under $2,000 more than the A5, but it does offer rear-wheel-drive which will find favor with many, as well as the availability of a manual gearbox. The 430i also uses a 248-hp turbocharged engine, so the two are pretty equally matched performance-wise. Equipment levels are similar: the base BMW has a driver's seat memory system and navigation as standard, but the Audi counters with a larger touchscreen interface and genuine leather seats, as opposed to the base 4 Series' synthetic leather. The Audi is a touch more comfortable and refined while the BMW does a better job of involving the driver when the road starts to turn. For less than the top-spec A5 Sportback Prestige, you can get the 440i Gran Coupe with a glorious 320-hp six-cylinder engine and a sub-five-second sprint to 60 mph. While the A5 Sportback does feel like the more polished package, the exciting 4 Series Gran Coupe could tempt us, especially the six-cylinder model. In short: it's a mighty close call.
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