Audi\'s hatchback by another name gets facelifted for 2014 with reduced prices and a new specification level.
Revisions to the Audi A5 Sportback may not be noticed on the outside or inside, but they will be noted on the dealer forecourt thanks to an increased range and reduced prices.
The five-door liftback version of the Audi A5 coupe arrived two years after that donor car, in 2009, but was quickly facelifted a year later and hasn't really changed with this update. Although the Audi A5 Sportback still costs a style-led premium over the A4 sedan with which it shares similar dimensions, the lineup has now been tweaked.
The Audi A5 Sportback with 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder and quattro all-wheel drive falls by a substanstial $5200, to $75,900, and it gets an extra 10kW of power as well. That second-tier A5 Sportback must now compete with a new specification, however, in the form of a diesel all-wheel-drive model of the same engine capacity and that wears an identical pricetag.
Diesel has long been part of the Audi A5 Sportback range, but only as a front-wheel-drive 2.0 TDI – which stays in the range as a limited-order model, priced at $68,690 – or all-wheel-drive 3.0 TDI that also remains in the range, and falls by $7900 to $88,000.
The new A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI quattro delivers the same 130kW of power at 4200rpm and 380Nm between 1750-2500rpm as the $7000-cheaper front-drive model of the same name.
From there, key differences can be found. The quattro car sends 60 per cent of drive to the rear wheels, is also a substantial 85kg heavier, weighing 1700kg. It also utilises a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox instead of the front-driver’s automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
That possibly explains why the 2.0 TDI quattro can claim a 7.9 second 0-100km/h, identical to the 2.0 TDI front-drive, although official consumption of 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres is 0.5L adrift of the lighter model.
Perhaps a more telling comparison is between new diesel 2.0 TDI quattro and existing petrol 2.0 TFSI quattro, since they retail for the same price. The new diesel gets 35kW less power, but 30Nm more torque; it is 1.2 seconds slower to triple-digit speed, but claims to drink 1.4L/100km less fuel.
On paper, choosing between them is difficult. On the road, things are a different story.
On the outside competitor front, only the BMW 3 Series Gran Turismo matches the hatchback practicality of the Audi A5 Sportback.
The only diesel model available in that range is the $71,800 320d GT and it sends its near identical outputs (135kW, up 5kW on the Audi, and the same torque) only to the rear wheels.
It also requires parting with extra cash for kit that is standard on the A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI quattro, including $2050 for xenon headlights and $1100 for the auto keyless entry and start, both of which raise the BMW’s price to within $950 of the all-wheel-drive Audi.
But the A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI quattro also misses the electric tailgate operation standard on all 3 Series GT models. Once the bootlid is lifted, the Audi’s 480-litre capacity also doesn’t quite match its BMW's 520L.
On the flipside, the Audi A5 Sportback provides a much better balance of rear seat headroom and legroom – offering much more of the former, but not as much as the latter. As of last year, Audi added a centre rear seatbelt standard on all A5 Sportback models, which is a neat confession that it should have been there all along (the five-door A5 always had a bench seat, not individually bolstered outer seats, so it made little sense not to have a ‘belt in the middle).
Standard three-zone climate control also allows back-seat passengers to be individually warmed or cooled, where the 3 Series GT only allows front passengers to select the cabin temperature.
Despite the Audi A5 cabin being essentially the same as it was in 2007 and the BMW 3 Series being an all-new model last year, the Sportback delivers a higher-quality and classier interior than the Gran Turismo.
All the expected Audi virtues are still present – lovely textures and inlays, comfortable seats, a slinky thin-rimmed steering wheel, and terrific ergonomics (save for the plethora of buttons mounted before the transmission lever).
Naturally, the real differences between petrol and diesel begin when the starter button is pressed. The 2.0 TFSI is silent at idle and sweeps its tachometer quickly to 7000rpm; the 2.0 TDI is refined, but slightly clattery, and revs more slowly to 4800rpm.
Each seven-speed dual-clutch transmission shifts crisply and intuitively, but there’s no denying the petrol feels quicker and sounds better. It is more inspiring, yet because 95RON premium unleaded is still marginally cheaper than diesel, the money saved choosing 2.0 TDI over 2.0 TFSI barely warrants mention.
Although the interior of the Audi A5 Sportback doesn’t feel its age, aspects of its dynamics do.
Ride quality, that Audi bugbear, has been largely addressed with newer models such as the A6 sedan and Avant. But on the standard 245mm-wide, 40-aspect 18-inch Continental tyres, the A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI quattro never feels settled or refined. Even on the freeway there’s a bit too much jiggling for a premium car, and bigger hits thump through into the cabin. It isn’t harsh or annoying, but it is no better than average.
The electro-mechanical steering doesn’t quite have the precision of the (optional) variable-ratio BMW steering, and pales against the brilliant system in the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which admittedly isn’t a direct competitor. The Audi steering is quick and sharp just off the centre position, but it also isn’t as consistently weighted or direct on rotation as the best steering set-ups.
But the Audi A5 Sportback still feels reasonably agile and dynamic. It points into corners well, clings on with strong tyre grip while maintaining its body control and resisting roll admirably well, then allows early and hard throttle on corner exit thanks to the all-wheel-drive system.
The 2014 Audi A5 Sportback is now a far more convincing package, partially since the fifth seatbelt was added, but mostly now thanks to a pricing restructure.
It continues to blend the space of an A4 sedan with sexy coupe looks – and certainly sexier than the BMW 3 Series GT – that handily doubles by offering liftback loading practicality, and a quattro system ideal for trips to the Snowy Mountains or a rural dirt-road escape. With a little more dynamic polish, the A5 Sportback would be a near-perfect proposition. And the petrol 2.0 TFSI quattro comes much closer to achieving that than this new same-price diesel 2.0 TDI quattro.