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Car reviews - Audi - A5 - Sportback 2.0 TFSI Quattro

Our Opinion

We like
Outstanding economy for a petrol engine, strong performance, hatchback practicality
Room for improvement
Confused identity, numb steering, questionable value for money

Audi logo8 Apr 2011

BACK in the swinging ‘60s when Renault popularised this concept with its 16, hatchbacks were cool. A decade later, Rover even replaced the cramped 2000/3500 sedan with a much larger hatchback known as the SD1.

Later, Citroën gave a bemused automotive world its spacey and spacious XM, which had a double rear window so occupants wouldn’t feel a chill wind when the tailgate was lifted. But even by this time (1989) the term ‘hatchback’ was persona non-grata in the prestige car market. There was just too much supermarket carpark resonance.

Audi’s use of ‘Sportback’ (and, more formally, ‘coupe’) must be seen in this context - a marketing move akin to renaming the Holden Commodore wagon the Sportwagon.

Marketing is at the heart of the A5 Sportback because there is nothing new whatsoever about this highly efficient configuration.

What is new, however, is the near-$9000 premium Audi charges for the A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI Quattro over the equivalent A4 upon which it is based.

Of course, high levels of luxury and standard equipment go with the territory when you pay upwards of $80K for a four-cylinder car. The fact that this particular four is turbocharged and makes 155kW of power may be neither here nor there for some prospective customers. But to its credit Audi has packed the standard specification well.

Highlights include eight airbags, triple-zone climate-control, bi-Xenon headlights and Audi’s acclaimed seven-speed dual-clutch transmission driving through a Torsen differential to all four wheels. These are 17-inch alloys or you can find an extra $1750 to upgrade them to 18s. Regardless, you’ll still suffer a space-saver spare.

Leather is standard, as it is on $50K A4 sedans, but this Sportback’s engine is a firecracker. It has so much insouciant torque through the mid-range that you begin to wonder about the logic of choosing a diesel instead, especially when in an A5 it’s going to cost you, yes, another $9K.

The peak torque figure is 350Nm, which goes well with 155kW. Key to both these numbers is that they are delivered through a wide rev range. Audi engineers are striving for the right shape graphs for both power and torque. All 350Nm is on tap from an incredibly low 1500rpm right through to 4200.

The power, too, is equally flexible with all 155 coming into play at 4300 and partying through to 6000rpm there are no gaps in this scintillating performance. Zero to 100km/h comes up in 6.6 seconds, which is only a little behind the backwards-cap-wearing Japanese turbo fours.

The dual-clutch gearbox is not as smooth at lower speeds as a conventional torque converter automatic transmission but overall it is preferable and certainly more efficient and involving.

Audi, a pioneer in automated dual-clutch automated manual gearbox technology, still does a better job than most. Even so, there is still some hesitation when accelerating from a standing start, but that and occasional mild jerkiness are small compromises for seven forward ratios contributing to such performance and economy.

Audi shines with engines and gearboxes and the A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI quattro showcases the marque’s technological excellence. This car even recovers energy during braking and deceleration, storing it temporarily in the battery.

As a result, combined economy is 7.5 litres per 100 kilometres but this figure can be bettered by drivers who roll on and off the throttle and let the torque do the talking. CO2 emissions are 174g/km at the 7.5L/100km figure.

For some years now most Audis have lacked the kind of steering feel expected by enthusiasts, which is particularly surprising because the 100 and Quattro models of the 1980s were exemplary in this respect.

Overall though handling is superb with extremely high levels of grip and only mild understeer. Ride quality has been an Audi bugbear for years but the latest A4 (and hence the A5) are supple and comfortable.

Noise, vibration and harshness levels are commendably low. The A5, as you would expect, drives exactly like an A4. The seven-speed gearbox keeps engine rpm down to 2000 at 110km/h and at this speed consumption is comfortably less than 6.0L/100km.

Like all Audis produced since about 1990, the A5 boasts a welcoming and classy interior. Indeed, you usually get the feeling that tasteful and slightly edgy exterior and interior styling is central to the Ingolstadt marque’s product philosophy.

There is provision for just two passengers in the rear in line with the weird ‘coupe’ terminology. Taller occupants will have to duck their heads to avoid cracking them on the elegantly plunging roof, but once inside they’ll be comfortable enough.

The frameless doors add to the coupe feel. With the split/folding rear seatback removed from the equation there is room for an amazing 980 litres of luggage. Like the A4 sedan, rear vision is restricted and perhaps at $80K a reversing camera should be standard to make this safe car even more so. Some buyers might choose a camera over the bi-Xenon headlights.

Is the A5 Sportback more elegant than either the A4 sedan or the A5 coupe? The latter is an especially integrated, striking and clean design, while there is a pleasing minimalism about the former. As for the A4 Avant, it matches form with function most convincingly and even asserts its role as an alternative to this more left-field machine.

The Sportback does boast short front and rear overhangs and a long wheelbase, while the stance is low and wide. But for all this, there is something a little contrived about the styling of the Sportback which implies confusion in the product planning.

How, for example, does it compare with the A4 Avant as a load-carrier? The Sportback blends A5 and A4 but is ultimately less convincing than either, perhaps because it is neither fish nor fowl. By contrast, there is something refreshing about the honest purposefulness of the A4 Avant, but the Sportback’s compromises betray the fact that it was not begun with the proverbial clean sheet of paper.

So the A5 Sportback stands out from the pack with its somewhat confused identity. But don’t swallow Audi’s pitch that here is something new under the sun. What it does package better than any comparably priced BMW or Mercedes is technological brilliance.

All-wheel drive devotees will find much to admire. There are high levels of equipment, safety and performance, but you could save $13K by opting for the 132kW front-wheel drive variant.

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