By on June 7, 2022

It’s a new week, and I’m back with another German car Rental Review for your enjoyment! Today’s rental is one of two American market entrants into the premium compact five-door liftback segment, and not a car one expects to find in an Enterprise lot. Presenting a 2020 Audi A5 Sportback, two years and 50,000 rental miles later.

The A5 Sportback runs in the oft-ignored liftback class alongside the similarly priced BMW 4-Series Gran Coupe. But the Audi’s name is a bit misleading: The real A5 is available as a coupe or convertible, has two doors, and rides on a shorter wheelbase than the A5 Sportback. The Sportback is actually an upmarket take on the A4. In all directions, it’s within an inch in size of the A4 apart from height, where the A4 trumps the A5 Sportback by an inch and a half.

The two cars have the same features, styling, and engine, but the extra cargo capacity of the Sportback demands a premium. Where the A4 starts at $39,900 in its most basic format, the current A5 Sportback asks $43,900. The same engine powers all A5 Sportbacks, across the Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige trims. Each trim is available as 40 TFSI spec with 201 horsepower, or 45 TFSI spec at 261 horses. Prices top out over $55,000 for the top Prestige trim in 45 TFSI spec.

Trims changed for the A5 Sportback in 2021 when the engine gained a mild hybrid system and the 40 TFSI specification was introduced. Between 2018 and 2020 all cars were the 45 TFSI and had 248 horsepower. And though base horsepower dropped by 47 in 2021, prices didn’t decrease. The cost of progress, I guess.

$42,900 was the 2020 ask of the rental A5 Premium 45 TFSI Quattro, which sported $0 black paint, and a black interior. Tan, brown, and gray interiors are available presently for no additional charge. Quattro all-wheel-drive has always been standard on the A5 Sportback, and so is leather; two things not present in the competition.

Exterior panel gaps are consistent and tight across the Sportback’s svelte body. Current Audi design language translates well here, even if the black paint does the car no favors (it looks better in any other color.) Trim alignment is excellent, and there’s a nice continual piece of chrome trim across the roofline since the Sportback has frameless windows. The frameless windows and liftback are the only real differences between the A4 sedan and A5 Sportback.

Unfortunately, the shiny (and dirty) black paint shows orange peel along the roof line, and under the side windows. Paint quality in other areas was good, though the gloss black was no longer very lustrous after a couple of years of wear. Plastic panels up top accommodate the function of the panoramic glass roof and reflect hazy surface scratches. And although it’s a “panoramic” piece of glass, the actual roof opening inside is smaller than many a standard sedan, and the glass panel does not open fully. This roof arrangement is primarily to maintain smooth exterior looks.

The A5 uses dogleg door handles that angle upward when pulled, rather than outward. Combined with a heavy door, the net feeling is a lack of leverage. Fingers grab naturally at the corner of the window to open the door fully, which means all windows are marked with smudges. Door handle use sounds cheap and plastic on the outside, but inside operates with a quality motion. Doors close with a reassuring thunk and feel heavy and solid in their use. All windows drop slightly in coupe fashion to prevent glass damage upon closure.

Inside, the presentation is standard A4. Everything feels well put together, and there’s no VW parts bin. The dash is made of a solid rubbery material, much like one finds in a BMW. There’s a traditional-looking strip of thick wood trim (that looks artificial) across the dash and down the center console that’s very high gloss and looks unnatural. However, the trim looks better with any other interior color other than black, as the black clashes.

Black abounds with any interior color choice, as much of the other trim around the cabin is made of lovely piano black plastic. Highly glossy in finish, it shows plenty of hazing and scratches after two years’ use. It’s a bad material choice around the center console cubbies and cup holders where occupants naturally toss things.

Above, headliners are made of a scratchy and decidedly non-premium cloth material. The small “panoramic” roof opening does not extend over the back seat, and its sun shade is a perforated cloth that does not filter out all light. Imagine some basketball shorts stretched over a skylight and you’re there. The shade can be operated independently of the roof and left closed while the roof glass is open.

The standard leather seating surfaces are soft enough, and given the extensive use of this example seem to hold up under hard usage and minimal care. Seats at the front have plenty of power adjustments and ample bottom cushion for those with longer legs. Most should find comfort behind the wheel of the A5. Rear seat passengers have a very respectable amount of leg room for a compact car, though headroom suffers from the sloping roof on the Sportback. It’s not a car for those who regularly have adult passengers in the rear. However, the rear seat gets its own zone for climate control with separate temperature adjustment – a nice touch.

In addition to a very large cargo area in the Sportback (a powered liftgate is standard), the rear seats fold down to create wagon-like capacity. A board-like cargo cover behind the rear seats is supplemented with another that raises along with the back glass. Both ensure complete cargo privacy or can be removed if the rear area will be completely filled.

Climate controls are an interesting mix of satisfactory controls and irritating switches. Dials for driver and passenger control temperature, feel nicely made, and click with authority. Between them is a row of five buttons, which control fan direction, AC type, and fan speed. Those are touch-dependent and show their full function only when touched. They rock up and down for selection. It takes too much attention off the road as the information presented on the climate screen changes when a button is touched.

The climate control struggles to keep the interior cool on an 88-degree day, but the black paint, leather, and lack of tint do not assist. Heated seats are standard, but ventilated chairs are locked behind the $54,500 Prestige trim.

Below the climate is a row of less often used buttons for the drive mode, traction control, a bunch of blanks (in this trim), and the stop-start defeat. There’s a separate radio dial next to the shifter which controls tuning and volume. It’s also a “power” button, but the radio is never truly off, just muted.

Audio quality is fine with the basic (non B+O) system in the A5, but its lack of input methods is frustrating. CarPlay and Android Auto are present, but via cord only. There’s no XM Radio tuner, and there’s no Bluetooth at all unless the Audi driving app is installed first. It’s not possible to quickly connect and play music in the A5, and that’s lousy.

Audi is stingy with other tech in the Premium A5 trim. Gauges are standard analog with a central screen. They’re clear and nice to look at, however, and the central screen has good clarity. It presents limited information, but in a concise and usable way. Audi’s MMI system is limited in the Premium, and though the navigation arrow is there, the system reminds you that you didn’t buy it. But that’s what Apple/Android are for anyway.

Also missing are blind-spot detection and any driving aids besides crash avoidance. The backup camera’s image is not of great quality and has the sort of fish-eye distortion that makes all parking spaces look perilously small. It was more a hindrance than a helper when parking. The central screen is 10.1″ here (12″ in upper trims) and feels solid. Tug at it all you like, no flexing or creaks to be heard. Image clarity is sharp, and the limited menus make sense in their arrangement.

The A5 pleasantly surprised with its drive. The 2.0T Audi uses in many of its cars produces 248 horses and 273 torques in this application. It’s a heavy car at 3,726 pounds, just 150 shy of an all-wheel-drive 5-Series. And although the two cars share a horsepower figure, the 25 extra torques of the A5 make a big difference. The seven-speed automatic works well with the 2.0 to pull the Sportback along with authority; it always feels ready to go faster and is never out of breath.

There is turbo lag though, which rears its head in slower around-town driving and from standing starts. Floor it from a stop, and there are a couple of seconds of slow-ish progress until the turbo spools up, and off you go. You reach 60 in an impressive 5.7 seconds.

The transmission carries out its duties well, in general. Depending on which mode the car is in (comfort, dynamic, auto, individual), the transmission adjusts to serve up gears more or less harshly. In the same way, steering effort can be made heavier, and engine noise can, unfortunately, be added via the speakers. On its own, the 2.0 produces a decent sound for an inline-four and doesn’t sound like it’s stressed.

With its performance, the Sportback is happy to be tossed around back roads. The steering is direct and weighted to preference via drive mode but doesn’t provide much feedback. Brakes are strong and bring the A5 to a halt as quickly as required. The throttle is easy to learn and operate. There’s always plenty of grip with the all-wheel drive, though if a corner is attacked too rapidly lift-off oversteer may occur. Whoops.

The Sportback suffers a bit around town and on the open interstate, for two different reasons. In stop-and-go traffic the transmission fumbles gears on occasion, as though it’s not ready for light braking followed by gentle acceleration. The stop-start system interfered here too, with a jerky startup procedure that caused a bit of lag before movement. Easily defeated via a dedicated button below the climate control.

No such transmission problems at interstate speeds, but there’s a new one: Noise. Over 70 miles per hour, there’s notable wind noise from around the side mirrors, and road noise comes through the wheel wells into the cabin. It’s not a result of the liftback causing echo, just not quite enough insulation. Given the sporty mission of the A5, the noise level is not unacceptable. Fuel economy is in the low to acceptable range: 24 city, 32 highway, and 27 combined. After 18,152 miles on the rental, the average was 29 mpg.

In all situations, the Sportback’s ride errs on the sporty side of comfortable. Road imperfections are soaked up nicely, but you’ll certainly hear them. Ride quality is generally very composed and buttoned-down, to where it’s hard to find fault with the A5 in that area. Just a very good compromise of control and cushioning, and certainly everyday livable.

There’s where I was going to wrap this review, but the day after sunny testing something very concerning happened. While driving on I-75 in the rain, water poured in around the window seal of the driver’s door. It seems in this example that frameless design is causing water problems after just 50,000 miles. Verifying in photos from the day before, I noticed the lack of a driver’s floor mat and the water stain in the footwell. This has been a persistent issue for this car.

And so my A5 recommendation comes with two caveats. The first is if you do not absolutely need the extra cargo area of the liftback, get the A4 in similar trim and save some cash. The A4 has frames on its windows and is less likely to have a water issue than the Sportback. The second caveat is about power: If selecting either car, spend the three extra grand (at any trim) and get the 45 TFSI version. The horsepower difference shrinks the time to 60 from 6.7 seconds to 5.4, and that’ll make all the difference.

[Images: Corey Lewis/The Truth About Cars]

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30 Comments on “Rental Review: The 2020 Audi A5 Sportback, a Bit Damp...”

  • avatar

    “There’s a traditional-looking strip of thick plastic wood trim across the dash and down the center console that’s very high gloss and looks unnatural. ”

    It’s not plastic.

  • avatar

    Wait…you got a 2 model year old Audi with 50,000 miles from Enterprise? I know the rental fleets are hurting for new inventory, but wow. I thought that would have been put on the lot to sell by now. I would have guessed Turo until I saw the Illinois fleet plates.

    With sedans selling so poorly, I think Audi needs to consolidate sedans, punch the next generation out a few inches in the rear for back seat room, and make something this stylish as the next A6 and cease the A5 Sportback. We have an A6 in the family and it’s quiet and has a beautiful interior, but no one would call it overly stylish, unlike this A5. Combine the models, make the A6 a looker, watch people continue their endless lemming run into CUVs, and then discontinue it when more cars go EV.

    And 50,000 miles with quality and body hardware issues on a VAG product. Corey, there’s no way you can be surprised!!! I’m more surprised you got up to speed on I-75 in Cincinnati in the rain to have water blast inside the car.

    • 0 avatar

      “I think Audi needs to consolidate sedans, punch the next generation out a few inches in the rear for back seat room, and make something this stylish as the next A6 and cease the A5 Sportback.”

      You just described an Arteon.

    • 0 avatar

      Two of the last three National cars I’ve rented had more than 50k miles on them, and both of them (2020 Pacifica and 2020 Camry) looked and felt like it.

  • avatar

    This car could be appealing if it wasn’t finished in this (lack of) color combination. Though the interior design suffers from a few of VW’s “better ideas” that violate common sense, which seems to happen with each redesign.

  • avatar

    Seems pretty nice and I think the shape is nicer than the A4. They got rid of the shiny wood by 2022 and aluminum trim is only $500 if you want it. The fancier stereo is also only $950 instead of $3000 like some brands.
    On the leak, I’ll give Audi some benefit of the doubt on a low sling rental car with frameless windows that some people might have yanked on the door seals or window glass when exiting.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    First off all, I think it’s a good idea to do rental reviews as there are just not that many new launches coming out that aren’t trucks or SUVs.
    I agree with ajla, I have a feeling that the window that the door handle design defect caused many a renter to just manhandle the door glass causing the seal to wear prematurely. I try to be careful not to grab the door by the window of our frameless Eos, but it too has a heavy door but fortunately a normal door handle design.
    I like how you consumed some frozen yogurt seen in pic 8, it’s a rental froyo on!
    The road noise is a bummer, I’ve read the Arteon is pretty quiet. And certainly larger. A Stinger of this vintage would probably be more dynamic to drive , if you’re ok with a creaky hatch too.

  • avatar

    This is a good review. The detail about wear over time on internal and external surfaces is a nice touch which of course we never see in new car reviews and is the type of thing that manufacturers should pay more attention to.

    Thanks Corey.

    • 0 avatar

      Glad you enjoyed!

    • 0 avatar

      this is also a rental car from a rental lot. not a dealer offered, loaner vehicle that would have been serviced regularly & not likely offered for rental after 35k-40k miles on the odo.

      AND the rental shop clearly knew about the water leak. which says (something) about the quality of service there as well. they’ll gladly hand you a long driven luxury car for whatever expensively gross price they can.

  • avatar

    So none of the electricals caught fire?

    • 0 avatar

      Are you hinting something? Lately I’ve had come-and-go dashboard alerts about my electrical system on my S5. The car sill operates normally and the dealer hasn’t found anything, but now I’m worried.

  • avatar

    So weird about the analog gages. I thought they all came with the virtual cockpit and blind-spot monitors. Must have been some cheap spec just for rental grade versions.

  • avatar

    It was unclear to me from the article whether this car had 50,000 miles, or 18,152, I think the latter. In any case, I just took my A5 in for its 50,000 mile checkup. It’s the first time it has been back to the dealer in a few years, as I had it serviced in my neighborhood during the pandemic. The difference is that my A5 is an ’08, fourteen years old! No issues to speak of, though I did get the rear brakes serviced.

    The dealer said that it was the cleanest looking 3.2 liter (6 cylinder model) that they had seen. I got the wheels refinished while it was there, as 14 years of curbs had left a few marks. I had some paint touched up too, so the car looks pretty much as good as new again.

    A friend of mine, who always admired my car, just got one of these 2020 or so A5 Sportbacks. Yes, it does not look as sporty as my coupe, but then, they also have a Porsche Cayman, so I think their sporting needs have been met.

    Thanks for the in depth review.

  • avatar

    These reviews are so informative. You get average examples, not press fleet examples with every option and extroverted colors, and you get to see how they hold up over a significant part of their service lives.

    The water leak is kind of remarkable. On the one hand, a commenter above me is right that anything can happen to a rental car and you can’t necessarily generalize from rental-car brokenness. On the other hand, it seems like VAG really does have trouble with water intrusion issues in its cars. Plugged sunroof and roof drains, water intrusion in the footwells and trunk – I keep hearing about it with VWs and Audis, and not with other makes. I’d want to see a sample of several of these used before I’d feel comfortable buying one with frameless door glass.

  • avatar

    The fact that I find this vehicle to be boring shows just how spoiled we are these days…

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve seen them in other colors, and they really do look much more interesting and upscale when not black. Same goes for the interior, why not have brown when it’s a no-cost option?

      • 0 avatar

        I really can’t stand black cars. Hard to keep clean, shows scratches, hot in summer, bland. Would rather have silver, or even white. Same on the interior – why not any other shade or color besides black?

  • avatar

    This article says more about the current state of America’s rental fleet than it does about the A5. Such a car would usually be the norm for near-bankruptcy Hertz or a DTAG fleet. When you have no inventory and rental fleets shopping auction lanes to add 4.0CR+ cars to their motor pool, this is what happens. Oh, well.

    Also, the leaking window seals on a frameless door isn’t really surprising in and of itself, but the amount of water intrusion exceeds anything my twenty-six year-old Aurora would let in on the worst of rains, which is sad.

  • avatar

    Great idea doing the Rental Reviews, but some of the criticism might be due to the fact that it’s a daily rental with 50k miles on it. Some of those miles were no doubt hard if not abusive, also issues like road noise could be the fault of worn or cupped tires, highly probable after 50k. Scratches on black paint and surfaces on a rental are not at all unlikely, these cars see either a mechanical car wash with the plastic brushes or at Enterprise retail locations, a bucket wash with a long handled brush and soapy water that may be used all day and is loaded with grit. The leaky window may have been caused by someone using a coat hanger to get into a car with the keys locked inside, pretty common with rentals as they usually keep both sets of keys together on the same chain. I still think the review is valid, and was impressed to hear the powertrain seems to have held up well to the abuse and indifferent maintenance rentals receive. Hi mile rentals are becoming much more common, earlier this year National gave me the keys to a 2020 RAM Laramie Hemi, it had 56k on the odo, non matching tires and a bed that looked like it had hauled barbed wire all its life.

  • avatar

    Exhibit “A” as to why frameless windows aren’t a good idea!

    Zee Germans have fallen so far!

  • avatar

    Last week, my Enterprise rental was a Dodge Grand Caravan with a build date of 12/2019, nearly 60k miles, mismatched tires, and a suspension clunk. No Apple Carplay either and a stereo that cut in and out playing music via Bluetooth- good times.

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