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.
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).
See trim levels and configurations:
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 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.
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.
The most popular competitors of 2020 Audi A5 Sportback: