2018 Audi S5 Sportback First Test: A Little More Indulgent

Somebody put it into our heads that it’s important to be well rounded. Surely the trait has its benefits; it’s one of the reasons we like the Audi A4 so much. But although we appreciate its fuel economy, composed handling, solid acceleration, and tech-happy interior, we lament the A4’s lack of distinct personality. Derived from the A4 but packing extra power and trunk space, the S5 Sportback gingerly shuts the door to balance and reaps the rewards.

Although you sacrifice fuel economy, the S5 Sportback is quicker and more powerful than the A4. Using a 3.0-liter V-6 engine, the rakish sedan makes 354 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, and it comes standard with all-wheel drive. We clocked it hitting 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, ahead of the Audi A4, which we’ve recorded between 5.0 and 5.4 seconds when paired with all-wheel drive and a 252-hp turbo-four.

The Sportback suffers no real acceleration penalty compared to the regular S4, which reached 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. We haven’t yet tested one of the Sportback’s closest competitors, the BMW 440i Gran Coupe, but we did clock a 2017 Mercedes-AMG C 43 4Matic sedan reaching 60 mph in 4.2 seconds.

In the figure eight, the Audi S5 Sportback narrowly edged out the Mercedes. It recorded a time of 24.6 seconds at 0.78 g compared to the C 43’s 24.8 seconds at 0.77 g.

Where the Audi really stood out is its brake performance. The brakes bite down aggressively, but they work well, as our numbers proved. The S5 Sportback managed to come to a complete stop from 60 mph in just 105 feet, the same distance it took an Aston Martin DB11 we tested. In comparison, the C 43 took 111 feet. Our test team reported little dive and no signs of brake fading in the S5 Sportback.

The model excels at cornering. It stays planted through sharp curves on the road, hugging the turns with unwavering poise. The Audi has an engine note that almost always elicits some kind of vocal reaction from pampered passengers inside the cabin.

Yet the S5 Sportback suffers quite a bit of turbo lag from a cold start. It hesitates in the low gears, but when it launches, you really move. Upshifts are aggressive, particularly in the sport-minded Dynamic mode. Our model, which was equipped with the available sport adaptive damping suspension, felt confident over road imperfections. It isn’t the quietest luxury car on the market; some road noise made its way into the cabin, but not enough to taint the experience.

The Audi’s 21/30/24 mpg rating is nothing to write home about, but it’s superior to the C 43’s 20/27/23 mpg.

Testing Director Kim Reynolds pointed out that the car liked to be driven smoothly in our handling tests. “You have to release the brake and turn-in simultaneously and then smoothly arc it around the corner. If you pedal the throttle, it’ll find boost and get all wonky and with nonlinear lunges,” he said. “Exits beautifully—could use a little more power on the rear, I guess, but it’s pretty nice.”

Like its A4 sedan sibling, the “sportback” exhibits restrained steering. Although it’s accurate, the steering feel is light and just a tiny bit unsatisfying given its other athletic capabilities.

Any signs of roughness or rebellion are erased once you step inside the cabin of our top-trim Prestige. Here you’ll find massaging seats in a diamond quilted pattern, power sunroof, a 40/20/40 split-folding rear seatback, Bang & Olufsen sound system, the 12.3-inch Audi Virtual Cockpit digital instrument cluster, and full-color head-up display. Boasting crisp maps, the Google Earth–enabled navigation system is one of the best on the market, taking into account traffic time. One of my longtime favorite features is located on the center console. Drivers can input an address into the navigation system by writing letters with their fingers on a touchpad.

On top of these standard features for the Prestige, our test car tacked on $ 1,250 for Nappa leather, $ 2,500 for an S sport package with the special sport suspension, and $ 1,800 for adaptive cruise control, Audi active lane assist, high-beam assistant, and traffic sign recognition. After an extra $ 500 for Carbon Atlas interior trim accents, $ 800 for a 19-inch wheel package, $ 1,150 for dynamic steering, and $ 575 for a Tango Red exterior color, the S5 Sportback comes in at $ 68,350, competitive with a similarly equipped Mercedes C 43.

Unfortunately you won’t find too many storage cubbies up front near the cockpit. But there’s plenty of legroom front and back, as well as an incredibly deep trunk. It boasts 21.8 cubic feet behind the rear seats, instead of just 13 in the A4. The C 43 sedan has a paltry 12.6 cubic feet of space in the trunk.

Some of the best cars from Germany never make their way across the pond, and while Audi won’t grace us with an Avant wagon, it has treated us with the S5 Sportback. And a treat it is: The A4 may have a monopoly on well-rounded driving, but the S5 Sportback fulfills our desire to indulge.

2018 Audi S5 Sportback
BASE PRICE $ 55,375
PRICE AS TESTED $ 68,350
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback
ENGINE 3.0L/354-hp/369-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,092 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 111.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 187.1 x 72.6 x 54.5 in
0-60 MPH 4.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 13.0 sec @ 105.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 105 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.95 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 24.6 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 21/30/24 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 160/112 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.80 lb/mile

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