What is it?
No question – Audi’s five door A5 Sportback has been a hit. Before the A5, the Audi A4 scored around a quarter of sales in the compact premium class, but with this platform-and segment-sharing pair it has snared a third of the market, even if A4 sales have dropped slightly.
Now, four years after the launch of the coupe that was the first A5, the whole range gets a refresh. There are subtle changes to the exterior, the cabin, steering, suspension and some revised engines, the most impressive of which is the 1.8 TFSI petrol tested here. Stop-start is standard for every model, be it manual or auto.
This revised 1.8 is the third generation of the EA888 four cylinder that Audi engineers for VW group use – the 2.0 litre version follows in mid-2012 – and it now features a combustion strategy that toggles between direct and indirect injection, enhanced variable valve lift and intelligent cooling.
Friction-reducing measures include roller-bearing balancer shafts, while an electronically managed wastegate and an integrated exhaust manifold also yield efficiency improvements. Together with fuel-saving electronic power steering it produces a competitive combined consumption of 43.1 and 134g/km of CO2 emissions, but more impressive than these stats is a torque curve whose early 1400rpm 236lb ft peak is sustained through to 3700rpm.
What’s it like?
The torque makes this engine a real pleasure to drive behind. It pulls from low down with stout, near diesel-like zeal, and keeps on pulling through to 5000rpm. It’ll rev smoothly beyond that, but it’s more productive to change up than pull red lines.
Four-cylinder powertrains work best with the A5, or seem to do its sometimes troubled dynamics the least damage, the weightier V6s giving some versions the nose-heavy handling of a slung hammer. The lighter TFSI affords the Sportback better balance and more confident directional stability, even if heaving cambers will have the wheel squirming. You can alter the steering’s ratio and feel with the drive select button no choice provides especially convincing sensations, although the previous hydraulic set-up was no paragon either.
More frustrating is a ride that sometimes manages to feel both inelastic and overdamped despite softenings of dampers and anti-roll bars and this, coupled to the A5’s dull reluctance to slice through tight bends, produces a chassis that falls well short of its BMW and Benz opposition.
Should I buy one?
Many will happily ignore these failings to enjoy the Sportback’s still appealing style and a cabin of even better detail finish despite the less-than-obvious air conditioning control logic. Audi’s MMI infotainment controller has been slightly simplified however, there’s a new steering wheel, some fresh interior finish choices – one rather dubiously titled ‘poetry’ that includes attractive yacht-deck style wood inlays –and a redesigned automatic transmission selector. The latest A5 is recognisable from the outside, incidentally, by a new front bumper, a grille with angled upper corners and revised lights.
Blind spot detection, lane drift correction, adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking and drowsiness monitors are now available, along with mobile wireless web connection which should keep kids quiet. More accurate online traffic updates and reroutings should keep an under-pressure driver quiet too.
Such sophistication and attention to detail would make the A5 Sportback a still more desirable machine were it not for dynamic shortfalls remain unaddressed and leave it well adrift of its domestic rivals. And that’s a pity.
Audi A5 Sportback 1.8 TFSI SE manual
Price: £27,310; Top speed: 143mph; 0-62mph: 7.9sec; Economy: 41.3mpg; Co2: 134g/km; Kerb weight: 1425kg; Engine type, cc: in-line four, petrol, 1798cc; Power: 168bhp at 3800-6200rpm; Torque: 236lb ft at 1400-3700rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual