Fleet innovator test: Audi A5 Sportback
Never change a winning team. That seems to be the steadfast motto of Volkswagen’s premium subsidiary. At first glance, the A5 Sportback may not have changed much, but appearances are deceptive. This five-door GT raises the bar far above the competition – a certain Bavarian GranCoupé aside.
The average passer-by won’t turn his head when he meets this second-generation A5 Sportback. Not that it does not look attractive - on the contrary - but it does not distinguish itself dramatically from its predecessor. The silhouette has hardly changed compared to the first generation in 2008: Audi preferred to focus on elaborating particular accents rather than hire a new design chief.
Underneath its tight designer suit, however, there is a multitude of advanced technologies that make this long-distance runner a paragon of connectivity, active safety and efficiency. And if you think the previous A5 was a masterpiece of craftsmanship, wait until you behold the new A5’s interior. As with every generation change, the newcomer sheds a handful of kilos, too, which is of course good news for fuel consumption and performance. The engines are high tech gems, not least the version we tested: the 2.0 TFSI 252 Quattro S-tronic.
On paper, the A5 Sportback is a five-door hatchback, but actually it should be perceived as a stretched version of the A5 Coupé. Despite the almost identical wheelbase, there is less room in Audi’s sporty saloon than aboard the A4 Avant – something the sloping roofline is to blame for. In terms of luggage space, both models are each other’s equal, more or less: 480 litres for the Sportback, 505 for the estate model.
This makes the A5 Sportback a perfect match for its arch-rival: the BMW 4 Series GranCoupé. The Bavarian is 10 centimetres shorter, but it offers the same interior length. There is no denying, however, that getting into the rear requires less acrobatics in the Audi. The A5 also boasts a more refined interior finish and a more comfortable drive. The materials and the design of the dashboard achieve a graceful balance between sobriety, ergonomics and fascination.
TDI? Let’s talk TFSI
Admittedly, the 2.0 TFSI Quattro S-Tronic is not your typical fleet model. But one of the purposes of this test was to find out how fuel-efficient Audi's new-generation petrol engines work - and to verify if they are a viable alternative to the good old TDI. We feared that this sporty version would disappoint us in this respect, to be honest. An official NEDC consumption of 6.5 l / 100 km, that's unrealistically low, right?
But we were pleasantly surprised. We did not spare the accelerator - how could we, with a powertrain like this - and despite the inspiring performance of this ground missile we achieved an average consumption of 7.7 l / 100 km. That is absolutely fantastic. If you know that the 2.0 TFSI Ultra 170 hp S-tronic boasts a theoretical average of 5.4 litres (NEDC), then there is reason to believe that that version should dive below the 7 litre-mark in practice.
Coming to grips with efficiency
If there is one label people spontaneously associate with Audi, it must be Quattro, a synonym for flawless grip thanks to four-wheel drive. What used to be a distinctive model in 1980, namely a rather rectangular Coupé powered by a lyrical five-cylinder turbo – which was a phenomenon in the rally scene - has become an "option" that you can get on almost any Audi model. But is this option worth its money, considering it costs some 2,400 euros extra and increases the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 0,3- 0,5 litres and 8-12 g/km, respectively?
Little as that may be, it is not without fiscal consequence. And then there is the tyre aspect. But in this case, the Quattro could hold the advantage. In powerful front-wheel drive cars, the front tyres tend to wear out faster due to the lack of grip during acceleration – a phenomenon unknown to vehicles with on-demand all-wheel drive. Add to that the enhanced active safety on slippery roads and the fact the supplement you pay for the Quattro system is partially compensated by a higher residual value, and it is plain to see that the answer to the above question is yes.
Strange safety policy
As with any German premium carmaker, safety is high on the priority list – at least, that is what they all claim. The Audi A5 Sportback has not been tested by Euro NCAP, but its four-door sibling, the A4 Saloon, has, and according to the independent safety assessment organisation, the results apply to the entire A5 range, with the exception of the Convertible. That means a rating of five stars, with 89 percent for adult safety, 87 percent for child protection, 75 percent for pedestrian protection and 75 percent for safety assist.
Regarding the latter, every A5 comes with an active (pop-up) bonnet, AEB City and AEB Inter-urban, to say it in EuroNCAP terms. Indeed, the car brakes autonomously for pedestrians and other vehicles, whether they are stationary or moving. An adaptive cruise control is available as an optional extra. Surprisingly enough, a regular cruise control is not included in the standard equipment, and neither are items like parking sensors – not even in the rear – hill start assist, and a central seatbelt in the rear...
Virtual cockpit: must-have or gadget?
In a landscape dominated by horizontal, curvaceous lines, your eyes are drawn towards the central display on the dashboard. This forms the high resolution interface between man and machine and is operated via a central rotary commander on the tunnel console, which is surrounded by some shortcut keys, plus a writing pad on which you can draw numbers and letters with your finger. Very useful, although the input requires regular correction. Voice control is also available, just like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – if you pay extra.
The Google Earth and Google Streetview feature in the sat nav is nothing short of awesome. Add to that the online POI search, real-time weather info and accurate traffic updates and you get a system is hard not to like, to say the least. If that is not enough to woo you, there is always the optional Virtual Cockpit, an extra hi-res source of information replacing the conventional clockwork. Small dials and a zoomed-in map right in front of you, or large dials and the trip computer in between? You decide. Worth the extra 500 euros? We should think so.
The bottom line
This A5 Sportback presents you with a delectable cocktail of aesthetic sophistication, quality, excitement, rationality and efficiency. It might very well be the sublimation of what a fleet car is supposed to be not: sexy. Admittedly, there are more practical five-doors on the market, not to mention cheaper ones, but it fulfils the wishes of car-loving dads who need to combine driving fun and standing with a sense of practicality. As long as he has maximum two kids who measure less than 1.75 metres, aren’t claustrophobic and have a strong stomach, the A5 Sportback is the car to go for.
Indeed, this Audi was made for driving, and that’s just what it’ll do, with its rather stiff suspension, sharp steering, low driving position and the relatively direct feedback. At the same time, it wants to be a desk on wheels, with its state-of-the-art connectivity and awe-inspiring Virtual Cockpit. In this respect, the A5 Sportback leaves the competition behind. A final tip for the environmentally conscious: it’s now available as a CNG-burning g-tron model, too.
- Overall powertrain efficiency
- Balance between comfort and agility, looks and practicality
- Best-in-class interior: fit and finish, infotainment
- Miserly equipment policy
- Small fuel tank
- Only really suited for four
BMW 4 Series GranCoupé
Most interesting fleet version (EU5)
2.0 TDI 150 S-tronic, 110 g/km CO2
2.0 TFSI 170 g-tron (CNG), 100 g/km CO2
Picture copyright: Audi, 2017