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If you want a fast-yet-comfortable Audi, you're hardly short of choice.
Sedan supporter? Go the S4. Wooed by wagons? Have the S4 Avant. Covet coupes? Audi has the S5 two-door ready to roll. But maybe you're a fence-sitter who wants a car that amalgamates all three.
Enter the Audi S5 Sportback, priced at $105,800 before on-road costs – the same price as the two-door, $3200 more than the S4 sedan and a staggering $16,816 cheaper than the previous generation.
As before, the Sportback combines four side doors like a sedan, a hatchback-style tailgate to improve practicality, and stretched coupe-style proportions compared to the three-box S4.
For those not fully across Audi's nomenclature, the S5 sits above the 2.0 TFSI quattro range, and for now leads the range in lieu of the new and staggeringly fast RS5 due soon, in two-door guise.
Audi being Audi, it's still conservative – perhaps more so than the rival BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe – yet this new model's prominent bonnet sculpting and more rounded lines lend a little more visual appeal than before.
Under said bonnet is a new engine – a 3.0-litre TFSI turbocharged petrol in place of the old car's fun supercharged engine, producing 260kW of power (up 15kW) and 500Nm of torque from just 1370rpm (up 60Nm).
It's now matched to an eight-speed tiptronic auto with a torque-converter instead of an S tronic dual-clutch unit, and once again comes with a quattro AWD system.
The 0-100km/h time of 4.7sec is four-tenths faster than the old model and actually matches the legendary previous-generation RS4 Avant V8's time.
It lacks the subtle whine of the old engine, but has a very understated aural tone of its own that makes a nice counterpoint to various Mercedes-AMG 43s. The dynamic in-car mode setting opens the bi-modal exhaust so that extra noise comes out of the pipes both at idle and at speed.
(Side note: this sports setting also gives you stiffer damping, more resistant steering, a remapped throttle and revised gearbox shift points.)
More importantly, the S5 absolutely hammers in a way its austere suit suggests it won't, the engine exploiting its ridiculously wide peak torque band, and giving it hugely flexible rolling response.
Fun fact: the twin-scroll turbocharger is located within the engine's 90-degree vee, meaning Audi could reduce the length of pipe required to transport exhaust gasses, thereby increasing throttle response.
It's genuinely interesting that Audi has booted the performance-focused double-clutch auto 'box for the S5 but kept it for more humble petrol and diesel A5 versions, yet we're happy with it.
A torque-converter transmission may lack the absolute razor sharp gear changes (e.g. double-downshifts) of the S tronic, but it's smooth in all types of driving, and snappy/decisive enough for a fast 'sleeper' like this.
Performance gains aren’t just down to the new drivetrain, but also to the car’s lighter kerb weight (still 1735kg), thanks to more extensive use of high-tensile steel, aluminium and even magnesium components.
Audi made big changes to the suspension (it sits on new 'MLB' longitudinal architecture), with the development of a five-link front and rear suspension setup designed to increase handling performance and improve ride.
The S5 amps this up further with adaptive dampers as standard, calibrated to offer a more noticeable difference between each of its modes. Comfort is more cushy, sport is stiffer, et cetera.
Meanwhile the quattro mechanical AWD system generally sends 60 per cent of torque to the rear axle, but can apportion up to 85 per cent if the car’s sensors detect loss of traction. It can also direct 70 per cent to the front.
Those after a more rear-drive-like dynamic might well option the new-design $2950 quattro sport mechanical rear differential which controls rear axle torque inputs side-to-side. Otherwise it's a familiarly neutral experience, with great grip but minimal flair. On brand.
The big brakes (with red calipers) measure in at 350mm at the front and feature six-piston calipers. The brake pedal is sensitive to the touch but wasn't bothered by constant applications on a downhill run in CA's dynamic testing.
On the flipside, the Audi's comfort setting settles everything down and turns the S5 into an incredibly composed and relaxing daily driver. NVH suppression is also quite brilliant despite the 19-inch wheels shod with 255/35 tyres. There's a ton of noise-deadening in the firewall and floorpan, clearly.
As we said of the S4 sedan, the S5 Sportback is a refined and relaxing daily driver with ample grip and acceleration when desired, which lacks a hint of character but is technically, and clinically, tough to fault.
This last statement applies to the cabin too, which is a familiar mix of high-quality steel and leather, plus soft-touch contact points, bulletproof build quality and a crisp, modern design. Audi knows who buys its wares...
You get a lot of gear for your $105k outlay, as you'd expect.
Safety tech includes eight airbags, driver attention assist, AEB with pedestrian detection (85km/h or below for the former, and pedestrian, adaptive cruise control that stops to zero and has a traffic jam assistant, blind-spot monitoring and lane assist.
There's also a 360-degree camera array, full LED headlights with running lights, red brake calipers behind those 19-inch wheels, proximity key, diamond-stitched Nappa leather seats (which lack a little head support), heated up front and with a massage function for the driver, and three-zone climate control.
Also standard is Audi's 12.3-inch Virtual Cockpit digital instrumentation, Wi-Fi hotspot and Google services from a data plan, 10-speaker/180w audio system, digital radio and a floating tablet screen with rotary dial interface, sat-nav with traffic updates and programmable favourites buttons.
A flat-bottomed steering wheel teams with Audi's trademark virtual cockpit. Measuring in at 12.3 inches, the virtual cockpit system uses a high-end NVidia video card to deliver crystal clear, high resolution graphics.
The system comes with an excellent voice recognition system that allows the driver to call phone contacts and enter full navigation addresses by speech alone.
Naturally, there are options. The $5600 Technik pack gives you Audi's Matrix LED headlights (from the R8 supercar), a head-up display with a dial next to the steering wheel to adjust brightness and height (no digging through sub-menus) and a 19-speaker/755w Bang & Olufsen 3D sound system with 16-channel amp.
To the rear: Audi says the second row now offers 24mm of extra leg room courtesy of a longer wheelbase (14mm extra) and longer overall length (22mm extra). There's also more shoulder room.
Space is generally sufficient for two moderate-size adults, though the backs of the front seats are hard on the knees and headroom is a touch limited.
The boot caters for 480 litres of cargo with the second row in place (just 25L short of the S4 Avant), which expands to a wagon-like 1300 litres when those seats are lowered. The aperture through the hatch is huge, and the seats lower 40:20:40, which is extra flexible.
All told, the word 'flexible' really does sum up the S5 Sportback. To my tastes it's a little vanilla, but its understated design, sublime cabin design and tech, strong and flexible engine and safe/predictable handling tick the requisite boxes.
If you're the sort of person who likes fast Audis, you'll love this car.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser