by Karl Furlong
The four-door coupe craze remains as contentious as ever, and the Audi S5 Sportback isn't immune from its criticisms. There are enthusiasts who flat out deny that a car with an extra pair of doors could be considered a coupe at all, admonishing manufacturers' attempts to squeeze yet another niche out of an already bloated market. The thing is, when you stop trying to define it, the S5 Sportback emerges as a seriously desirable prospect. Its rakish lines make an A4 sedan look conservative, and a 349-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 under the hood doesn't hurt, either. With quattro all-wheel drive as standard, 60 mph comes up in just 4.5 seconds. With Mercedes-Benz lacking a direct competitor and a new BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe not on the market yet, the S5 Sportback is a pricey but appealing choice.
For the 2021 model year, Audi has left the S5 Sportback mechanically unchanged but enhanced the standard specification. Regardless of the trim you choose, every S5 now has Audi's smartphone interface that includes wireless Apple CarPlay and an integrated toll-road payment transmission feature. Lane departure warning is standard across the range, too. The optional Convenience Package has been bolstered by the addition of front/rear parking sensors and a heated steering wheel. On the Premium Plus trim, a top-view camera system, adaptive cruise control, a hands-on detection steering wheel, and lane-keeping assist are now standard. Meanwhile, the top-spec Prestige adds standard seat heating for those in the back, too.
Audi's Singleframe grille is a prominent feature of the S5 Sportback's face, with sporty honeycomb detailing in this application. It's flanked by Matrix-design LED headlights (with Audi laser lights on the top trim) and endows the S5 Sportback with that typical sporty Audi aura - not too in-your-face, but not so dull that you wouldn't take a second look. Along the sides, the tapering roofline is evident and meets a short rear end with LED taillights and dynamic indicators. A subtle rear trunk lip spoiler and S-model quad exhaust outlets are welcome touches. All versions come with a panoramic sunroof and a power tailgate. 18-inch alloy wheels span the entire range, with 19-inch items optional.
At over two inches lengthier than the S5 Coupe, the Audi S5 four-door Sportback has a total length of 187.3 inches and houses a 111.2-inch wheelbase. The height works out to 54.5 inches and the width is 79.9 inches including the side mirrors; these dimensions are similar to the S5 Coupe. Finally, the 4-door S5 Sportback's curb weight works out to 3,925 pounds.
The 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged TFSI V6 engine didn't need any changing, and Audi agrees. As it did last year, the motor used in the S5 produces 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of twist. It's exclusively paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive, a combination that will see off the 0-60 mph sprint in 4.5 seconds before the S5 reaches an electronically limited top speed of 155 mph. With optional all-season tires, the top speed dips to 130 mph, still plenty enough to get you into trouble. Although the 2021 S5 Sportback isn't especially responsive in Comfort mode, the Audi goes about its business in an unruffled manner, whether it's at a high-speed cruise or pottering around town. It may not have a charismatic V8 under the hood, but the S5 offers potent performance that's easy to live with.
The S5 Sportback's refined powertrain is matched by a well-tuned chassis that deftly blends handling precision with a comfortable enough ride. An electromechanical steering setup isn't quite bursting with feedback, but as for what works best in the real world, it's hard to fault the responsiveness of Audi's system. Standard quattro all-wheel drive means that the V6's power can be smoothly transferred to the asphalt. Perhaps there are fewer eye-widening moments than in some rear-wheel-drive competitors such as the BMW M340i, with the S5's sheer competence and polish being too smooth for some. But this is an Audi S, not an RS, so we feel the balance works well. On the highway, the S5 Sportback will stay at the legal limit all day long, feeling secure and soaking up bumps like a true professional. External noises are well-suppressed, too. On upper trims, an adaptive damping suspension is available, while dynamic steering can be specced to reduce steering effort at slower speeds. The adaptive damping suspension comes bundled together with a quattro sport rear differential with torque-vectoring. These extras do improve matters, but the S5's standard suspension is more than adequate.
Interestingly, the EPA's economy estimates for new Audi S5 Sportback indicate a highway figure for the S5 Sportback that is one mpg better than last year's numbers. Across the city/highway/combined cycles, the S5 Sportback should return 20/28/23 mpg, the same as the S5 Coupe. With its 15.3-gallon gas tank filled up with premium gasoline, expect a combined cruising range of around 352 miles.
If you really need to, the Audi S5 4-door can accommodate three occupants at the back for a total seating capacity of five. However, the rear is best suited for just two people, who will find that there is less legroom and headroom on offer than in the S4. Audi often nails seating comfort and the S5 Sportback is no different, with standard leather/Alcantara upholstery and appealing diamond stitching. The driver and front passenger benefit from 12-way power-adjustable pews with pneumatic side bolsters, heating, and even a massage function. For 2021, the top Prestige trim gains standard seat heating at the back.
Pop open the rear hatch, and the S5 Sportback avails a spacious 21.8 cubic feet of cargo space. That's over double the capacity of the S5 Coupe and is far larger in size than the S4 sedan's trunk, too. It can easily accommodate a large suitcase and a few smaller ones, or a week's worth of shopping. A power tailgate is standard across the range, and versatility gets an added boost with 40/20/40-split-folding rear seats, which offer a continuous floor that makes it easy enough to slide large boxes and the like inside. With these seats folded, total cargo capacity increases to 35 cubes.
Interior storage space for smaller items is average rather than excellent. There are well-sized cupholders in front, and door bins are fitted both front and rear. A center console storage space and a fold-down rear armrest with two more cupholders round out the options for stashing wallets, keys, water bottles, and phones.
Three trim levels are offered for the 2021 Audi S5 Sportback, but even the base Premium isn't what you'd call spartan. This version comes with heated exterior mirrors, 12-way power-adjustable front seats with heating and massage functions, a panoramic sunroof, a power tailgate, and automatic climate control with individual settings for 3 zones. Along with a rearview camera and Audi pre sense basic/pre sense city, lane departure warning becomes standard for the 2021 model year. A rearview camera is, of course, standard too. Moving up to the mid-range Premium Plus adds Audi's virtual cockpit display, front/rear parking sensors, power-folding exterior mirrors, rear cross-traffic assist, a top-view camera system, adaptive cruise control, and vehicle exit warning. The Prestige includes all of this and adds heated rear seats, Audi laser light, and, a head-up display.
Unlike in some other newer Audis, the S5 Sportback retains physical controls for the ventilation system, leaving infotainment duties to the standard 10.1-inch MMI touch display. The screen is clear and responds keenly to inputs while packing in features like wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, front USB data/charging ports, Bluetooth connectivity, and voice recognition. Whereas the base trim has a seven-inch driver information system, the top two trims add on Audi's virtual cockpit with a 12.3-inch TFT digital instrument cluster. The top two trims also have Audi phone box, which includes both wireless charging and a signal booster. SiriusXM with a 90-day all-access trial subscription is standard from the Premium Plus and up, while the Prestige adds MMI Navigation plus. While the lower two trims feature a ten-speaker sound system with 180 watts of punch, the Prestige enjoys a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 755 watts.
So far, the Audi S5 Sportback has been free of recalls for the 2020 and 2021 model years, indicating that it rates highly for reliability. There was, however, one 2019 recall for shock absorber forks that could potentially develop cracks, which could negatively affect the steering system. The S5 Sportback comes with a competitive four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty that also covers the powertrain, along with four years of roadside assistance and a 12-year corrosion warranty regardless of mileage covered.
The 2021 Audi S5 Sportback has yet to be evaluated by the NHTSA for crashworthiness. However, the safety authority did evaluate the 2019 model and awarded it a full five stars for safety, including a four-star frontal crash rating, along with five stars for the side and rollover tests. In 2020, the S5 Sportback was awarded five stars for the rollover test. Over at the IIHS, while the S5 Sportback hasn't been specifically tested, the closely related 2020 A5 Sportback achieved Good scores for all crashworthiness tests and Superior ratings for crash avoidance and mitigation.
All S5 Sportbacks ship with safety equipment that include six airbags (rear side airbags are an optional extra), electronic stability control, ABS/EBD braking, tire pressure monitoring, Audi pre sense basic, Audi pre sense city, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and high-beam assist. The entry-level Premium comes with just a rearview camera, but the mid-range Premium Plus adds a top-view camera system. The Premium has lane departure warning but the Premium Plus adds adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert, vehicle exit warning, and front/rear parking sensors. Reserved for the top Prestige derivative are traffic sign recognition, a head-up display, park steering assist, and active lane assist.
As a sleeker alternative to the S4, the Audi S5 Sportback covers all the bases as long as you won't often be transporting taller occupants at the back. Besides this, it provides a solid step up in performance over the A5, with the 349-hp V6 turbo offering a healthy turn of speed, yet maintaining a sense of refinement. It's this duality that filters through in other aspects; although wearing a sharp suit, it's also quite practical with its large trunk. And, while good to drive, it makes light work of long trips, too. At a similar price, the latest BMW M340i takes the form of a more traditional three-box sedan but is both quicker and more engaging to drive than the S5 Sportback, if that matters to you. With more standard gear, no recalls to report on in recent years, and Audi's typically robust build quality, the S5 Sportback is an easy sell.
The base Audi S5 Sportback price has increased in the USA, as it has for all trims. For 2021, the S5 Sportback carries a starting MSRP of $52,500 for the Premium, which represents a $600 increase over last year's equivalent model. Next is the Premium Plus, which goes on sale for $56,100 (+$1,700) followed by the Prestige at $60,900 (+$600). All prices are exclusives of taxes, licensing, registration, and a destination cost of $995. With enough options added, the Audi S5 Sportback can cost over $70,000.
In last year's S5 Sportback review, we chose the mid-range Premium Plus as the sweet spot in the range. While that remains the case for the 2021 model year, it's worth noting that this trim saw the biggest prices increase. That said, Audi specs it with many goodies missing from the Premium, such as Audi virtual cockpit, adaptive cruise control with active lane assist, a top-view camera system, and a steering wheel with hands-on detection. There is a range of appealing upgrades to choose from, but these can see the price soaring unnecessarily. However, the exterior Black Optic styling package does make this sporty sedan stand out even more with its blacked-out exterior trim. It goes for $2,200 on the upper trims. This upgrade - along with $800 for upgrading to the snazzier 19-inch alloys - matches the options prices for the 2020 Audi S5 Sportback.
Does it make sense to buy the 2021 Audi S5 Sportback if a similarly equipped S4 with the same engine can be had for $2,600 less? After all, that price differential is mostly granting you access to the S5's more exuberant styling. The two cars are otherwise closely matched, with each receiving the same trim-specific equipment upgrades for the 2021 model year. The difference in acceleration is negligible, with the S4 getting to 60 mph a tenth of a second more quickly using the same V6 with 349 hp. In the back seat, the S4 offers close to half an inch of extra headroom and 0.6 inches of additional legroom. However, the S5 Sportback has a much bigger trunk. Neither is a bad choice, but the S5 Sportback does come across as the more distinctive vehicle.
Although it looks identical from the front, the S5 Coupe loses its rear doors and has a much smaller trunk than its 4-door S5 Sportback sibling. Styling is subjective, but some will prefer the S5's even sleeker proportions that more closely adheres to the traditional coupe brief. It's much more difficult to access the S5 Coupe's rear seats and it has 2.4 inches less legroom back there, so the Sportback is easily the more practical car. The slightly lighter coupe will sprint to 60 mph in a tenth of a second before the Sportback, but that's as close as makes no difference. The Premium and Premium Plus trims are identically priced on each model, although the top Prestige is $300 more expensive if you go for the Sportback. It all comes down to whether you prefer a traditional coupe's shape or if you will often be ferrying around passengers at the back.