What is it?
Audi claims that the A5 Sportback is 'unique, with no direct competitors...blending coupe style with saloon practicality...a contemporary embodiment of the Grand Turismo philosophy'. It also says that the Sportback is the final model in the A5 line-up.
For the UK range, there’s a choice of a 206bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbo engine and a 260bhp 3.2-litre V6 petrol (both hooked up to a quattro drivetrain) and a 2.0-litre, 167bhp diesel and a six-cylinder 235bhp 3.0-litre diesel.
In truth, this car is the same size as the A4 saloon (the Sportback is 4711mm long, just 8mm longer and has a 2810mm,wheelbase, just 2mm longer than the A4). However, it’s noticeably wider (the Sportback’s front track is 1590mm, 26mm wider than the A4’s) and despite the sloping roof line, the Sportback gives away just 5mm in rear headroom to the A4 saloon.
Under the lengthy tailgate, the Sportback has the same 480 litres of luggage space as the A4 four door. The boot is admirably flat-side and when the rear seats are folded, the impressively long load bay is nearly flat. Another neat touch if the 70-30 split luggage cover. 70 percent of it is permanently attached to the underside of the hatch (an idea nicked, perhaps, from the Jaguar XK) so it is lifted out of the way when the hatch is raised. The remaining 30 percent is a small, hinged, parcel shelf, which allows excellent access to the boot space. There’s no rear wiper, though, as Audi engineers say there 'would be no demand for it'.
What’s it like?
We tried the intriguing entry-level petrol-engined Sportback. It’s powered by a 2.0-litre direct-injection, turbocharged petrol engine, hooked up Audi’s 7-speed double-clutch S tronic gearbox, which, in turn, drives a quattro transmission.
With 207 bhp and a handy 258lbft of torque on tap from 1500rpm, this combination promises a 0-62mph time of just 6.6secs and a combined economy figure of 38.2mpg (or 172g/km).
It wouldn’t have been our first choice to go with the A5’s S-Line package (which bumps the price up from the £28,625 of the base model and the £30,325 of the leather-lined SE), but that’s all that was on offer at Audi’s Italian test day.
While the interior and exterior S-Line trimmings look great and add to the car, the S-Line suspension tuning has never been much loved, on UK roads at least. In previous incarnations, it has proved much too stiff and unyielding.
While these test cars were new, right from the off the (somewhat droning) engine never felt anything like delivering the promised punch at lower revs, though when properly provoked for an overtaking maneuver it did come alive. Audi’s own double-clutch box might not be quite as quick and slick as the one used in transverse-engined VWs either, though it does have a permanent 4x4 drivetrain to deal with.
The real problems lie elsewhere. On the winding roads of Tuscany, the S-Line Sportback spent too much of the time simply drawing out the topography of the road surface. It followed nearly every undulation in the road’s surface, constantly, if gently, bobbing and dipping. In certain circumstances the body would also demonstrate slight corkscrewing tendencies. The steering is also very light until the driver winds in at least half a turn, when it gets more of a grip.
That’s not to say that were times when this particular Sportback came together and managed to flow along pleasantly (though it is really at its best stretched out on the motorway), but it just came across as rather anodyne when it wasn’t actually misbehaving.
I managed to find a few really badly broken roads which proved that S-Line suspension would likely be a nightmare in much of the UK.
A short drive in a two-wheel drive, normally suspended, 2.0 TFSI was even more alarmingly. Under hard acceleration, the steering would actually stiffen up to the point of freezing, and pushing into bends left the driver uneasy as the cornering force failed to build up in a linear manner. A noticeable degree of road-camber steer was evident, too.
Oddly, a short drive in the 3.0 TDi Quattro Sportback showed it to be head and shoulders above the other Sportbacks we tried. Aside from the creamy, punchy engine, it felt much better tied down and confidence inspiring.
Should I buy one?
In many ways, the A5 Sportback is a handsome, well-made, desirable and versatile machine. The interior is a bit over-buttoned (and the gearlever seems a bit bit too high), but it’s a nice place to be and our car had excellent seats, with extendable squabs. And despite the fastback profile, it clearly has genuine carrying capacity.
However, we’ll probably have to suspend final judgment until we get UK-spec cars on UK roads. Unless potential owners are content that they will spend most of their time ploughing motorways, on this showing, it looks like the newest A5 will be undermined by its unpolished underpinnings.