2018 Audi A5 and S5 Sportbacks: 7 First Impressions

Torn between two (or more) body styles? Take a spin around Seattle in Audi's hatchback-in-disguise. 

Lawrence Ulrich

Audi’s elegant A7 has scored a major hit with critics and buyers alike. So why not try a smaller, more-affordable version? Audi hopes its 2018 A5 Sportback (and S5 Sportback) will fill a niche for fickle Americans who don’t want either a traditional three-box sedan or a crossover SUV. Like the A7, the luxurious Sportback combines four-door coupe styling with a cleverly integrated hatchback. I just drove back to downtown Seattle after a daylong drive, including a surprise introduction to a fresh-off-the-boat S5 Sportback and its 3.0-liter turbocharged V-6. Here are 7 First Impressions of the latest additions to Audi’s ballooning lineup.

1. It looks good—but not as good as the first S5 Coupe

The original Audi A5 (and S5) was one of the sweetest-looking coupes in the game, and a tough act to follow. Like the new second-generation A5, the Sportback versions are more efficiently handsome than flat-out pretty. One thing’s for sure: They look worlds better than the 5-Series and 3-Series GT’s, BMW’s notoriously clumsy attempts at a similar sedan-cum-hatchback body style.

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Sleekness in Seattle with the A5 Sportback

2. It’s more practical than you’d ever guess

Don’t be confused: The number “5” is part of the name. But these models are actually built on the A4 sedan architecture, including an identical wheelbase and standard quattro AWD. So there’s ample people room in back, including 2.4 inches of added legroom versus the A5 Coupe. Pop the power liftgate, and you’ll find nearly 22 cubic feet of cargo space, and a remarkable 35 cubic feet with rear seats folded. In other words, you can pack in roughly twice as much luggage as a conventional full-size luxury sedan.

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Audi says the Sportback can swallow seven large suitcases. 

3. Go fast, or faster

The A5 Sportback gets 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque from a 2.0-liter turbo four, good for a 5.7-second scoot from 0-60 mph, and a 130-mph top speed. But the S5 version is a stealth bomber, with a bounteous 354 horsepower and 369 pound-feet from the same 3.0-liter, twin-scroll-turbo V-6 found in the S4 sedan and SQ5 crossover SUV. So equipped, the S5 Sportback hustles to 60 mph in an Audi-estimated 4.5 seconds, and it’s almost surely faster in real life. Top speed is capped at 155 mph.

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3.0-liter turbo V-6 whips up 354 horsepower, and a 4.5-second blast to 60 mph

4. Make that “sneaky fast."

In typical “S”-model fashion, the S5 Sportback makes that speed in somewhat demure fashion, with a hushed cabin and steering isolation that layers the car in calmness even when you’re flying. Even the “dynamic” setting of the two-stage sport exhaust coaxes no more than a gentle growl from the V-6. Once again, Audi saves its most aggressive tendencies for its top-shelf RS models from the Audi Sport division.

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5. It’s got the latest and greatest in Audi luxury and tech

The Sportbacks offer so much stuff that the flagship A8 sedan – aging and on the verge of replacement – seems relatively poor in comparison. There’s the Audi Virtual Cockpit driver’s display; the latest MMI navigation and infotainment with a touch writing pad; lavish interior inlays of walnut, oak, aluminum or carbon fiber; a Bang & Olufsen audio system with 19 speakers and 755 watts. Among a full suite of driver assistance features, the clever, radar-based Vehicle Exit Assist monitors the Audis’ sides for two minutes after the engine is shut off, ensuring that you don’t door an innocent bicyclist, or get smacked yourself when you step out. 

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6. Bring greenbacks for your Sportback

Audi made much of the A5 Sportback’s $43,575 base price, or $55,375 for the S5 Sportback. Both models do offer a generous array of standard features. Still, most of the fancy stuff costs extra, from the aforementioned Virtual Cockpit and B&O audio to 19-inch wheels and massaging seats for the S5. Larded with options, the A5 Sportback I drove stickered for $55,400, and the S5 Sportback shot to an eye-opening $68,300. The latter is a lot of dough for any car based on an A4. You could drive a well-optioned, 650-horsepower Camaro ZL-1 for that money, or a Ford Shelby GT350 for way less. Fine, you can’t fit seven large suitcases in a Camaro or Mustang, as you can in the Audis.

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7. Say “yes” to Sport package, “no” to Dynamic Steering.

The S5 Sportback benefits big time from a Sport Package whose features include a limited-slip rear differential that can shuttle nearly 100 percent of torque to either rear wheel, in gung-ho fashion. But Audi Dynamic Steering – which automatically adjusts the steering ratio -- adds nothing to the experience, aside from easier, lazier moves in mall parking lots.