Road Tests

First Drive: 2018 Audi A5 and S5 Sportback

A niche well-filled

SEATTLE, Washington — As sand and soil sift into every mountainside crack and crevice, so Audi fills the niches in its product lineup. It seems to be a force of nature.

So we reflect as the 2018 A5 Sportback and high-performance S5 Sportback join the model range that already comprises A5 and S5 coupes and cabriolets, ranging in price from the low 40s to upper 60s. We know and love the Sportback body style — a coupe-like sedan with a sweeping roof and beautifully integrated liftback — from the A7 and greet this even tidier package with joy.

Audi let us drive both new cars in and around Seattle. The latest buildings we saw there, as well as in Issaquah and Woodinville, blend Asian themes and mountain lodge motifs. We don’t see this style elsewhere, and it emphasized something else: As well as the A5 and S4 Sportbacks perform, their story is really about subtle improvements in design and increasingly tasteful style.

It all starts with the Singleframe grille. If the bridge workers’ union voted for best car grille, Audis would win. We remember our initial shock, years ago, when the theme was introduced, but now we love it — and it does evoke heritage.

The A5 Sportback isn’t just another pretty face, though. The bodywork has elegant proportions and the creased character line flares and flutes. In fact, during the product presentation, Audi showcased a dark gray S5 that bent light like a gravitational field. The roofline — inconceivably low because of the frameless doors — strikes its own grace notes.

“We didn’t just put a backpack on a coupe to give this car extra room,” said product planning chief Barry Hoch.

Of course, there is extra room, namely, some 35.0 cubic feet of cargo space with rear seats folded. Hoch said a mountain bike would go in through the hatch.

Shall we speak of tradeoffs? The A5 Sportback stands 54.6 inches high, but getting into the rear seat isn’t so easy. Blake Griffin would prefer to fly over the car and dunk rather than enter it. The buyer planning to drive for Uber on the side to promote their business should look for something boxier.

Once under way, we had to ask why anyone wouldn’t otherwise be completely happy with the A5 Sportback, especially for $43,575. Powering the car is Audi’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter turbo-four. Here it makes 252 hp at 5,000 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm. We find this impressive, along with the 5.7-second 0 to 60 mph dash and 130-mhp top speed. And the turbocharger is as obsequious as a courtier.

When we chose Sport mode and used the paddle shifters, the seven-speed automatic became more tenacious and we heard a bit of tremolo from the exhaust. The land rolled enough to give us a taste of the five-links in front and rear, but glassy-smooth King County pavement prevented our discovering any flaws in ride quality. Not that any would be expected.

Naturally, a contingent of buyers — about 15 percent of the mix, we’re told — will prefer the V-6, sacrificing 3 combined mpg to pick up extra horsepower and torque. The S5 Sportback starts at $55,375 and has a 3.0-liter turbo-six, which as Audi points out, weighs just 379 pounds — less than most motorcycles.

The V-6 produces 354 hp at 5,400 rpm and 369 lb-ft at 1,370 rpm and 0 to 60 mph takes just 4.5 seconds. An eight-speed automatic replaces the seven-speed and it is as dutiful and smooth as a skilled event planner — perhaps too smooth for this application, we wouldn’t mind a fair whomp! every now and them. The S5 Sportback will sail past the A5 while achieving the electronically limited 155 mph (on summer tires) as a bona-fide sporting note comes from the four exhaust outlets.

Whereas the A5 starts with Premium trim, the S5 has the additional comforts and beauty of Premium Plus. In our S5 we found a flat-bottom steering wheel and lovely, diamond-quilted leather upholstery and Alcantara trim. The available “virtual cockpit” digital instrument cluster even has a sport mode. Like the exterior, the cabin is an exercise in restraint and good taste, although the plethora of info screens brings some redundancy.

Options on the S5 are a 19-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system, striking 19-inch wheels, and a sport package with red calipers, adaptive dampers, and a “sport” rear differential. A suite of advanced driver assistance features is available. Hoch noted the side assist keeps the driver from opening the door as one of downtown Seattle’s freight delivery bicycles approaches, but the system can’t “read” carbon-fiber frames at all.

Swift, comfortable, and stylish, these two new Audis tantalize with the just the right combination of capability and features. As sand and soil fill cracks and crevices, tree roots develop. And so it is as Audi keeps expanding its range, taking sales from the brands relying more and more the sale of trucks and crossovers without advancing its cars. For those of us who still love good cars, the A5 and S5 Sportback must be considered.

2018 Audi A5 and S5 Sportback Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $43,575/$55,375 (base)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/252 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm;
3.0L turbocharged DOHC 24-valve V-6/354 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 369 lb-ft @ 1,370 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed automatic; 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD liftback
EPA MILEAGE 21-24/30-34 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 186.3/187.1 x 72.6 x 54.5/54.6 in
WHEELBASE 11.2 in
WEIGHT 3,704/3,924 lb
0-60 MPH 5.7/4.5 sec
TOP SPEED 130/155 mph

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Buying Guide
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2018 Audi A5

2018 Audi A5

MSRP $49,600 2.0T Premium quattro Convertible

EPA MPG:

24 City / 34 Hwy

Horse Power:

252 @ 5000

Torque:

273 @ 1600