From £24,780
Audi Drive Assist transforms the A5 Sportback - at a price
24 July 2009

What is it?

Somewhere in Audi’s product planning division, somebody identified the yawning chasm between the A4 and the A6 and decided to fill it with a three-model range of cars. This five-door version is Germany’s Rover Vitesse and it’s the last – and cheapest – of the A5 range.

It borrows heavily from the A4 in every aspect. It’s close enough on length and wheelbase for the judges to call for the high-zoom photo at the post and it’s almost identical on headroom as well, even at the back. This version is a strict four-seater, though not for Audi fanciful concepts like cabin-length central consoles. Instead, it provides just four seat belts to make its point, though the back seat could easily carry three people.

The big difference between this and the A5 Sportback tested by Autocar recently is that this one was fitted with Audi’s Drive Assist, a multi-function software system that can be optioned up to control everything from the suspension to the gearbox and from the steering to the throttle mapping.

It also runs Comfort, Automatic and Dynamic settings, more of which…

What’s it like?

…Now. Without this system in place, the A5 Sportback is at best underdone below decks and at worst, over the choppy, poorly maintained roads that snake over Tuscany’s hills and mountains, dreadful.

In one fell swoop, the electronics umbrella changes all of that. The differences are immediate, even before we’ve left the driveway. Bumps we braced for and dips that tested the bump stops are treated disdainfully in Automatic mode.

Where these types of systems often trend towards a wallowing (read: American plush) ride in their Comfort modes, the Sportback does no such thing. Instead, it seems to focus its attention on the elimination of lateral head-toss as much as it does vertical thumps, and it also reduces the otherwise-tremendous noise of the bumps entering the cabin.

Automatic mode is the default setting and that’s where most people will leave it, so it’s a relief to find that it also gets the job done a lot better than those poor, unfortunate A5 Sportbacks with standard suspensions, but the star of the show is Sport.


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In Sport mode, this car goes from being adequate to terrific. The steering tightens up and delivers more feedback to the driver. The seven-speed double-clutch gearbox holds gears further up the rev range and downshifts more aggressively, with a loud throttle blip (or you can just shift manually on the steering wheel’s paddles).

The throttle response is also faster and the suspension behaves itself so well that you know the settings were confirmed by the engineering department, not their colleagues in marketing.

The Sportback – no lightweight, remember – shrinks around you like the best sporty models, switching character to feel almost identical to the S3 in winding mountain conditions.

Unlike some of these systems, the Sport mode on the Sportback keeps the rubber on the road, doesn’t feel harsh for the sake of making sure people get the message and just grips reliably, predictably and strongly.

Should I buy one?

If Audi were serious about the future of its A5 Sportback in the UK, this would be the only one you could buy anyway. It isn’t.

This is the system that transforms the car, but you really are left wondering why the standard model couldn’t just use one of its suspension settings as a baseline in the first place. Because, let’s face it, when you build a car that demands – yes, demands – that you spend another two grand to buy something that fixes a problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place, well, that indicates that something went wrong. Or someone’s being very cynical about improving the spend per car.

So if you’re absolutely sure that it’s an Audi you want, the A4 is just a couple of millimeters too short and the A6 is a touch too big, and think to yourself, "Wouldn’t a hatch be useful?", this might just be the machine for you.

Just make sure you get the Drive Select system or you’ll quickly change your mind.

Michael Taylor

Join the debate


5 August 2009

So Audi have designed a car which looks like the cheaper A4 (to the extent I can't tell the difference from the front), doesn't drive well unless you spend an extra £2k on it and decided for no good reason (or so it would seem) to leave out the middle seat belt in the back. Not impressed.

5 August 2009

As mentioned this option should be standard kit, it won't stop audi knobs buying them by the boat load though.

5 August 2009

[quote Autocar]This five-door version is Germany’s Rover Vitesse[/quote]

Sorry to be pedantic, but you mean Rover SD1, or Rover 800 fastback. The Vitesse monika was slapped on various Rover saloons as well (216, Coupe, etc).

Besides, how can you compare the Audi to the iconic SD1. That was a beautiful (Daytonaesque styling), cracker of a car even though it often suffered various electrical maladies...... mind you.......

5 August 2009

[quote TegTypeR]even though it often suffered various electrical maladies...... mind you.......[/quote]

I think what you mean to say is that it was a pile of sh1t :) Still liked them as a kid though.

5 August 2009

Well since the A5 was recently named the most unreliable car due to a catalogue of electrical issues they have imitated the Rover all to well.

Audi have recently been taking the mickey charging extra for decent suspension:

The TT-S costs a little over £30k and comes with adaptive suspension as standard, whilst the TT-RS costs between £43-45k and yet adaptive suspension is a £1100 option. Lets not forget that the mechanically identical £20k Scirocco has adaptive suspension as standard.

Also, the new S4 is apparently a bland piece of kit to drive unless you pay EXTRA for the 'DriveSelect' and then EXTRA for the active rear differential. What a joke!

5 August 2009

[quote Quattro369]

Well since the A5 was recently named the most unreliable car due to a catalogue of electrical issues they have imitated the Rover all to well.


If you are talking about the recent Which? reliability scores then that's true. What you failed to mention is that in spite of the reliability scores it came top for overall satisfaction.

Another car that stuck out for me was the Alfa 159 which came bottom of it's class for relaibility. And I thought that Alfas were reliable now.

5 August 2009

So when will Audi make this option across its entire lineup? Sounds like a revelation!

5 August 2009

A good fastback!

That doesn't irritate you all these modes? Comfort, auto, sport, sport ++, race, race +...
Make a car well tuned, not a GranTurismo game.

5 August 2009

.....or buy an Insignia or Mondeo hatch and save ten grand with decent suspension as standard! Is this the end of "premium"?

6 August 2009


Audi build and market a car that's out-ridden by a Cortina and out-handled by a Marina.

Then, they have the temerity to ask for a lot of extra dosh for an option that transforms the above hopelessly riding, ill-handling pig-ugly car into something that...isn't even class best!

Methinks a laugh is being had.

Except that Germans don't have sense of humour, so this must be a serious proposition.

And shame on Autocar for pulling their punches in this test.


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