PHOTO BY TIM PLOUFF

On the Road Review: Audi A5 Sportback



Drivers compelled to travel east-west in Maine will find few direct routes that accomplish what our north-south interstate network can — rapid, uninterrupted driving. Yet there are many reasonable rural roads that can prove very entertaining and quite rewarding to pilot when you have the proper vehicle to exploit the undulating, twisting tarmac that exists away from suburbia. The all-new Audi A5 Sportback is one such vehicle that a driver might seek for this type of travel.

Equipped like most every Audi — next-generation Quattro all-wheel drive linked to a dual-clutch, seven-speed automatic transmission — the A5 marries suspension compliance with supple handling to create driving bliss. Passengers won’t protest the elevated pace because they are comfortable, relaxed. The driver, meanwhile, is exploring the excellent steering feel, the precise cornering grace, plus the torquey output of the tried-and-true 2.0-liter turbo-four that populates many an Audi/VW engine bay. Like the sibling A4 upon which this five-door is based, the A5 Sportback is a chassis and driving leader among the entrants of premium, compact-class sedans.

Five-door you say? Why, yes, the new A5 is no longer just a coupe and convertible series, as this Sportback model embraces a power liftgate instead of a trunk, to give Audi buyers another choice in flexible cargo-carrying before jumping into a crossover. Actually a tick shorter than the A4, and almost a foot smaller than the midsize A6, the A5 Sportback’s svelte profile and handsome grille are both reminiscent of the much larger A7, which debuted the rakish five-door body style several years ago. This A5 is not coincidental.

Pricing starts at $42,600 — smack dab in the middle between the A4 and A6 — with Premium, Premium Plus and Prestige the three available trim levels. Buyers can also opt for a 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6 packing 354 hp, 102 hp more than the turbo-four, while hooked to an eight-speed automatic. EPA estimates for our Premium sample were 24/34/27 mpg, with a realized 28.7 mpg after 900 miles of often very wet fall driving.

This is the first year that Audi has imported the A5 to America, where we have grown fond of the A5/S5 coupe and convertible. A5 sales, however, have almost doubled this year with the addition of the Sportback, cementing the corporate decision to add another choice into Audi’s broad car lineup.

Hits and misses: Audi Connect Prime, with on-board Wi-Fi hotspot and Google Earth connectivity for mapping and traffic updates, will find mass appeal; the optional Virtual Cockpit (part of a pricey Premium option cluster, $7,600) will amaze with its selectable displays in the center dash as well as in the instrument cluster; plus the expansive cargo hold under the power liftgate makes the A4 sedan seem old-fashioned and staid, especially if your cargo is of an unconventionally large size. That elongated expanse of glass will clear itself at road speeds, but up until that point, you will wish that the A5 also came with a rear wiper. And while many pundits revel in the fit and finish of Audi’s interiors, they are certainly among the industry’s best, it still merits mentioning that the huge center console’s flank that interacts with the driver’s right leg is a hard surface that would be much more comfortable if padded.

Acceleration seems muted, only because it is so smooth, but your velocity is actually quite swift. Cruising at 75 mph, the tachometer displays 1,600 rpms — equaling a quiet cabin with a powertrain that can change tempo with just a subtle twitch of your foot. Plying some recently paved western Maine routes east of Route 26 might have involved a fractured law or two, as the Audi impressed with its stability, control and considerable competence.

PHOTO BY TIM PLOUFF

While buyers have adjusted to the alphanumeric nomenclature of Audi’s labeling (among many premium brands), the look, feel and comfort of these cars remains consistent throughout the lineup. Equipped with power sunroof, LED lighting all around, power heated seats up front, plus a reasonable suite of electronic safety aids, the A5 will at once feel familiar to Audi fans returning to the brand, yet impressing buyers looking to move up.

Without a doubt, pricing in this segment has moved up sharply over the past five to eight years. Yet content is being driven by safety advocates, consumer preferences and the competition, so the added weight, complexity and cost of these vehicles is reflected in rising transaction prices. If we want what the Audi provides, we must expect to pay.

Audi continues on a hot streak in this market, with multiple year gains over previous sales levels. Only Subaru is doing better exceeding sales gains in the United States. For perspective, Audi is outselling Volvo and Lincoln — combined — and is chasing Lexus as the number four-selling premium marquee in this market.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.