When it comes to prestigiously-badged compact executive German cars, traditional thinking suggests that estates are fine but five-door hatchbacks aren't. Audi however, hasn't made it to the top of the pile by traditional thinking and their improved A5 Sportback aims to turn such thinking on its head, with coupe styling married to a couple of rear passenger doors and hatchback practicality.
You can't imagine, nor would Audi, BMW or Mercedes ever offer you, a five-door hatchback version of their A4, 3 Series or C-Class saloon or estate compact executive models. The German prestige brands look down their noses at that sort of thing, leaving it to mainstream Mondeos and Vauxhall Insignias. Yet a nicely styled hatchback can look very coupe-like, which, especially in business circles, is exactly what an increasing number of buyers are looking for. The style of a sportscar: yet to keep your Fleet Manager and/or your partner happy, the practicality of having four passenger doors. Suddenly, with cars of this kind, it isn't only the MD who can have the slinky coupe in the corner of the office carpark. Volkswagen's Passat CC proved that buyers would pay a premium for a basic design that kept doors for rear seat passengers but built them into a coupe silhouette clothing familiar mechanicals. At its launch in 2009, Audi's A5 Sportback aimed to pull off much the same kind of trick, but with even swoopier styling courtesy of a five-door rather than a four-door bodyshape. A5s run on Audi A4 mechanicals, so this is essentially the A4 hatchback that that the German brand could never be seen to build. Late 2011 saw this car get a whole range of detail improvements - and we're going to put it to the test.
Since on paper, the A5 Sportback is exactly the same under the skin as any of Audi's A4 or A5 models, you might expect it to be little different from any of those cars to drive. In fact, that's not quite true for in its wisdom, Audi has decided to make this variant a little softer and 'GT'-like, which might not suit those used to the sharper, more focused approach of the A5 coupe. You could opt for stiffer S line trim to try and sort this out but the end result is rather over-firm for British roads. Fortunately for enthusiasts set on an Audi, wanting an A5 and needing those extra doors, a better extra cost package is available. Called Drive Assist, it transforms the car through tweaks to everything from the suspension to the gearbox, the throttle mapping to the steering, via pre-set 'Comfort', 'Sport' and 'Automatic' settings. It's another couple of grand but it really ought to be standard, since there's something here to suit every driving preference. All models get Audi's latest ESP stability control system, incorporating an electronic differential lock that mimics the action of a mechanical limited slip differential for enhanced steering response and traction out of corners. You're more likely, however, to notice excellent refinement that suits this car's Grand Touring demeanour, despite the frameless windows. The optional twin-clutch DSG semi automatic gearbox is equally well suited to this kind of journey, one that could be completed with extra piece of mind if you've the money to tick the boxes for extra cost gadgetry that prompts you when you drift out of lane, warns you if there's a car in your blind spot, dips the lights for you at night and even brakes if you're about to hit another car. As with the A5 coupe, only the nicest of the A4's engines make it under the bonnet and as usual, there's a choice of either two or four wheel drive. Most owners choose at 2.0 TDI variant, offered in frugal 2.0 TDIe form with either 136 or 163PS under the bonnet. There's also a 143PS 8-speed Multitronic automatic version. Best if you can though, to choose the 'full-fat' 177PS 2.0 TDI, offered with either manual or auto 'boxes and the quattro 4WD option. If you must have more power in your A5 Sportback diesel, then the 3.0 TDI multitronic model provides it without too much of a running cost downside. If that's less of an issue, there's a 245PS 3.0 TDI quattro at the top of the range. Mainstream petrol choices begin with the 170PS 1.8 TFSI, good for rest to sixty in 8.2s. If that's not fast enough, there's a 211PS 2.0-litre TFSI powerplant borrowed from the Golf GTI that manages the sprint to sixty in 7.2s - or just 6.6s if you choose the quattro version. This ought to be quite fast enough but if it isn't, there's even a 333PS supercharged V6 S5 version.
Imagine what an A4 saloon might look like if it had a hatchback, was slightly wider and lower and had an A5 coupe nose and you're pretty much picturing this Sportback model. To be fair, you wouldn't necessarily immediately guess its A4 ancestry from a casual glance. This design, though just 8mm longer, is a significant 26mm wider and has the A5 coupe model's wavy waistline and frameless doors. The revised version we're looking at here features a sharper-looking set of wedgy A6-style headlamps that on most UK models will be surrounded by the LED strip daytime running lights that are fitted to S line and top of the range models. There's also a cleaner-looking single-frame front grille, as well as tweaks to the front bumper and the bonnet. The more angular tail lights have been re-styled too and use brighter LED technology. Perhaps more significantly, there's now also the option of a three-person rear seat, the absence of which had previously been disqualifying this car from consideration by family users. These people will find legroom at the back to be quite adequate and, contrary to expectations, rear headroom isn't too compromised by the sloping coupe-style roof. Luggage space in the long, flat loading bay is pretty much the same as you'd get in an A4 saloon or Avant estate, 480 litres to be exact, which you can extend to 980 litres by lowering the split-folding rear seat backs. A neat touch is the 70/30 split luggage cover, the larger part permanently attached to the tailgate so that it lifts out of the way when the hatch is raised. The remaining 30% is a small, hinged shelf which offers easy access to the boot space. On the negative side, the tailgate opens from quite a high loading lip, does without a rear wiper and lifts so high that it might be difficult for shorter owners to lower.
For some reason, Audi has decided that the Sportback A5 should be priced below its Coupe stablemate, despite its extra doors, but it's still a hefty chunk more than a comparable A4 saloon. That means list prices that will likely see you paying in the £25,000-£40,000 bracket for your A5 Sportback, depending on the specification you choose. Audi says that this car doesn't have any immediate rivals but you might beg to differ on that. If you don't need the fifth door, pricier versions of Volkswagen's CC offer the same kind of thing but don't have the same badge equity. If you don't care about that, one of the more powerful fully kitted-out Vauxhall Insignia five-door models looks just as 'coupe-like' to our eyes. All the A5 Sportback's engines are torquey turbocharged direct injection units and whichever you choose - 1.8 or 2.0-litre TFSI petrol models or either of the 2.0 or 3.0-litre TDIs - you should find your car to be decently equipped. It's a bit surprising that the entry-level variants do without Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, but all models do get 17-inch alloys, an 8-speaker MP3-compatible CD stereo with aux-in point and SD memory card reader, front foglights, a leather-covered steering wheel, a category 1 alarm and an automatic opening boot. Personally, I'd avoid S line trim with its sharpened suspension that spoils the supple ride that's one of this car's nicest features. Still, that's up to you.
If you really want to maximise the potential for low running costs in your A5 Sportback, then your dealer is likely to point you towards one of the entry-level 2.0 TDIe diesel variants. Offered with either 136 or 163PS, these generate either 117 or 118g/km of CO2 and respectively manage 64.2 or 62.8mpg on the combined cycle. Even an ordinary 177PS 2.0 TDI manages 61.4mpg and 120g/km, though if you order it with quattro 4WD, those returns take quite a hit, falling to 55.4mpg and 134g/km. That's worse than you can expect from the 204PS 2WD version of the 3.0 TDI model (which rather creditably manages 57.6mpg and 129g/km). The top 3.0 TDI quattro we tried manages 49.6mpg and 149g/km in s tronic auto form. Sorry to keep at you with the figures, but I need to complete the picture for those considering a petrol A5 Sportback. The entry-level 1.8 TFSI manages 48.7mpg on the combined cycle and 136g/km of CO2. I'd be tempted to stretch up to the 2.0 TFSI model, which despite its extra 41 PS isn't far behind the entry-level variant on the balance sheet, returning 45.6mpg and 144g/km, figures that are hit by about 10% if you order it in quattro 4WD form. This kind of showing across the range is probably, more than anything else, the reason why Audi's is now Europe's best selling premium brand.
Audi seems to have proved with this A5 Sportback that there's room in the market for a compact executive saloon with a fifth door and an added dose of charisma. Whether the people buying them are actually conquest customers is another issue entirely of course but when you're offering models to suit every conceivable market niche, you can never be quite sure of that. This revised version is more efficient - and at last can potentially seat five people. Which makes it even harder to ignore if you're target market for this kind of car. One thing's certain: here's another very desirable Audi.