First Drive: Audi A5 Sportback
The car that defined a segment steps back up to the cutting edge, reckons Alex Grant.
SECTOR: Compact Executive PRICE: £33,695-£42,020 FUEL: 44.8-68.9mpg CO2: 106-144g/km
When the first A5 Sportback launched in 2009, Audi seemed to have caught lightning in a bottle. It’s a car that offered the best of all worlds; with low-CO2 diesel engines, hatchback practicality and seductive styling, it’s become a core part of the brand’s compact-executive line-up with 8,000 UK sales per year.
Arguably, in ‘mainstream’ D-segment terms, it’s nothing new – Ford’s first-generation Sierra was similarly brave against a segment of three-box silhouettes back in 1982 – but, with its low roofline, frameless windows and sales weighted towards sportier trims, Audi very effectively positioned a practical hatchback as a design-led choice. The new one does much the same, but don’t mistake evolutionary styling for a light update, because there’s been a bit of a revolution under the skin.
That’ll come as no surprise to anyone who’s driven the new A4, with which this shares a platform. It’s longer, lower and narrower than its predecessor, but also gets wider front and rear tracks and a slightly longer wheelbase than the saloon. The two cars share segment-leading cabin quality, and a generational leap forward in the driving experience. It feels lighter, more agile and more in tune with the driver, yet manages to ride better even on its largest wheels. A proper four-door coupe, at last.
But it’s style with substance. The longer wheelbase gives extra passenger space, particularly in the back, and there’s a much larger boot than in the old car. That luggage area is also accessed via a large, electrically-operated tailgate and extended via a three-piece rear bench – you’ll get more into an A4 Avant, but there are few occasions where this will leave you struggling for capacity.
Engine options are shared with the A4, though there’s no 148bhp 2.0-litre diesel. Audi expects the 188bhp 2.0 TDI to be the big seller, with a large take-up of the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It’s a remarkably quiet engine, the cabin is so well insulated from diesel vibrations that you could almost believe it’s a petrol and, in big-wheeled S line spec, returns a very respectable 65.7mpg.
It should be genuinely efficient, too, helped by clever technology on board. The A5’s cruise control is more intelligent than most; it’ll shut off the engine at low loads, or decouple the transmission on automatic versions to save fuel and – with the upgraded navigation system – it’ll pre-plan engine braking and coasting based on the road ahead.
Less suited to long-distances, though, is the downsized fuel tank on the two-wheel drive diesels. Shedding weight has cut it from 54 to 40 litres, though the full-size tank is optional, and so is doubling the AdBlue tank to 24 litres. Both are worth considering for high-mileage drivers.
Otherwise, it’s a successful evolution of a popular all-rounder, but it’s also not alone. BMW now has a rival in the 4 Series Gran Coupe, and it can’t be long before Mercedes-Benz adds a CLC four-door C-Class Coupe to its range. Audi may have bottled lightning again here, but its closest rivals have pulled the same trick.