Bigger, lighter new A5 Sportback promises strong performance in V6 diesel guise
The Audi A5 Sportback 3.0 TDI quattro heads the initial range of second-generation diesel A5s. We’ve been impressed by the new Sportback so far. The update to its styling is a little underwhelming, but the changes to its interior ensure that it conveys a satisfyingly premium feel from behind the wheel.
The diesel engine fitted here is a development of the 3.0-litre V6 used by its predecessor. Revised combustion chambers and a new variable-vane turbocharger push peak power to 282bhp and torque swells to 457lb ft.
Underpinned by the latest evolution of Audi’s MLB structure that helps shed 85kg from the weight of the A5, the new Sportback promises sharper performance. Audi is yet to provide official figures but, as a guide, the A4 3.0 TDI quattro, which runs a 268bhp version of the same engine, has a 0-62mph time of 5.3sec along with combined economy of 54.3mpg and 137g/km of CO2.
The new car is longer and wider than the old model, with an extra 24mm of rear leg room and an added 11mm of shoulder room over the old model thanks to a longer wheelbase and widened tracks. However, the sloping roofline still robs some head room in the back. The boot has also grown, by 15 litres to 480 litres, or a full 1300 litres with the rear seats folded. With a large, electrically operated liftback-style tailgate, access is good, but a shallow opening restricts what objects you can carry.
The V6 diesel engine endows the A5 Sportback with deep, easily accessible reserves. Despite lacking the outright power of rival units, the engine delivers terrific flexibility at lower revs and heady mid-range punch. Refinement is excellent, too. The V6 becomes a little vocal above 3500rpm, but this car is uncannily quiet by diesel standards and, in combination with outstanding stability, a brilliant long-distance proposition.
Drive is sent through a standard eight-speed automatic gearbox. Depending on the driving mode, it either shifts up early to maximise economy or holds gears for maximum performance.
Given the engine’s flexibility, you rarely feel inclined to use the steering wheel-mounted paddles, but when you do, the speed of the shifts is impressively rapid, particularly in Sport mode.
The four-wheel drive system apportions power to either end and an optional sports differential continuously varies the amount of drive to each rear wheel, resulting in superb traction. Grip is good, too, and in all but the tightest corners the car is neutral and dependable in all conditions.
As with the A4, though, the speed-sensitive electro-mechanical steering is uncommunicative. There is directness and a sense of weight as lock is applied, but we’d welcome more feel and feedback. In this respect, the Sportback is neither as fun to drive nor as engaging as the BMW435d xDrive Gran Coupe.
Nor does this A5 Sportback match the comfort of some rivals. On optional 19in wheels, the suspension delivers taut body control and convincing fluidity. The overall ride is more sporting than that of the A4 saloon, but it has the ability to sponge away small imperfections at city speeds. However, it is occasionally caught out by larger transverse ruts and deep potholes at higher speeds.
A heavy V6 diesel engine and low- profile tyres contribute to the odd nasty shudder at times, suggesting that the lighter 2.0-litre engine in the upcoming A5 2.0 TDI and a more conservative wheel choice might make for a more comfortable car.
Pricing hasn’t yet been announced, but this A5 Sportback is a compelling choice in a segment that isn’t kind to mediocrity. It is fast, frugal, refined and, most convincingly, high on perceived quality. However, the new Audi lacks the dynamic edge to make it a truly engaging drive and its ride wants for comfort at times.
Before committing, we recommend you look at the A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI quattro. Its smaller engine may not pack the mid-range wallop, but it promises to offer the same premium feel as well as a smoother and more controlled ride, along with lower running costs – and all at a much lower price.
Rapid in all conditions and terrifically refined, but outright handling flair and ride quality disappoint
AUDI A5 Sportback 3.0 TDI 286 Quattro S Line
Price: £41,800 (est)
Engine: V6, 2967cc, diesel
Torque: 457lb ft at 1500rpm
Gearbox: 8-speed automatic
Kerb weight: na
0-62mph: 5.2sec (est)
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
CO2/tax band: na
Rivals: BMW 435d xDrive Gran Coupe, Mercedes C250d 4Matic