Audi is one of the fastest-growing premium automobile brands in the United States. In fact, Audi was the only premium manufacturer in the U.S. to grow steadily in 2017. Sales were up 7.8 from 2016 to 226,511 units.
December 2017 saw Audi celebrate its 84th record-breaking month in a row. Pundits caution that if you're standing still, you're really moving backward. So instead of just popping the champagne corks, Audi got back to work and is presenting what many will see as a daring new car for the American market: the S5 Sportback.
Hatching A Plot
Alleged experts forewarn carmakers that America doesn’t like hatchbacks. I can’t tell you why they think this — I have owned several — but for the so-called opinion makers, attaching the word hatchback to a vehicle is like wearing a tuxedo with white socks and brown shoes. So not cool!
Maybe they demur because originally hatchbacks were lowpriced, gas-and-go economy cars. Naturally, Audi must have heeded those canards because they have wisely called their new S5 a Sportback. “Sport” sounds much more appealing than “hatch!” Even so, when you squint at this new model, you will see a wide, useful and beautifully executed, ahem, hatch. No apologies needed, by the way.
Seeing Is Believing
The new S5 Sportback is truly striking. The clever way Audi’s designers integrated the innovative rear opening into the A5 design reminds you more of their sexy two-door coupe than the four-door sedan. When I was walking around my local Audi dealer’s lot, I initially mistook the Sportback for the coupe. Only after I learned to look for the distinctive brushed aluminum accent “swoosh” surrounding the small rear windows was I able to spot one from a distance.
Of course, Audi didn’t build the S5 Sportback to tweak the noses of hatchback critics. They know that all premium automobile buyers don’t need an SUV such as their Q series vehicles. They realize too that these buyers only occasionally need extra space to carry passengers, tote luggage for a weekend getaway or take trips to the links with their clubs. The S5 Sportback has a generous 22 cubic feet of cargo space behind its backseat. I call that SUV-like practicality in an Armani suit.
When “S” Goes Before “A”
The Audi A5 is a dandy: beautiful, safe and comfortable. If you drive one, I’m betting you’ll love it. The V-6 motor delivers 273 lb-ft of torque and 252 hp. When equipped with a seven-speed S-tronic® dual-clutch automatic transmission, it can zip to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds.
The A5 Coupe is available with a slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission. How neat is that? (I’m smiling as I type since my personal Audi daily-drive is so equipped.) As pleasing as the A5 is, though, the S5 tops it. Blessed with an innovative, more powerful motor, the all-new V-6 comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission, produces 354 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. That’s 81 hp more than the A5 and 21 more than the supercharged V-6 that drove the previous S5s.
While horsepower means just numbers on a page to some, the new motor delivers real-world benefits that translate into improved performance: 0-60 happens in 4.3 seconds, and the S5 Sportback’s quarter-mile top speed is 108 mph. That’s quite impressive for a four-door luxury car and stronger than many other cars with sporting pretensions. Exciting acceleration is important because, even though this isn’t a car designed for the rigors of the racetrack, getting safely and quickly onto the parkway is an easier, more stress-free jaunt.
Thanks to Audi’s remarkable technology designed into the all-new 8-speed tiptronic transmission, precise fuel injection and turbocharging, the S5 Sportback delivers power without sacrificing fuel efficiency. Even simple sounding technological tweaks, such as the transmission’s switching to an efficient “freewheeling” mode when the driver lifts off the gas pedal at highway speeds, will benefit owners when they visit the gas pump. You might be surprised to learn that the powerful and luxurious S5 Sportback has earned an EPA highway rating of 30-mpg, 21-mpg city and a combined estimate of 24 mpg.
Get A Grip
An acquaintance of mine and fellow car geek has a house buried deep in the frosty hills of the lower Hudson Valley. In the winter months, the roads are slick, gravel-covered and snowy. In his garage, you’ll find not one or two Audis, but three. He enthuses that the strength of Audi’s chassis and the sure grip of Quattro technology have made him a confirmed believer. As Philip the Good of Burgundy is alleged to have said about his wines: “None other will I have.”
Deep inside, the S5 Sportback, despite luxury accommodations and on-road prowess, is still a Quattro. Audi claims that its all-wheel- drive technology makes a major contribution to the car’s sporty handling. Like a racecar, it distributes the power slightly more to the rear wheels in normal driving conditions. Racecar drivers love that.
If needed, the majority of the engine’s power can be directed to the axle with the better traction. Audi calls this “wheel-select” torque control and states it optimizes handling and stability in fast corners with minimal brake intervention. Also available to buyers looking for the maximum sporty grip is the optional sport differential which distributes torque between the rear wheels during brisk cornering just like world-class racecars.
Suspend Your Belief
A lot of people think that horsepower is the secret to a great car. However, if you ask an experienced racecar driver for an opinion, you’ll hear words such as neutral balance, predictable handling and suspension refinement as often as you hear about the engine. These elusive but extremely important characteristics derive from how well the car’s suspension has been integrated into the overall design.
Audi realizes this and has given the S5 Sportback an all-new S sport suspension. This includes mono-tube shock absorbers (i.e., dampers) and a five-link suspension at both the front and rear. Through the magic of their adaptive Drive Select system, Audi’s continuous damping control (CDC) allows the driver to manage the characteristics of the engine and suspension over a wide variety of driving conditions.
Audi knows its customers, so they don’t expect many to take their S5 Sportback to racetrack driving events. In real-world driving, however, the S5 Sportback delivers crisp and entertaining handling.
To add to the fun, if you enjoy the challenges of driving briskly on twisty two-lane blacktop, I recommend you order the $2,500 S Sport package. It includes a technology right from the exotic sports cars called torque vectoring. Having driven cars with and without this technology on a racetrack, I can attest you will want the help of torque vectoring when you’re in a tight corner! Despite the nearly 1.0-g lateral grip possible with the right rubber (i.e., summer performance tires), the S5 Sportback’s ride is firm without being harsh. We all know that’s really important when driving in our metro area’s mean streets!
Safe Not Sorry
Too many people equate automotive safety with size, mass and crash strength alone. These are known as passive safety features. As is typical of German cars (because of autobahn high speeds), Audis have always had both world-class passive safety features and significant active safety features as well. The highly responsive handling and powerful brakes, standard on the S5 Sportback, are active safety features owners will use regularly. Being able to react quickly to steer around an incident or stop well before an obstacle means you may never need any of Audi’s legendary passive safety strengths.
Speaking of crash safety, as I write this the S5 Sportback is still too new to be tested by the government or the insurance safety group. However, standard on all S5 Sportbacks are front and rear automatic emergency braking technologies, front-facing collision warnings, rear-end cross-traffic monitoring and alerts, blind-spot monitoring and front and rear parking sensors. Desirable safety options such as adaptive cruise control (it applies the brakes if traffic ahead slows), lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam headlights are included in the Driver Assistance package but only for the Prestige models. All of that tells me that the S5 Sportback is a typical Audi: safe and secure.
Have A Seat
Although the S5 Sportback’s new exterior is the first thing you notice, the inside hasn’t been neglected. Shoulder room for the driver and front-seat passenger has been expanded, as has the all-important knee room for those in the rear seat. There are three climate-control zones, so even your most sensitive companions will find a temperature to make them happy. In addition to the heated front seats with massage functions, two optional features I love are the heated steering wheel and cooled front seats. If I were ordering an S5 Sportback, I would tick those boxes on the order form.
I managed to snag a test drive in a 2018 Audi S5 Sportback in time for our editorial deadline. Sitting behind the wheel, I took in the stylish, crisp and inviting interior. The seats, complete with the massaging option, were beautiful (love the contrast stitching), supportive and comfortable. A quick press of the START button brought the powerful V-6 to life followed by a neat rumble at idle.
I set the mode switch to Dynamic and took off on the twisty back roads of northern New Jersey. Steering was crisp and precise, allowing me easily to place the car in the corner exactly where I wanted it. On an open stretch, I used the paddle shifters to downshift to second and then blasted up through redline. The turbocharged motor responded and I was in “Sorry officer, I won’t do this again” territory!
On a more practical side, the rear-seat room was comfortable for normal-sized adults. I was worried that the Sportback roofline would be too low, but my six-foot, snack-enlarged frame fit nicely. The trunk space, without lowering the back seat, is cavernous. After folding away the panels and backseat, I saw SUV levels of carrying space.
After my all-too-short drive, I brought the car back, reluctantly. As I walked to my personal Audi A3, I glanced over my shoulder a few times admiringly, something I think all owners will do too.
One More Thing
Along with the new S5 Coupe and S5 Sportback, Audi is offering a restyled S5 Cabriolet. For 2018, it features an acoustic folding roof that helps absorb the noise normally associated with other drop-top automobiles. Thanks to its strength and the technology employed, the roof can be raised at up to 31 mph. Like the S5 Sportback, the Cabriolet is powered by a 354-hp turbocharged V-6 motor and offers similar performance figures for 0-60 and quarter-mile times. One great feature unique to the S5 Cabriolet are small heating vents that blow warm air at the back of your neck when you go top down on a chilly day.
When you design a removable top, you have to add back strength to the body that was lost when the roof was taken away. Audi claims that the S5 Cabriolet is 40 percent more rigid than last year’s model. That means the driver doesn’t have to give up the sure-footed handling of the hardtop to enjoy ragtop refreshment.
The Audi S5 Sportback and Cabriolet are sweet rides and welcome additions to the Audi stable.