Review: Audi S5 Sportback
Mar 17th, 2018
It’s an oft-repeated refrain in our industry that North Americans don’t buy hatchbacks, preferring either the more traditional shape of a sedan or the height of an SUV. Indeed, traditionally-shaped hatches, with their practical, but stubby, vertical tails, don’t do as well here as they do in Europe. Audi, however, has enjoyed success with them – first with A7/S7, and more lately A5/S5 – proving we’re happy to buy and drive hatchbacks if they’re beautiful as well as practical. This Moonlight Blue S5 Sportback, a car I really wasn’t expecting to like as much as I did, is probably the best Audi hatch yet.
Don’t let the A5’s sleek, almost Porsche Panamera-esque profile deceive you; the S5 Sportback is a very roomy and more importantly, practical five-door, with generous head, leg, and shoulder room front and rear under its massive panoramic sunroof. And it’s terrifically versatile, with rear seats that fold with the pull of a lever to expand the already-massive cargo area. The S5 will swallow everything your life can throw at it, and it does so on a compact footprint that remains easy to maneuver and park even on tight city streets. Unlike many hatchbacks I’ve driven, its extra versatility doesn’t come at the cost of refinement – even with the seats folded, there’s no boominess from the rear, which speaks of careful engineering and likely a lot of sound-deadening.
While Audi Sport’s red rhombus adorns badges on the grille, sides, and hatch – bringing with it the promise of serious speed and handling – it is indeed refinement that’s the S5’s calling card. Unlike some recent sporty Audis, the ride quality is superb; the brakes have a tight, linear pedal that doesn’t feel overboosted; and the steering is perfectly calibrated. In most driving situations, the S5 has a lovely, long-legged gait – easy and almost relaxing to drive, but with deep reserves of power and capability that let you maintain serious pace. Audi’s drive select switch lets you dial up comfort, automatic, dynamic, or individual setups, and the eight-speed automatic has a more aggressive sport setting, should you wish to tense the whole car up and make it feel edgier.
Interestingly, while the S5 shares some of its basic architecture, suspension, and all of its drivetrain with the S4 sedan, it has quite a distinct personality. There’s something a bit more relaxed about it; the edge that’s present in the S4’s throttle, transmission, and braking has been smoothed over. The S5 feels like a true grand touring car, while the S4 is a sports sedan; you cover ground at a similar pace, but do so with less drama and noise. Should you want that edge, the settings are there to accommodate, but the S5’s natural state is driving swiftly, rather than aggressively.
Being an Audi, a full load of technology comes standard, and even more is available as an option to make driving safer, easier, and more entertaining. This car came with a full load of driver assist aids including dynamic cruise control, around-view camera, and more; it was also packed on the infotainment front with Audi’s smartphone interface with Apple CarPlay and a Bang & Olufsen sound system. There are power assists for every conceivable feature, and the high-backed diamond-stitched sport seats come with a standard massage function as well as adjustable side and leg bolsters.
It’s the S5’s unique combination of luxurious equipment, sleek styling, impressive speed, and relaxed, confident dynamics that make it so special. Unlike some more aggressive Audis, including the similar-but-different S4 sedan, its personality isn’t as in-your-face, and its appeal is more subtle. But as a capable, versatile all-rounder with all-weather performance and driving ability, the S5 Sportback is tough to beat.