Interesting things are happening at every German car manufacturer these days, as they all rabidly pursue a niche-filling strategy put in place first by BMW about two years ago. As models from all the European brands proliferate, one of the most interesting configurations has been the four-door device with a sleek, coupelike roof line.
The sketch-on-wheels that sets the tone here is the Mercedes-Benz CLS. The Volkswagen Passat CC is the same sort of thing at a lower price point and it grows nicer on our eyeballs every time we look at it. The BMW X6 is the same sort of thing applied to the crossover, and the Porsche Panamera approaches it from the sports car side.
The Audi A7 Sportback appeared as a concept in this new style at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, a fusion of the coupe-configured sedan with an element of hatchback practicality, something less than a crossover and yet not a wagon either. The 2010 Audi A5 Sportback is Ingolstadt’s first production version of this fusion of sedan packaging with coupe style. Except Audi continues to insist that no plans exist for the A5 Sportback in North America.
Now that we’ve had a spirited drive through gorgeous Tuscany, we think such a business plan is a gorgeous mistake, no matter what the accountants say. We want the 2010 Audi A5 Sportback in our long-term test fleet.
Very Convincing Tweener
If you whine about how wagon-y station wagons tend to look, or how blah sedans feel soon after the post-purchase glow fades, then Audi’s Sportback could be your savior. Of all the cars we mentioned above, none of them goes so far toward being that elusive new species of coupe-style four-door as the 2010 Audi A5 Sportback.
It combines the long 110.6-inch wheelbase of the A4 sedan and A4 Avant with the coupe-style roof of the A5 and then adds a hatchback to improve cargo access. The result is as dramatic as the Porsche Panamera, yet has the all-around practicality of the five-door configuration long seen in European cars (and formerly marketed unsuccessfully in the U.S. with the Mazda 6 five-door and even the old Saab 9000). The shape makes really clean sense and there’s all the interior you need and space to spare if you need family-style cargo capacity.
On paper, the cargo capacity is identical to that in the A4 sedan at 16.9 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 34.6 cubic feet with the seatbacks flopped forward. Honestly, though, these measurements only account for cargo being loaded up to the level of the windows, and we could find about 50.5 cubic feet of cargo just as in the A4 Avant if we packed it to the rafters, college-style.
Friends and Family Only
How often do you relegate a human person to sit in the middle hump of a sedan’s backseat? Never, right? Well, the A5 Sportback blatantly shoots to please just four adult folks and does so really well because it’s configured for just four passengers. By using the A4 configuration as the base chassis for the Sportback instead of the A5 platform with its 108.3-inch wheelbase, legroom for rear passengers becomes certifiably vast.
Not only do legs fit back there, but heads do really well, too, versus the skimpy rear head space in the A5 coupe. There are 1.3 inches more noggin space than in the sexy coupe, part of this created by moving the seat squabs down and back by 0.4 inch. The result is just barely less headroom than in the A4 sedan. While we were all right back there, a bit less than our 6-foot frame would be a more optimum height for happy motoring.
North American Fly in Ointment
One tangible little reason why the A5 Sportback is not in our immediate future over here is that the thickness of the headliner material in the cabin must be greater in North America to satisfy certain crash rules. For the moment, this would have apparently necessitated re-engineering this feature and re-homologating the car for the change, all of which costs a fortune that would probably have wiped out any profits realized from sales of this niche car in our market.
Besides, the Audi designers — led by Wolfgang Egger, former Alfa Romeo design boss — did not wish to lose the low swooping roof line just to satisfy us ‘Merikans. Speaking of which, the A5 Sportback’s swoopiness is aided and abetted by coupe-style frameless windows for the rear doors, ensuring the finely drawn line of the aft portion of the greenhouse.
The Audi Sportback also introduces a new term to our vocabulary of styling terms, as in addition to assorted phrases that describe C-pillar treatments like BMW’s “Hofmeister kink” and Saab’s “hockey stick curve,” now you can add what Audi describes as its “schwipp.”
New Shape, Familiar Feeling
Our test car for a drive though golden Tuscany was an Amethyst Grey (a kind of eggplant purple) example. This fully optioned car features the 3.2 FSI V6, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, Audi Drive Select, Audi Dynamic Steering, adjustable dampers, all-wheel drive with rear sport differential, and handsome 18-inch optional wheels with 245/40R18 93Y Bridgestone Potenza RE050A all-season tires, not to mention the MMI interface with satellite navigation. You can’t get an A4 or A5 from Audi that’s any better stuffed than this.
On these fairly scissor-trimmed and tongue-washed roads of storybook Italy under the perfect Tuscan sun, we just set everything to Dynamic — engine, gearbox, steering, suspension and sport differential — switched the stability control all the way off, and took off. What a bleeding pleasure it was, too. Audi estimates that the A5 Sportback in this configuration will accelerate to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds — not too shabby with 4,045 pounds motivated by 262 horsepower and 243 pound-feet of torque. Our only criticism remains the sad fact that even with the S tronic, dual-clutch automated manual transmission at its most dynamic setting, the damned gears shift themselves just as the tach needle brushes against the redline at 7,000 rpm. This makes us mad exactly because everything else is so good.
With the 40 percent front/60 percent rear torque split for the all-wheel-drive system plus the sport differential in Dynamic mode reacting 10 percent faster than the driveshaft and ESP to effectively push the car through curves and negate understeer, the handling balance is fantastic for an Audi of the “A” designation. And when you factor in the fact that the rack-and-pinion steering is just 2.2 turns lock-to-lock, this top-of-the-line A5 Sportback is an all-star through all transitions. The sport seats have just enough support, too, so no whining there.
Also there’s simply a new sense of space behind our heads as we sit up front, and we love it because we know in our hearts that the cabin has a shape that’s a lot cooler to look at than an Avant.
They Get It
Only, for now, we don’t. Audi’s head of global product marketing for the A4/A5/Q5 lines using the B8 chassis bin, Jürgen Klaschka, tells us this, even though he adds that this version of the A5 was definitely planned for the whole world when the project started a few years ago. “Then there was the trouble with the euro-dollar exchange rate,” he says, “and the economy fell apart last year, and so our North American office did not want the car.”
Sales start in most of Europe right after the 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show in mid-September. Product planners see about 50,000 examples of the 2010 Audi A5 Sportback reaching the road per annum. Demographic forecasters (is it science, or do they just make it all up?) say that at least 50 percent of these units will sell to customers new to the Audi four-ring circus. Product boss Klaschka is certain, however, that this percentage will come to something closer to 75 percent. The addition of the A5 Sportback should therefore take global A4/A5 family sales to about 400,000 total between September 2009 and September 2010.
Starting price in U.S. dollars for a 3.2 FSI-equipped 2010 Audi A5 Sportback with S tronic would be around $42,500, and then just add on all the aforementioned bells and whistles for a Tuscan melody costing nearly $55,000.
It’s such a fine car. Neither too much nor too little, and so stylish besides.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
- Inside Line