By on May 24, 2010

Coupe – feminine noun. Cutting; cutting out; cut. According to the Oxford-Hachette French Dictionary at least, this is the definition of a word that always held special promise for car lovers worldwide. But the evocative nature of the term, and the fact that French is no longer the world’s lingua franca, have given today’s automakers license to apply the term to almost anything. If a car’s roof line even remotely resembles a rotten piece of a banana, it’s a coupe. Marketing, after all, is a more powerful force than grammar.

Short of running out of letters and integers, nothing will stop Audi from launching an assault on the competition’s league of French-illiterates. Its two entries in the world of un-coupes, at least at the moment I type these words, are the soon-to-be-launched Audi A7 and the Audi A5 Sportback.

Audi’s A5 Sportback is supposed to slot between its bestselling A4 and the two door A5, which is a lot like asking for a compromise between a fruit salad and a cheeseburger. Nevertheless, the good folks from Inglostadt are convinced that there is room (got it?) for a coupe-like hatchback with four doors, in the price bracket of its popular sedan. And so, the Sportback is longer by a mere third of an inch than its flat-roof sibling, one inch wider and most importantly, another inch lower.

The ‘real’ A5 Coupe is a rather handsome automobile, and the Sportback gives up nothing to its older sibling. It’s also markedly more handsome in person than in any photo. Audi have done a good job of masking the two extra doors – looking it at certain front-side angles, you’d be hard pressed to even tell they’re there, and you definitely can’t tell that this is actually a five door.

The sloping roof is surprisingly convincing, and the rest of the exteriordesign’s careful attention to detail – like the sculptured rear sides and the twin profile lines flowing over the car – is particularly impressive. The front end is carried over unchanged from the A5 Coupe, and that’s a good thing, even if you don’t find the standard Audi grille an exciting design experiment.

In contrast with the exterior design, the interior is much less exciting. In brand-typical fashion, the inside of this Audi is a well engineered, good quality effort. It’s not the prettiest in the business, but the materials, build quality and general ease of use compensate for the lack of aesthetic adventurousness.

Size-wise, things are distinctively A4 in the back, with headroom that’s surprisingly almost identical to the traditional sedan. Legroom gets a little drop – and that’s not saying much in favor of the Sportback, since the A4 isn’t exactly the roomiest sedan to begin with. Still, two adults average sized adults who haven’t called shotgun on time will find sufficient space in the second row.

Emphasize ‘two’, because there are two only seats. The Sportback is actually wider than the A4, so the omission of the third seat is purely a marketing-driven “coupe” signifier. Good news comes in the form of the trunk (literally), which is 17 cubic feet in size – exactly the same as in the A4 sedan, but with the ease of use of a hatchback.

It’s unusual for automakers to hand out base engine cars for reviews, and yet, there it is: a metallic blue A5 Sportback with a 2.0 turbocharged inline four (TFSI) producing just under a 180 horsepower, front wheel drive (gasp!) and a proper six speed manual box (double gasp!).

Let’s start with the basics: 8.3 seconds to 60 (if you can shift like superman) and a top speed of 138 mph (if you’re brave enough to veer into the left lane of an Autobahn). Not exactly numbers to set the enthusiast’s heart racing, but this is a turbocharged engine – so numbers don’t count. Come 2,000 rpm, the horses come-a-prancing to this Audi’s front wheels and the result is impressive midrange grunt. Performance is only let down by mild torque steer if you’re really, er, pushing things.

The 2.0 liter lump is a rev-happy engine that doesn’t feel anything like economy. With a heavy right foot, this free-spinner makes relentless progress all the way up the rev range, until 6,500 and beyond. The results are better than you’d expect from a four pot midsize, and definitely a more entertaining experience than the 8 second 0-60 time would lead you to believe.

But the rev-over-grunt tuning isn’t just another coupe affectation.  “Base” now means “green”, so Audi have equipped all manual transmission A5s with a start-stop system and a shift indicator. Stop and put the gearlever into neutral, and the engine automatically shuts down. Press the clutch pedal, and it’s alive again. This sounds good on paper, but it hasn’t quite been executed perfectly. Unlike in, say, a Toyota Prius, you can feel the engine vibrating into life, and the electronics get confused during short stops.

The gearshift indicator constantly urges you to shift upwards. Follow it and you’ll find yourself cruising on less than 1,500 rpm, which is still nighttime in turbocharger country. In-gear acceleration requires great patience as the car gathers pace towards the 2,000 rpm mark and beyond.

There is a healthy payoff to these two not exactly silent passengers: fuel economy. Even while not religiously following the gearshift fairy, I had no problems getting readouts of 33 mpg on a variety of roads and close to that on mildly spirited drives.

Judging a car’s ride on smooth Bavarian tarmac is about as objective as judging a pacifist in a pillbox, but strangely this Audi demonstrated an unsettling, harsh ride. Pretty surprising, considering the GT-riding nature of the Coupe. The blame is on the S-line package and the added benefits of a sporty suspension and 245/40R18 tires. This is one option you should definitely skip, because an unsettling ride on German roads is intolerable on others.

Other than the ride, the A5 is a great cruiser on a smooth autobahn. Wind noises aren’t apparent until speeds north of 90 mph. And even then, you really feel like you’re doing about half that speed. The engine is also well silenced while cruising at high speeds, but the raspy engine note does penetrate the cabin when you’re clearly into acceleration.

I now realize I haven’t said a word about handling. That’s because there isn’t much to write home about. Even without Quattro, you could still describe the A5 Sportback with adjectives such as ‘planted’, ‘safe’ and ‘predictable’ – it can certainly take turns at high speeds, but without much vigor. Technically, most everything is sound – there’s minimal body roll and chassis responses are good. But somehow, it just doesn’t work out into a sports-sedan. The nicely weighted steering stiffens suddenly and artificially on turn in, making it hard to judge exactly where the wheels are. The dreadfully long clutch and gearbox don’t exactly make shifts a joy, either. The two exiled driving wheels are missed when you lose your manners. This is when the Quattro-less Audi will gently understeer you back into reality, reminding you of your rightful place in the Bavarian food chain.

The Sportback is not a perfect car, and definitely not the greatest Audi of the past few years. It’s not the most exciting car to drive (though the same is true for the A5 Coupe… and several other Audis), neither does it remarkably cosset its driver or passengers. Its stronger points are a quality feel, excellent powertrain and a healthy dose of style. The positive and negative bits blend into a likeable car, but it just doesn’t offer many technical advantages over its sedate sibling. Unless style is your definition of premium. In which case, you’ll have no problem calling the Sportback a coupe.

Audi provided the vehicle, insurance and gas for this review.

This review brought to you by icar.co.il

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42 Comments on “Review: Audi A5 Sportback...”


  • avatar

    I would perfer the 2.0 liter 211HP or even the V6 to this engine.

    • 0 avatar

      If we got the Sportback in the U.S., we’d no doubt get it with the 211-horsepower engine. But from what I’ve heard it isn’t going to be offered here. It’d need a rear bench to work for me, regardless.

      Just updated results to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey–I’ll have a report for TTAC soon. The 2009 A4 and A5 have been about average, while the 2010 is better than average so far. We’ll have to wait and see how these cars fare as they age, but so far Audi seems to have turned a corner a few years ago.

      http://www.truedelta.com/car-reliability.php

    • 0 avatar
      Tal Bronfer

      The Sportback isn’t scheduled for the US due to crash test limitations (apparently, the roof needs to be raised).

      I too would definitely pick the more powerful four banger over the V6. The performance differential when fitted with Quattro is pretty negligible (not to mention the huge aftermarket potential of the 2.0T), but there’s a huge difference in weight placed right over the front wheels. The V6 A5 Coupe is much more nose-heavy than this car.

  • avatar
    skysharad

    Can we have review on the new Infiniti M

  • avatar
    zerofoo

    Why does this 2.0T make less horsepower than the same 2.0T in VW products? As far as I remember, the Audi version gets variable lift and timing, (VW version only gets variable timing), so the performance should be better.

    I can’t understand why Audi would spec a motor so poorly in one of its offerings compared to VW.

    -ted

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      I’d assume – being Germany – they have an engine option that’s tuned for efficiency rather than power.

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      The German versions usually have more engine choices–haven’t looked lately, but back when they offered the 1.8T engine, there were various versions of it offered in the same vehicle with different horsepower ratings. Typically the base-model engine offered in Europe is lower than the base-model engine in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      Tal Bronfer

      It’s a detuned version of the 211 2.0T found in the GTi. The stronger version is also available, but this is the base engine.

  • avatar
    friedclams

    33 mpg in mixed driving is an amazing number for this car. If they can figure out how to sell this to greenies (who don’t really care about sportiness) as a practical yet prestige ride, this should be a success. I assume it takes hi-test gas?

  • avatar

    Finally, someone is building real SAABs again.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      As a 9-5 owner, I was actually thinking, “I could get behind that” when I saw the interior. Actually positioning the controls so they’re accessible to the driver rather than the air inbetween the two front seats! Wow!

      Of course, if this was really like a Saab, it would have been slated for having a 4-cylinder non-luxury engine, not being fast enough, having a “plastic fantastic” interior (actual interior quality is beside the point) and, worst of all, for being built on a Volkswagen platform.

  • avatar
    hreardon

    This 2.0T is a slightly de-tuned version from the one we get here in the US.

    I agree with the positioning of this car in the marketplace – a great “greenie” car with prestige. 33mpg is an excellent overall number for a hefty vehicle like the A4/A5 platform.

    I’m a big fan of the A5 Sportback design, admittedly after pooh-poohing it for ages when rumors of its existence abounded. Having seen the car, it strikes me on both aesthetic and manufacturing fronts. Really what this demonstrates is that Audi has done an excellent job of refining its manufacturing processes where it makes economic sense to offer derivatives such as the Sportback for those customers looking for something different.

    Audi has been de-emphasizing its normally aspirated 2.8 V6 in favor of the uprated 2.0T four-banger and the slick new 3.0T V6 supercharged motor.

    Personally, I’d buy an A5 Sportback in a heartbeat over a plain-Jane A4 or a sexy, but impractical A5. It’s a great compromise for those of us who need the extra doors.

  • avatar
    tedward

    I love this engine. I was helping someone car shop last weekend (replacing yet another Saab 9-5) and the CC with the manual FWD 2.0T absolutely murdered everything else we tried. The buyer got as far as 2nd gear before he said, “Now this is a car!” and basically made up his mind right there. It blew a same price legacy GT clean out of the water in every single regard, and no other FWD’er was even ballpark close. This person wouldn’t have bought the car if VW hadn’t so dramatically improved their CR scores recently.

    “Finally, someone is building real SAABs again.”
    Exactly. VW/FWD Audi is to Saab as the Miata is to the old british sports cars.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      The updated E8888 2.0TFSI is a *great* powerplant. VW/Audi made substantial improvements to the motor, including the addition of valvelift and numerous reliability improvements.

  • avatar
    twotone

    If Audi made a RWD version, it would be a winner.

    Twotone

  • avatar
    thecavanaughs

    Sports cars- two doors, two or more people. Sedans- four doors, four or more people. Station Wagons and SUVs- five doors and five or more people. Not a rule, but a trend- number of people equal to or greater than number of doors. Good way to build a car.

    Five door hatchback- four person capacity. For me? Useless.

    • 0 avatar
      hreardon

      I think the point of this car, thecavanaughs, is to appeal to those customers whose hearts want the sleek and sexy A5/S5 look, but who need four doors.

      Personally, I would fit that bill. Put the A5 and A4 side-by-side and the A4 looks flat out boring, oweing to its slightly more upright and buttoned-down appearance. The Sportback gives you the wider-squatter stance of the A5 with the additional benefits of being able to actually fit some baby seats in the back without becoming a contortionist to do so. ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      thecavanaughs

      There is always someone for whom the product will be a good fit. That’s why I put “for me” before I declared it useless- but this car doesn’t do anything that I need done. It isn’t fast, it isn’t particularly desirable (at least not more so than any number of products by Audi and their competition), and it has too many seats for a date with my wife and too few for anything else.

    • 0 avatar
      Audi-Inni

      I agree 1000%. I don’t see the logic in selling a car with 4 seats if it can seat 3 in the back. For this reason, I’d not likely ever get the A5 Sportback, A5 and didn’t get the 335i. Ford had a neat convertible bench seat in its Taurus years ago. Why not have the same for these cars so for those that are concerned more with image than practicality can have 4 seats rather than 5? This is a trend I wish would die a quick death.

  • avatar
    mtypex

    Yep, I too see a Saab, not an Audi. Good eyes!

  • avatar
    snabster

    Yep. This is what saab should be selling. The stupidity of GM in killing hatchback saabs is legendary, although I am not a fan of the Vectra hatchbacks.

    I’m glad that the luxury hatch market is coming back alive, and I am one of the few people who even like the accord crosstour. However, I do wonder how popular any of the cars will be in the US…

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      Agree, though based on the updated information posted above, your question is entirely hypothetical for this particular model, since it won’t show up in the US.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Aside from the lack of a hatchback and somewhat outre styling, the new 9-5 is quite similar to this. The A5 seems to be the bastard child of a Saab 9-5 and a Maserati Quatroporte – not necessarily a bad thing, really.

  • avatar
    SilverCoupe

    Put me down as one to whom this car appeals. I appreciate the utility of hatchbacks – every car I have purchased since ’75 has been one. My current is a TT, but I would like to have the option of taking another couple out to dinner with us. The A5 has tweaked my interest, but not being a hatch, I have wondered if this was the right car. On the other hand, I have never purchased a car with four doors, so this car might not be the one for me.

    And definitley not one with the engine noted in this test. My TT (a very early model) is already too slow for me, and the car tested is even slower. Ah well, living in the US, I suppose this will all be academic anyway.

    And yes, we did at one time have a Turbo Saab.

  • avatar
    black turbo

    I too have never owned a car with a proper trunk lid. I’ve always owned (15-20 year old) Saab 9000’s. Not that I could afford anything but an old 9000, but I’ve always been of the opinion that there is nothing on the market, especially new Saab’s. And, here in the US, apparently that will remain true. But I’ve liked the A5 since the first time I saw one, and this hatchback is just icing on the cake.

    As a side note, 17 cubic feet doesn’t seem like much space at all. According to Edmunds.com, my 1992 9000 as about 24.5 cubic ft with the seats in position, and 57 with them folded.

    If this hatch is strictly form and very little function, then I’ll just stick with my less attractive but ultimately versatile old Saab.

    • 0 avatar
      Tosh

      This Audi mini-SAAB is a lame homage to SAAB: The ’91 SAAB 9000 Turbo 5-spd was the FASTEST 4-door (or more) car in the world (6.3-6.4s 0-60), and it was an EPA LARGE car. So 20 years ago, there was a car that beat this Audi pig by 2 seconds to 60 and could properly seat 5 with luggage room like a wagon and get similar MPGs. JFC, what happened in the meantime? (GM ownership is what happened.) The future looked pretty good back in 1991….

  • avatar
    black turbo

    @Tosh

    There were a bunch of things that I left out of my mini-rant. While I find this car attractive, I would be willing to bet that my Saab at 18 years old is better in most ways that I am interested in trying to quantify. But, to include a few more interesting facts that allow an old Saab to blow everything else out of the water, the only other contemporary vehicle to be imported and classified as a large car was a Bentley, and 30-70mph was faster than the hottest and most contemporary Porsche, but it could also have been a Ferrari. It’s been a long time since I read the article. The best fact that I know off the top of my head is that my car has a curb weight of 3,133lbs. There’s no contemporary car in its class that comes close to that.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      A v-6 venza is better in every way than your old SAAB.

    • 0 avatar
      PGAero

      jmo,
      A V6 Venza weighs 5100 lbs (5300 w/ AWD) and gets 18/26.

      My ’93 9000 Aero weighs 3100 lbs, and gets an honest 30 mpg. (528 miles on my 17-gallon tank is my personal best, but I’ve had many 500-mile tanks.)

      There are precious few current cars that have the combination of 0-60 in the mid-6s, the cargo space (seats up and/or folded), mpg and seats as a Saab 9000. Sure there are compromises… but it’s a good package, and it’s a shame that so few cars, about 20 years later, can’t match it. (9-5 Wagon does it)

      Yes, I am a fan boy…

      ~Peter
      ’93 9000 Aero, 5spd, 126K

  • avatar
    BlisterInTheSun

    “Judging a car’s ride on smooth Bavarian tarmac is about as objective as judging a pacifist in a pillbox….”

    I’ve read the review, and the car is interesting, but I find this analogy to be so fascinating that I’ve just written it on the white board in the office.

  • avatar

    I think this car would be a great replacement for my 4-banger, non turbo-ed Mazda 6 hatch, when it comes due.

    The Mazda hatch seems to be off the radar, but I think it seems similar enough to this offering: 1. You can hardly tell it apart form the non-hatch version and the utility it offers over it is just awesome, 2. It’s not too exiting, but it’s not too bad either, 3. Good gas mileage (with the 4-pot engine, I get 32 combined mpg with mildly spirited driving).

    If they bring this Audi to North America, I’d be buying one. The only thing is, I hope they’ll change the seats to be able to seat 3 people in the back.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Those VAG new 4 cyl direct injection turbocharged gasoline engines are really showing how pointless the diesels are. They get basically same mpg, they have torque, they like to rev and have a wide poweband like proper automobile engine should have.

    Best sentence in automotive journalism 2010: This is when the Quattro-less Audi will gently understeer you back into reality, reminding you of your rightful place in the Bavarian food chain.

    • 0 avatar
      black turbo

      Saab has been doing this for 25 years. 2.0 and 2.3 NA and turbocharged engines. NA 2.3 I get 28mpg over 225 miles at an average speed of 80-85 on I-77. 2.0 turbo got 34 at the same speed.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      My 9-5’s 2.3T (not the Aero engine, but rated 220hp) has gotten me to 60 in ~6.7 seconds – faster than it should – and gets 24mpg in mixed driving. And I drive *aggressively*; lots of full throttle blasts to 30mph from red lights – or at least as full throttle as I can get without ripping the rubber off the tires. Low end torque is fantastic, and turbo lag is minimal.

      Oddly, the nominally 220hp engine in my 3500lb 9-5 is a lot faster than the 250hp V6 in the (lighter) 9-3 Aero from 0-40. Maybe I just got a grunty one.

      Anyway, I strongly support small-displacement turbos. It’s kind of funny how Saab has been doing them for 30-odd years, and now that Ford and some of the German marques are getting in on it, everyone’s saying, “Wow, small turbo 4s! What a great idea! If only someone had done it before!”

  • avatar
    DearS

    Reminds me of the A6 and A, good cars, but I don’t wanna drive em.

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    OK Saab fanboys you are starting to sound funny. I like old Saab turbo engines alot, they are very reliable and well built. B204R is the most underrated tuning engine in the world, it’s only popular in northern Europe, it can take around 600hp with stock internals. BUT.There is a huge difference between modern direct injection and 20-30 year old fuel injection. Second point: emission regulations have been become so tough, that if this Audi’s exhaust system and other related parts would have been engineered according to 20 year old emission regulations, I can bet Audi’s fuel economy would be even 10-20% better. Huge advances have also been made in gearboxes… Saab’s manual five vs new 6-speed manuals. With Automatic transmission the difference is even bigger Saab’s 4-speed vs 7-speed DSG etc etc.

    • 0 avatar
      Gforce

      So, what did Audi have 20-30 years ago to compare? I don’t hink this car is headed for the USA, too many powerful cars (V8’s) there will make it look stupid (ask the BMW 320i’s of this world)

  • avatar
    Brock_Landers

    Audi didn’t have anything 20 years ago except awd and awful weight distribution :) But the point is not in history lessons, important is what you can buy today and who is leading the technical development at the moment.


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