by Karl Furlong
Audi's lukewarm 'S' badge - bridging the gap between tamer Audis and the hot RS models - has found a stylish home in the S5 Sportback. Offering the convenience of four doors for superior rear-seat access but retaining much of the S5 Coupe's svelte lines, it's a car that seems to do it all, and represents further proof that the four-door coupe concept has legs. Under the hood, a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 engine generates 349 horsepower and enables the S5 Sportback to hit 60 mph in a swift 4.5 seconds, making it even quicker than the BMW 440i Gran Coupe, one of the Audi's direct rivals. In the S5 Sportback's favor is an immaculately built cabin, an upgraded infotainment system, and a ride/handling balance that is hard to beat. The S4 might be the default option for the young executive looking for a quick but civilized Audi sedan, but the S5 Sportback adds a stylish flair that gives it even greater appeal.
Audi has seen fit to give the S5 Sportback some styling tweaks and an updated infotainment system for the 2020 model year. Outside, the Singleframe grille (with honeycomb detailing) is both flatter and wider than before. Larger air inlets and new side sills form part of the fresher looks, too. In the cabin, the large 10.1-inch infotainment screen gains MIB 3 software which Audi promises is faster than last year's MIB 2 system. Acoustic feedback improves the driver's interaction with the touchscreen.
The sophisticated S5 Sportback shares much with the S5 Coupe from the front, while the side view differs with the added pair of doors. Despite the sporty add-ons like the S-specific honeycomb grille and the quad tailpipes, there's nothing brash about the S5's appearance. All versions ride on 18-inch alloy wheels and have matrix-design LED headlights, LED taillights with dynamic indicators, a panoramic sunroof, and a rear trunk lid spoiler. On the Prestige trim, the headlights and taillights feature an animation effect.
The S5 Sportback rides on a 111.1-inch website and has a total body length of 187.3 inches, making it 2.4 inches longer than the S5 Coupe. Height is 54.5 inches and the width (excluding the mirrors) is 72.5 inches - with the mirrors included, width works out to 79.9 inches. The S5 Sportback's curb weight is 3,925 pounds.
A 3.0-liter turbocharged TFSI V6 engine does duty in every S5, endowing the Sportback with rapid, easy performance. The unit puts out 349 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel-drive, clean takeoffs are the order of the day. The benchmark 0-60 mph sprint takes just 4.5 seconds (a mere tenth of a second slower than the S5 Coupe) and a top speed of 155 mph is quoted, dropping to 130 mph when rolling on all-season tires.
The transmission is super smooth but doesn't respond with the alacrity of the auto 'box in the BMW 440i - however, even the Bimmer's faster transmission doesn't make it quicker than the Audi. Unlike some performance cars that only feel comfortable when in maximum attack mode, the S5 Sportback is an effortless commuter in town, with no jerky gearshifts to contend with in stop-go traffic. At higher speeds, the V6 makes light work of overtaking maneuvers and disappears into the background on the highway. The S5 Sportback is a class act.
A slightly lower ride height and a sport suspension differentiate the S5 from the A5, but this is no bone-jarring car to drive. In fact, the S5 Sportback is as comfortable as a regular Audi sedan - especially in Comfort mode - soaking up bumps, feeling stable and planted, and effectively keeping external noises at bay. The electromechanical steering is precise and responds quickly to driver inputs and this, together with the V6's potent power delivery, combines to create a genuinely engaging driving experience. It's perhaps not as dynamic as the 4 Series Gran Coupe, but it's not far off. As always, finding the quattro system's grip limits will require truly unruly behavior. A dynamic steering system is available as an optional extra, and although it does lower steering effort when parking, feedback is inconsistent at higher speeds; the standard setup will be more than satisfactory for the majority of shoppers.
The S5 Sportback's EPA-rated economy estimates of 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined are identical to those of the S5 Coupe. A 15.3-gallon gas tank is fitted and, when filled up with premium fuel, a mixed driving range of just over 350 miles is possible. The BMW 440i Gran Coupe is a bit more economical, though, returning a combined 25 mpg from its 3.0-liter turbo six-pot.
Although it can seat five, two passengers will be happier in the back of the S5 Sportback. The advantage of the Sportback over the coupe is over two inches of extra rear legroom, although rear headroom trails the more conventional S4 sedan by around half an inch. There are no issues with space for the driver and front passenger, with both these chairs getting 12-way power-adjustment, heating, and even massaging functions. The combination of leather and Alcantara looks great and the seats, while firm, provide excellent support even after a long time behind the wheel. Ingress and egress are simple front and rear.
The S5 Sportback carves out another advantage over the coupe, offering exactly double the latter's cargo capacity with 21.8 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats. That's a massive difference and ensures that the Sportback can comfortably swallow a week's worth of shopping or a couple of suitcases. The cargo opening is appreciably large (thanks to the power-operated, hatchback-like tailgate), allowing one to load large items with ease. The 40/20/40-split folding rear seatback can be lowered to further increase total cargo capacity.
A center console and a narrow slot that can accommodate a smartphone are among the interior storage options, but this aspect isn't quite as impressive as the cargo capacity. The usual assortment of cupholders applies, too.
A choice of three trims makes up the S5 Sportback range and all receive a welcome range of comfort and safety features. On the base model, three-zone climate control (with a rear display) is another subtle hint that Audi views this model as a practical four/five-seater. This trim also has 12-way power front seats with heating and massaging functions, LED interior lighting, leather/Alcantara seats, a power tailgate, and a panoramic sunroof. High-beam assist, rain-sensing wipers, and Audi pre sense basic are among the safety features. On higher trims, wireless charging, rear USB ports, and front/rear parking sensors become available. A head-up display and a top-view camera system are reserved for the top-of-the-line Prestige.
Audi's MMI touch display is highlighted by a 10.1-inch color touchscreen. This year, the system is said to be up to ten times quicker, especially benefitting functions like navigation with its real-time updates. All of the essential connectivity features are fitted, from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to Bluetooth, front USB ports for data transfer/charging, and voice recognition. Moving up to the Premium Plus trim adds Audi's virtual cockpit with a 12.3-inch screen, wireless charging, rear USB charging ports, and SiriusXM with a three-month trial subscription. The top-tier Prestige adds MMI navigation.
On the lower two trims, a 10-speaker, 180-watt sound system is used, while the Prestige gets a 16-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 755 watts of punch, an option on the mid-range Premium Plus derivative.
No recalls have affected the S5 Sportback for the 2019 or 2020 model years, although there was one in 2018 - in this case, an incorrectly disabled passenger airbag could increase the risk of injury in the event of a crash. Audi's limited vehicle warranty runs for four years or 50,000 miles, which is on par with most others in this segment. 24-hour roadside assistance runs for the same period of time/miles, while a 12-year/unlimited-miles corrosion warranty is included as well.
For 2020 models, the NHTSA has only provided a five-star rating for the rollover test for the S5 Sportback. However, last year's model did receive a full five-star overall safety rating. The IIHS awarded the 2020 S5 Sportback a full spread of Good ratings in every crashworthiness test, along with a Superior rating for crash avoidance/mitigation.
The S5's safety specification includes six airbags, a rearview camera, electronic stability control (with secondary collision brake assist), and tire pressure monitoring. Audi pre sense basic and pre sense city account for common hazards and will alert the driver of them. On the Premium Plus trim, front/rear parking sensors are added, along with Audi side assist and Audi pre sense rear (comprising rear cross-traffic assist and vehicle exit warning). The top-tier Prestige adds active lane assist, park steering assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, a head-up display, and the convenience of a top-view camera system.
The S5 Sportback is an Audi sedan with some real spark. Not only does the turbocharged V6 engine provide a healthy increase in performance and driving enjoyment over the four-cylinder A5 models, but the Sportback body style stands out among four-door Audis. Rear-seat headroom isn't overly generous, but other than that there are few compromises and a number of advantages, such as the vast cargo area. The rock-solid cabin feels expensive even on the base trim thanks to gorgeous upholstery and standard features like front-seat massaging. On the technology front, the enhanced infotainment system is even quicker than before. We must also praise Audi for a near-perfect balance between agile handling and comfortable cruising. The BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe will please enthusiasts with its available rear-wheel-drive layout and manual gearbox, but the newer S5 Sportback is a complete package that barely puts a foot wrong. Yes, we've been won over by another four-door coupe.
There is no price increase from the S5 Coupe to the S5 Sportback, despite the addition of those rear doors. The range begins with the Premium trim at $51,900, excluding tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $995. The mid-range Premium Plus carries an MSRP of $54,400 and the range-topping Prestige costs $60,300. A fully-loaded S5 Sportback (with added options like the exterior Black Optic Package at $2,500) can cost in excess of $70,000.
Even though it has many appealing features, the range-topping Prestige trim - at over $60,000 - starts to look quite expensive, costing more than a V6-engined Audi A6. For that reason, we'd stick with the mid-range Premium Plus, which gets more driver-assist features (like rear cross-traffic assist) and the high-tech Audi virtual cockpit. The standard wheels look a bit small, so we'd upgrade to the 19s for $800 and add the Driver Assist Package at $1,500 (including adaptive cruise control and traffic jam assist to take the slog out of commuting).
The 440i Gran Coupe is probably the S5 Sportback's most direct rival, offering turbocharged six-cylinder power and slinky coupe-like looks to go with the versatility of four doors. Unlike the Audi, the Gran Coupe is offered with rear-wheel-drive as an option, something that will please enthusiasts. At $51,150, the RWD 440i comes in at a couple of hundred dollars less than the base A5 Sportback. The BMW is blessed with a sweet 3.0-liter six-pot, but its 320 horsepower/330 lb-ft outputs are outgunned by the S5's. The 440i xDrive takes 4.7 seconds to hit 60, just two-tenths of a second behind the S5. According to the official specs, the 440i has less rear legroom and nearly identical headroom, so both are a tad tight back there for taller passengers. To drive, the Gran Coupe is a bit harder-edged than the Audi with crisper responses, but it's a close call. In fact, as a whole, separating these two will require an extended test drive to figure out which option best meets your requirements.
Starting at $2,000 less than the S5 Sportback is the more conventional choice if you want a five-seater sedan: the S4. With the same engine, the two cars have nearly identical performance and the same goes for the way they feel on the road, mixing impeccable comfort with tidy handling. Both cars have luxurious cabins crammed with the latest technologies, especially on the top Prestige trim. The main difference is from the B-pillar and back; the more stylish S5 Sportback has less rear headroom but a much bigger trunk (21.8 cubic feet versus just 12 cubes in the S4). If you have smaller children or won't be using the back seat that often, the S5 Sportback is the more tempting option.