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PowerSteering: 2018 Audi A5 Review

PowerSteering: 2018 Audi A5 Review

By Liz Kim, November 15, 2017

Introduction
Audi sure knows how to stretch its investment in a single car platform. Take, for example, the Audi A4’s fertile underpinnings. They form the basis for a diverse array of different and satisfying vehicles, including the A4 and S4 sedans, the A4 Allroad crossover wagon, and the A5/S5 variants in coupe and convertible flavors. Impressively, all of them are desirable vehicles, and each is different enough to appeal to a particular audience.

The latest permutation of this component set is the A5 Sportback, which brings hatchback utility, a coupe-like profile, and passenger sedan friendliness together in a sexy, pleasurable package. And with a starting price of $43,575, it’s the least expensive member of the A5 family.

2018 Audi A5 Sportback photoFor this review, J.D. Power elected to examine the new A5 Sportback. The test car arrived in Premium Plus trim with Manhattan Gray metallic paint, walnut wood interior panels, 19-inch Design Line aluminum wheels, the Cold Weather Package, the Navigation Package, a Bang & Olufsen audio system, and summer performance tires. The price came to $52,620, including the $575 destination charge.


What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the new Audi A5, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this car, and what they liked most and least about their A5s.

J.D. Power survey data shows that more women own A5 models than the typical Compact Premium Car, and that A5 owners are older and more affluent. The data shows that 40% of A5 owners are women (vs. 32% for the segment), the median age of an A5 owner is 61 years (vs. 57 years), and an A5 owner’s median household income is $179,167 (vs. $153,420).

More than half of Audi A5 owners identify as Performance Buyers (55% vs. 42% for the segment). They are less likely to agree that they avoid vehicles that they think have high maintenance costs (70% vs. 79%), and they are less likely to agree that their first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (89% vs. 93%).

Audi A5 owners are also less likely to agree that they need a versatile vehicle that accommodates their busy lifestyle (61% vs. 68%), less likely to agree that they’re willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (47% vs. 51%), and less likely to agree that they’re willing to pay extra to ensure that their vehicle has the latest safety features (76% vs. 83%).

Owners report that their favorite things about the previous A5 were (in descending order) the exterior styling, engine/transmission, driving dynamics, interior design, and seats. Owners indicate that their least favorite things about the previous A5 were (in descending order) visibility and safety, the climate control system, the infotainment system, storage and space, and fuel economy.


What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the new 2018 A5 measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2017 APEAL Study.

Exterior

This is one seriously fetching automobile. Stand facing it and the character lines veritably emanate from the trademark Singleframe grille, drawing your eyes and letting them linger as they slide from the aggressively seductive headlamps to the sculpturing along the sides.

Thanks to its 5-door hatch configuration, the A5 Sportback allows for a more fluid silhouette than a sedan with a proper trunk, and Audi takes full advantage, installing frameless windows evocative of a sports coupe even though the car supplies 4-door utility.

The test vehicle wore optional 19-inch Design Line wheels, giving the low-slung vehicle a strapping stance, one underscored by serious Manhattan Grey metallic paint displaying a luminescence that emphasized the lines and curves of the car.

Owners of the previous Audi A5 indicate that they’re happy about their car’s looks. They should be thrilled about the Sportback.

Interior

If you are at all familiar with the Audi brand, you know that it’s a given that the cabins are touched by the indulgent hands of a talented designers. The A5 Sportback is no exception, relfecting beautiful, high-quality plastics, metals and wood trim, all laid out in a proportionate and pleasing manner.

It’s worth noting that leather upholstery comes standard on the A5 Sportback, whereas for most vehicles in this segment buyers must pay extra. Audi also supplies a panoramic sunroof and a power liftgate, at no charge.

Seats

For both the front and rear passengers, getting into and out of the A5 Sportback requires more ducking and crouching than might be preferable. Compared to the A4 sedan, the A5 Sportback’s roofline is lower, the rear door openings are smaller, and the ride height is closer to the ground. Such is the price to paid for seductive styling.

Once you’re settled in, however, few people will have any complaints about front seat accommodations. With multiple power adjustments and a good amount of bolstering, most folks should find an ideal perch. Those planning to drive in a more assertive fashion might want to check out the sport-bolstered seat option, which also supplies ventilation.

The rear seat is not quite as accommodating. Although Audi says that legroom and shoulder space are comparable to that of the A4 sedan, the A5 Sportback feels more cramped, mostly because of reduced headroom. Otherwise, two people will be happy with the space, although three people will find it quite cramped.

Climate Control System

Rear seat passengers will, however, be happy to discover that the standard 3-zone climate control system gives them greater power over the temperature in the back. For front seat occupants, the controls are easy and intuitive to use with clearly marked buttons and knobs.

Infotainment System

Audi’s Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation, an optional feature with Premium Plus trim, never fails to astonish the driver with its bright, crisp, beautiful graphics.

Most impressive of all is the Google Maps satellite imagery, rendered on the 12.3-inch instrumentation display screen and providing a top-down view of the area in which you are driving. You can even zoom down onto the street you’re traveling to get a perspective of the neighborhood that most navigation systems can’t offer.

A little less impressive is the handwriting recognition technology that comes with Audi’s Multi-Media Interface infotainment system. I never did get the hang of it, finding it inferior to Audi’s conventional MMI controls clustered on the center console and steering wheel in order to input commands.

People new to MMI might like the handwriting recognition technology, as long as it interprets their writing properly. I find that one acclimates to the MMI’s standard control knob and buttons pretty quickly, though I can’t figure out why Audi still doesn’t offer a touchscreen infotainment system display. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection brings even more familiarity to the system.

Storage and Space

Previously, the A5 came only in coupe and convertible form, so it’s no wonder that owners weren’t happy with the storage space. The new A5 Sportback changes the equation with its impressively large cargo hold.

As a result of its sloping rear glass, rather than the angled shape of a regular trunk, the Sportback supplies 21.8 cubic-feet of storage space, according to Audi. During testing, that held a week’s worth of luggage for a family of four.

Folding the rear seats down opens up 35 cu.-ft. of space. While a crossover vehicle will give you much more space for your things, you won’t be able to find many SUVs whose shape and bearing are described in as enthusiastic terms as are the A5 Sportback’s.

Visibility and Safety

Because you ride fairly low to the ground in the A5 Sportback, the dropped perspective takes a little getting used to, especially if you’re coming into one from a vehicle that gives you a taller ride height, such as a crossover. Furthermore, the windshield pillars are somewhat thick and angled, and the rear window is downright tiny.

Good thing plenty of technology is available to assist with visibility and safety, including a standard reversing camera. My Premium Plus test vehicle included a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, along with a feature called Vehicle Exit Assist. That latter feature alerts the driver if a car or cyclist is coming up fast from behind after you’re parked on the street, warning you not to open your door.

Every A5 Sportback is equipped with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking, each engineered to keep you from getting into a collision in the first place. If a crash is unavoidable, sensors prepare the vehicle and its passengers for impact, and an automatic post-collision braking system brings the A5 to a stop following a collision to minimize the possibility of a secondary impact after the air bags have already deployed.

As far as crash-test ratings go, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not performed assessments on the A5. The federal government has, giving the Sportback an overall score of 5 stars. Note, however, that frontal-impact ratings measure just 4 stars.

Engine/Transmission

Nestled into the A5 Sportback’s engine bay, a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder stirs up 252 horsepower from 5,000 rpm to 6,000 rpm, and 273 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,600 rpm and 4,500 rpm. It’s capable of moving the Sportback from zero to 60 mph in about 5.7 seconds, according to Audi.

Part of the appeal of this engine is the delicious, silky urgency with which the ponies are delivered, as if the engine is pleading for a bit more pressure from your right foot. This, combined with a meaty band of torque that minimizes the effects of turbo lag, makes driving this car a thrill.

Delivering power to the standard Quattro all-wheel drive system, a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission makes the most of power by shifting quickly and smartly no matter how the car is driven. It’s as though the transmission is reading the driver’s mind.

Fuel Economy

Many owners of the previous A5 were the most dissatisfied with the car’s gas mileage. Anyone hoping for efficiency gains from the new A5 may need to recalibrate their expectations. Despite the promise of excellent acceleration combined with terrific fuel economy, the A5 Sportback delivers only on half of that pledge.

The EPA says I should have expected 27 mpg in combined driving, but I extracted just 22.5 mpg from the car. Sure, I made a few aggressive acceleration runs. OK, more than a few. Still, this result is disheartening. Perhaps the proper frame of mind is that you can get excellent acceleration or terrific fuel economy, but not both at the same time.

Driving Dynamics

The Audi A5 Sportback not only looks like it has moves, it’s got moves. On both sinuous mountain roads and crumbling city streets, the chassis bore down hard on the asphalt while masking most of the road anomalies. Still, I bet the optional adaptive damping system, available only on the Prestige trim level, would make the car even more sublime.

Note that the optional 19-inch wheels with low-profile performance tires did transmit some extra noise, vibration, and harshness. They did, however, supply impressive grip in turns. Buy them for performance, and you won’t care about the extra racket and jiggling. Buy them for style, and you’ll probably complain.

In the normal driving mode setting, the steering is a bit lighter than I’d like, but it certainly proves precise and accurate, and you can always increase effort levels by choosing Dynamic mode. Slowing is almost as fun as going, as the A5 Sportback’s brake response is flawless.

So, does the new Audi A5 Sportback have what it takes to keep up with something like the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, which is its conceptual doppelgänger? For all intents and purposes, only the most particular drivers are likely to establish a dynamic preference between the two.


Final Impressions
The 2018 Audi A5 Sportback is one vehicle that I was bereaved to see leave my driveway, and for good reason. Audi has masterfully synthesized the passenger friendliness of a sedan, the functionality of a hatchback, the performance of German sport sedan, and the indulgence of a luxury car, all wrapped up in a gorgeously rendered vehicle.

Audi supplied the vehicle used for this 2018 A5 Sportback review.

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