At last I’m out of SUVs and into something else. That something is the new Audi A5 40 TSFI Sportback, a car that has a loyal following, and I expect current owners are rejoicing in the fact that Audi has not gone overboard with changes in the new model. A design tweak here, an improvement there, and there’s your new model.

But would it drive as well as the previous version? We spent a week behind the wheel to find out.

The Range

It’s not that simple, but there’s just one model in the A5 range, the $83,500 40 TFSI S Line Sportback, and two others that aren’t A5s. That means if you want to go a bit racier, there’s the $126,500 S5 in the same body but with a turbocharged V6 (260kW) and quattro all-wheel drive (AWD), then at the crazier end of things is the $157,900 RS5, same body and AWD but a twin-turbo V6 with 331kW of power.

The 40 TFSI S Line Sportback has a turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine, that’s mounted north-south, making it easier to change the car to AWD. It puts out 140kW of power and 320Nm of torque, both respectable figures. It runs a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic (DCT) transmission, and fuel consumption is stated at a very low 5.9L/100km for the combined cycle.

Feature-wise, the car is reasonably well loaded up. There’s Audi Active Lane Assist, Audi Pre-sense City, Audi Pre-sense rear, Audi Side Assist, rear cross traffic alert, cruise control and speed limiter, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, 19” alloy wheels, tyre pressure monitoring system, LED headlights, auto headlights and wipers, DRLs, LED rear lights, an electric tailgate, electric front seats with electric lumbar adjust and memory function for the driver’s seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery, 3 zone AC, Audi Connect Package with Satnav, Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, Qi wireless phone charging, an auto-dimming interior mirror, leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, Lighting Package, ambient lighting, and a 10.1” central display.

There’s also a huge amount of options – nearly a page’s worth on their own – including ten wheel options (3 are no-cost), an upgraded sound system, a heads-up display, interior inlay options, and more.

Our test car was fitted with quite a few options; Sports suspension with damping control ($2,500), Sports steering wheel – flat bottom ($750), 19” Audi Sport alloy wheels ($1,200), the matrix headlights package ($2,800), privacy glass ($1,400), and an ambient lighting package ($300). This pushed our as-tested price from $83,500 to $92,450.

You can read more about the A5 40 TSFI S Line Sportback on Audi New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

Grey colour aside, the A5 is a stunner. Everything about this car works; the angles front, side or rear. The (optional) alloy wheels are awesome, and dynamically the whole car is an example of design working together. It turned heads wherever I drove it.

There are ventilation slits above the grille that are reminiscent of the classic Audi Sport quattro from 1984, and the blistered rear guards look excellent. The lines running down the side of the car merge beautifully; Everywhere you look outside the car, it’s spot-on, with design elements here and there to make it something special.

And then you open the doors – they’re all frameless, and no car I’ve ever seen looks bad with these. They exude a premium look and feel. I first saw these in the Q8 and loved them then, too, and many Audis are now running frameless doors. Long may it continue.

The Interior

With any Sportback design, careful consideration needs to go into the interior. With a smaller space to work with, designers need to make sure it doesn’t feel too cramped, or claustrophobic. The A5 doesn’t win on this front; with tiny rear-side windows and an all-black interior, it can feel cramped and a little claustrophobic. But that’s not to say it doesn’t feel classy and upmarket – it does. With piano black splattered around on the doors, dash and console, and leather everywhere, it feels like the premium product it is. There’s also suede on the doors which feels amazing, then there’s brushed alloy finishing on the dash and console, and this helps brighten the interior away from its all-blackness.

The A5 has a smallish leather-wrapped steering wheel complete with an S Line badge on the bottom, and flat-bottomed of course. Keep in mind this steering wheel is an optional extra. The wheel is actually a mixture of perforated and flat leather, and it feels great to the touch.

Centre stage is Audi’s MMI infotainment system, sitting in a decently sized high-resolution screen. In front of the driver is the Audi group’s Virtual Cockpit, but more on that later.

The interior doesn’t seem to want for too much, with electric and heated front seats with memory, Qi wireless charging, and lots of leather. The Qi charger is under the centre cubby lid; it’s a flat charger, and has some decent edging to it to stop your phone moving around too much. This cubby itself is tiny though; once your phone is in there, you could fit a few pens in there, and that’s about it.

Up front of the car is a single USB port, and a 12-volt socket. Above these are the AC controls, simply laid out in one panel stretching across the dash. After the Peugeot 2008 GT the other week, this was an example of simplicity.

Rear legroom is good, but of course the roof is quite low with that sportback design. It’s a bit of a duck-and-enter scenario, but it’s not too bad.

It’s a great place to spend a week and I can imagine just as good on a trip to Auckland and back.

The Drive

The A5 & S5 models are equipped with a mild hybrid system (MHEV). The central component of the mild hybrid system is the belt alternator starter (BAS), which is connected to the crankshaft. When the A5 decelerates due to the driver taking their foot off the accelerator or light braking, the BAS can recover up to 5kW of power and feed it into a separate lithium-ion battery with a rated capacity of 10 amp-hours, fitted to the rear of the car.

If the driver takes their foot off the accelerator between 55 and 160km/h, the vehicle can coast with the engine switched off and the lithium-ion battery then powers the electrical consumers. With all MHEV variants equipped with automatic transmissions, the start-stop range already begins at 22 km/h. When the accelerator is depressed, the BAS restarts the engine quickly and smoothly. When stopped, this happens while the brake pedal is still depressed as soon as the vehicle in front begins to move. In real-world, everyday operation, Audi says the MHEV system can reduce fuel consumption by up to 0.3 litres per 100 kilometres. That’s not a lot of fuel saved for so much technology, but it’s something.

So – the MHEV systems means there’s a number of different fuel-saving functions, including turning off the car’s engine when it can, and that’s not just coming up to a red light. Sometimes on the motorway, if I came off the gas the engine would turn off, starting again instantly when needed. This was almost imperceptible; only a lack of engine noise (and it’s already quiet to start with) and the rev counter needle dropping to zero would be the sign the car was driving using MHEV. Of course, it does this around town too, coming up to a red light for example. The only pain in this was when you are coming in to parallel park, and the engine turns off, just as you are putting the trans into reverse. Still, you can switch this system off quickly if needed.

But does MHEV and Audi’s Intelligent Coasting feature work – does it save fuel? Yes, it does. I only managed to get 350Km in on the A5 in my time with it, and I averaged 7.1L/100km in a good mix of driving. For the power, performance and size of the engine, this is an excellent result. So well done Audi, for making a system that does actually make a difference. They quote that the A5 should give you 5.9L/100km. That’s pretty ambitious for a 2.0-litre turbo, but even 7.1 is impressive.

So what about actually driving the car? It’s excellent. That 2.0-litre turbo four is oh-so torquey, it’s a breeze to drive on the daily grind. Quiet too, and smooth as hell. On the motorway, it’s a serene experience as there’s no engine noise, and very little wind noise. There can be a reasonable amount of tyre noise on coarse chip seal, but this can be said of many cars. Overall the driving experience is top class, with effortless performance and zero harshness at any engine revs. It reminds me very much of the VW Arteon, and I guess that’s unavoidable when they’re from the same family. When I look at Rob’s review of the Arteon, I see he had the A5 listed in the comparison table, and then the base price was $98,400, so that has certainly come down a long way in three years.

Still on that daily grind, visibility is mostly excellent, but hindered by that chunky C pillar. There is blind spot monitoring (on the body of the mirror, not the glass) to help you stay safe on the motorway. The ride is superb too – quiet, and compliant. There’s few bumps that will unsettle the car, or give the passengers a sharp jolt. Ride quality in this car is excellent. Like the ride quality, the turning circle of the A5 is a highlight – with an 11.6 metre turning circle, tight turns in city streets are easily achieved.

Unfortunately, the A5 does not come with adaptive cruise control, it’s a $2,500 option. I know we’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating; at $83,000, this item should be standard. You can get a Suzuki Swift for less than $30K with adaptive cruise, and all Corollas have it fitted as standard. At this price point, it should be standard. I did use the standard cruise control in the A5 a few times, but not too much. After using adaptive cruise, it’s hard to go back. I did use the speed limiter a fair bit, and a nice touch here is that it will slow the car down, going down a hill. That’s not something I’ve seen with speed limiters in other cars, Audi or not.

I guess it’s time to discuss my most non-favourite bit of the A5; the dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). It’s too slow to react to throttle changes off the mark, and often gets confused about what it should be doing. It’s not as bad as some DCTs I’ve experienced, but it’s not the best either. For example, backing out my driveway – which is on a slight slope upwards – is a great test for a DCT. Many will ride the clutch, almost jerking forwards and backwards as the clutch goes off and on. I’m probably exaggerating to make a point, but the A5 is in this group. It’s the one thing I wish was better with the car – other than having adaptive cruise as standard.

The A5 40TSFI is front-wheel drive only, and full throttle acceleration will see some axle tramp, and then the electronics will kick in and the car will shoot forward. It’s no slouch with 140kW of power and that 320Nm of torque, and even on full throttle the engine is silky, to the point where if your passengers weren’t looking out the window, they might not know you are taking the car out to the redline. It really is that smooth and quiet.

You have access to the standard Audi Drive modes; Efficiency, Comfort, Auto, Dynamic, and Individual. Honestly, I couldn’t actually feel that much difference between them. Dynamic mode does get you off the line more quickly and holds the gears longer, but with so much torque, you’re better off leaving the car in Auto drive mode and letting the torque do all the work. Of course, there’s also Efficiency mode available, and I used this quite a bit. This mode holds the gears longer, and again, with all that torque, this was the mode that suited the car the best. Another bonus here is that whatever drive mode you select stays set, even when you get out of the car and back in again. Most cars do not do this, and I wish they would.

I’ve always had one gripe with Audi’s (and others) infotainment systems; no home page. This means you need to select one page (say, Media) and you are stuck with it unless you pick another page. Other brands have this sorted, where you can select from two or three (sometimes more) items to be on your home page, so you might have media, SatNav, news, and fuel/trip settings. It’s a set and forget scenario, and it works. Hopefully Audi will do something like this next update. But on the whole, the MMI system works very well. It’s totally intuitive, and quick to respond to touch.

Then there’s the Virtual Cockpit that is the driver’s dashboard. It’s fairly configurable, and I love that Audi has the ‘View’ button right there on the steering wheel. Punch it, and whatever main screen you have up on the Virtual Display will become full screen. This is awesome for using SatNav, so you can have a normal-sized speedo and rev counter, and then when you need to, have the map showing as the entire screen. You still get a reduced speedo and rev counter, but the colour 3D map (using Google Maps) is right there in front of you. If you are using SatNav and come to a turn (for example), the screen will automatically zoom in for you. It’s the next best thing to a heads-up display, something that the A5 40TSFI doesn’t have.

On the Virtual Cockpit, you can select from items like Media, Phone, SatNav, or Car info. Then within these, you might get some extra options. Under the car info section, there’s another 6 settings you can have onscreen, like trip, long term fuel consumption, short term fuel consumption, etc.

The only thing I really missed here though was a large digital speedo. With an entire focus by our police and NZTA on speed, I longed for a big, chunky digital speedo right there in the centre. The digital speedo is not tiny, but an option to have a much bigger one would have been appreciated, by me at least.

Still on the Virtual Cockpit, you can also change the look of the entire dashboard to one of three options; Classic, Sport, and Dynamic. You’re going to have to be very detail orientated to see the difference between Sport and Classic; all it is, is extra red markings on the rev counter in the red line area. Instead of a line, it’s a block of red. It took someone else to point this out to me, as the difference was that subtle.

As mentioned, the car is front-wheel drive, but handles very well. It can get around twisty roads fairly briskly with little drama, ending up in understeer, as you’d expect. It’s actually quite a fun, larger car to chuck about if your passengers are up to it. Our test car was fitted with the $2,500 sports suspension package, and this is an option that I’d be adding to my order.

The Competition

Brand/
Model
EnginePower/Torque
kW/Nm
Cargo capacity,
litres
0-100km/h,
seconds
Fuel consumption,
L/100km
Base Price – High to Low
Mercedes-Benz CLA250 AWD Coupe2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol165/350N/A6.66.7$84,800
Audi A5 40 TSFI Sportback FWD2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbo petrol140/3204667.55.9$83,500
Tesla Model 3 Standard Range RWDSingle electric motor EV211/4165425.616 (kWh/100km)$74,900
       

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Engine so smooth, quiet
Performance
Build quality
Design is stunning
Audi Virtual Cockpit
General driveability
Turning circle

DCT can be jerky
No adaptive cruise control
Dark inside
Vehicle Type5-door Large Sportback
Starting Price$83,500
Price as Tested$92,450
Engine2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo-petrol
Power, Torque
kW/Nm
140/320
Transmission7-speed S tronic
0-100km/h, seconds7.5
Spare WheelSpace Saver
Kerb Weight, Kg1,565
Length x Width x Height, mmN/A
Cargo Capacity, litres466/na
Fuel capacity, litres54
Fuel EfficiencyAdvertised Spec – combined – 5.7L/100km
Real World Test – combined –  7.1L/100km
Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+
Towing CapacityKg, unbraked/braked750/1,500
Turning circle, metres11.6
Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+
 Warranty5 Year/150,000Km warranty
5 Year/150,000Km Roadside Assist
3 Year Audi Motoring Plan
12 Year Anti-Corrosion Warranty
ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star
REVIEW OVERVIEW
Economy
8
Interior
9
Performance
8
Safety
9
Styling
9
Value
7
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How on earth to start this? I've been car/bike/truck crazy since I was a teen. Like John, I had the obligatory Countach poster on the wall. I guess I'm more officially into classic and muscle cars than anything else - I currently have a '65 Sunbeam Tiger that left the factory the same day as I left the hospital as a newborn with my mother. How could I not buy that car? In 2016 my wife and I drove across the USA in a brand-new Dodge Challenger, and then shipped it home. You can read more on www.usa2nz.co.nz. We did this again in 2019 in a 1990 Chev Corvette - you can read about that trip on DriveLife. I'm also an Observer for the Institute of Advanced Motorists - trying to do my bit to make our roads safer.

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