From £33,950
Handsome and versatile, but seriously undermined by its underpinnings

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.

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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.

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Mr_H 25 July 2009

Re: Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI S-line

kratz wrote:
Has Audi simply overstretched itself with Bentley/ Lambo/ R8/ A5/ Q7/ Q5/ etc. ?????

Yep. Too much tech & platform sharing/too many models/too much brand overlap - hang on, VW/Audi/Seat/Skoda/Lambo/Bentley...etc - it's German Leyland!!

kratz 24 July 2009

Re: Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI S-line

Am I the only person starting to wonder about this new A4/A5 platform? Styling, price, etc. are all very dependent on personal preferences. Horses for courses so to speak, but why does this platform that debuted on the A4 seem to simply be getting nowhere? When the new A4 was launched this new platform was the pride and joy of VW/Audi. It was going to finally lift the A4 ride/handling above its competitors. I might be wrong, but didn't they back then claim this new platform was to be used not only in the A4/A5 but also for future A3, Passat, Golf, Leon, Octavia, etc.? Either this platform simply does not convert well to RHD (because most LHD publications don't seem to have any big issues with production models)? Or VW/Audi have developed a dog? Or Audi engineering has simply lost the plot while their colleagues at VW/ SEAT/ Skoda have simply been doing what they do best: improve something that works! That would give the clever Mr Piech an additional reason for delaying a brand new Golf perhaps? I'm clutching at straws here I know, but really, can a company with the engineering skills, resources, and production volume potential of the VW/Audi group manage to get it so wrong, ALL OF THE TIME for Audi? Are these maybe the first tell-tale signs of the Bentley/ Lamborghini/ R8 effect? Have the brilliant people which Audi moved across to make Bentley/ Lamborghini/ R8 so great left a noticeable void? How else do we explain the updated Golf V(sorry, Golf 6) being so much better than the updated A3? Likewise new Passat v A4? Has Audi simply overstretched itself with Bentley/ Lambo/ R8/ A5/ Q7/ Q5/ etc. ????? Any other ideas on this anyone?

SDR 24 July 2009

Re: Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI S-line

HiltonH wrote:
The RHD cars go on sale in October, so expect a UK-based update of the Sportback in September.

Hilton, if you're still enduring this thread(!) - can you give me a clue as to why journalists seem to be so accepting of the absolutely abysmal engineering of the RHD conversion for the A4/A5 platform?

I know the offset pedals usually get a mention, but then all turns out nicely in the end anyway - I honestly don't understand why this just gets passed over as a minor irritant and then four stars still descend from above at the end.

The A4/A5 driving position is really, really horrible. The pedals are severely offset, too close together, there's not room to get a decent sized foot past the clutch to the footrest, and every time you press the clutch your foot fouls said footrest. On top of that the intrusive tunnel encroaches on general legroom to such a degree that you sit permanently skewed, with your left leg having nowhere to go. It's insanely annoying, uncomfortable, and completely unacceptable in a modern 30k large family car. It alone is reason enough for me never to even consider buying one - basic driving position is absolutely fundamental to enjoying any length of time in a car. It would be only marginally less appealing if I opened the door to find a spike where the seat should be.

If it drove like a Porsche or cost 10k then fine, compromises could reasonably be expected (though Porsche's pedals are just fine..). But 30k for a family hatch which doesn't even come with a rear wiper... I like (some) Audis, I really do, but the A4/A5 platform with its current RHD engineering is a bad joke. Autocar has a substantial voice to represent British motorists - I wish it was used with more authority when something is so manifestly a poor job.