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2017 Audi A5 Sportback review: First drive

The Good

  • Wonderfully smooth with the diesel
  • Exterior design has presence
  • Spacious

The Bad

  • Petrol variants are uninvolving
  • S5 engine noise is too fake
4.5

The Audi A5 Sportback is a bigger, more practical version of the latest A5 Coupe. We drove the updated 2017 model and its various engines, including the range-topping S5 Sportback, to see how it compares with the BMW and Mercedes-AMG competition.

For those who like the Audi A5 Coupe but want two extra doors and more interior space, the A5 Sportback is for you. It is a challenger for the BMW 4 Series and Mercedes C-Class and is now based on the current A4 series, which means it is better off the bat. We took it for a spin ahead of the car going on sale in January 2017 to see just how much better.

2017 Audi A5 Sportback review: What has changed?

Audi has made the 2017 A5 Sportback 85kg lighter than its predecessor, reduced CO2 emissions by 17 per cent and increased fuel economy by up to 22 per cent. It is also more aerodynamic, thanks to a drag co-efficient of 0.26, and comes with an automatic tailgate as standard to make using the boot easier.

Compared with the A5 Coupe, the A5 Sportback gains two extra doors and increased interior space, thanks to an extra 21mm in length and the latest version of the quattro all-wheel drive system. Audi has also ditched the multi-tronic in favour of the S tronic and the interior has been given a noticeable spruce.

The A5 Sportback is unmistakably Audi and the revisions are of the play it safe variety, but then it looks expensive and classy without being too flash. This is not an area of the market where you get anything outlandish.

Audi has made the 2017 A5 Sportback tough to beat in terms of design, luxury and build quality on the inside of the car. The likes of the virtual cockpit display that replaces analogue dials and luxurious seats make the cabin look expensive, with only some textured plastic knocking it down a point.

Although the coupe was hardly a small car, the extra space of the 2017 A5 Sportback really does make it more practical, especially when it gets 480 litres of boot space – an increase of 15 litres. Taller passengers and less thrifty shoppers will see the benefit.

2017 Audi A5 Sportback: Is it cheap to run?

The 2.0-litre TDI ultra manages to better its rivals with a combined fuel economy figure of 68.9mpg and during our drive we easily achieved upwards of 40mpg. Meanwhile the CO2 emissions are 106g/km and the BIK is 21 per cent so cheap to tax now and £130-a-year after April 2017 if you keep it below £40,000.

Those who want the pricier quattro system for all-wheel drive traction will pay from £39,655, with economy figures dropping to 121g/km and 61.4mpg on 18-inch alloys.

In the petrol engine camp, the S5 puffs out 170g/km and achieves a claimed 37.7mpg combined, while the 2.0-litre TFSI quattro achieves 141g/km and 45.6mpg. Prices start from £41,240 for this model, while the S5 costs £47,000, making them much harder to recommend if you want to be frugal.

What about the Audi S5 Sportback?

We dashed out of the pre-briefing on the car to get our hands on the S5 Sportback, but the excitement was short-lived. What we had hoped would be the best model in the range was, in fact, our least favourite.

It is the fastest of the range, thanks to 349bhp from its 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 petrol engine and a 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds, and comes with styling enhancements that make it a little less businessman-esque. The cabin has been improved, too, adding to the drama. All good so far.

But when we started moving it all went wrong. You see, we know Audi can make an exciting car because the R8 and R8 Spyder are sensational. Yet virtually everything else in the S range lacks the same driver engagement.

If you have ever wondered why it is an Audi driver up your jacksie on the motorway, it is because they can’t feel any sensation of speed – everything that makes an Audi relaxed, refined and quiet also makes them unexciting.

It helps little that the power delivery of the S5 Sportback is extremely linear (354lb/ft of torque from 1,370rpm) and traction is plentiful so it surges forward in a rather unexciting fashion, while the synthetic engine noise really sounds too fake.

Illegal speeds can be reached with little effort, even if the seven-speed auto is slow to react when you stamp on the accelerator, but there is no incentive to do so. Only when it struggles to maintain grip does it raise a smile, but it takes too much effort to bring it to life on public roads. A sporty saloon should feel sportier.

The Mercedes C43 is better suited for enthusiasts who want to feel something, then, but then you could also contemplate down-sizing even more and get the brilliant Jaguar XE S or BMW M2 for something that will truly get the heart racing.

So what is the best 2017 A5 Sportback?

We drove a lot of the potential configurations, including the adaptive suspension, on 19-inch alloy wheels, the 252 petrol, a two-wheel drive diesel and then the four-wheel drive version. Turns out, the most basic model makes the most sense.

It is remarkably composed whether taking it steady or slinging it into the corners and the 192PS and 295lb/ft (400Nm) output ensure it can build up speed with only slightly less enthusiasm than its petrol counterparts. The mixture of pace and refinement is nothing short of astonishing.

Our test car was fitted with very few extras, including front sport seats with Alcantara (well worth £350) and LED headlights with dynamic rear indicators (less so at £1,050). At £38,480, the posh for pound ratio is staggering.

A close second was the all-wheel drive version in S line trim mainly because the sporty steering wheel does add to the drama, but the flat bottom does make it a tad less practical for performing maneouvres.

It is worth avoiding the 19-inch alloys as they increase road noise noticeably and, while more assured over smaller lumps and nicer to look at, make heavier work of bigger potholes and have a detrimental effect on fuel economy.

Should I buy the 2017 Audi A5 Sportback, then?

We have only great things to say about the two-wheel drive 2.0 TDI Ultra. It needs few, if any, extras to make it a delightfully capable cruiser for business or family life; the fact it will fare okay when the 2017 VED changes kick in is another plus.

Honestly, our time spent in the entry-level variant reminded us of far pricier cars. For those who want a combination of luxury, solid fuel economy, refinement and passenger space, this is probably the best £36,000 you will ever spend.

Those contemplating the bigger, more powerful lumps should think twice. The 2.0 petrol loses the refinement and low-down torque that makes it as effortless and confident as the diesel, while the S5 is overpriced when you consider it will do little to stir your inner petrolhead.

The 2017 A5 Sportback is, therefore, one of those rare cars that shines brightest when you choose to spend the least money on it. A bargain Audi? Who would have thought.

Specification

Engine2.0-litre TDI ultra Sport
Power187bhp (190PS)
Torque295lb/ft (400Nm)
Acceleration0-62mph in 7.9 seconds (7.4 for quattro)
EmissionsFrom 106g/km of CO2
Economy68.9 mpg (combined)
PriceFrom £36,480 (£38,795 tested)

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