The second generation Audi A5 Sportback will arrive in Ireland in the first quarter of 2017, improving on the original with a better resolved design, a stunning interior, loads of new technology and reduced running costs. Here we test drive the top-of-the diesel range 3.0 TDI V6 model, sending 286hp and 620Nm to all four wheels and giving the high-performance S5 Sportback version a real run for its money.
In the Metal:
When we posted images of the new Audi A5 Sportback from the launch event on Twitter a few readers commented on how it looked little different from the first generation model. They won't think that when they see the new car in the metal, as it's very different, while retaining the original's concept and a version of that car's distinctive wavy swage line running down the side. That has been sculpted in a more complex fashion for the new car and the whole design language looks more elegant here than it does on the two-door Audi A5 Coupe. The Sportback's rear somehow appears wider and more assertive, which is probably something to do with the longer wheelbase and overall proportions. Who cares why it is, really? We think it looks fantastic.
Even if you're not bowled over by the exterior design, you can't fail to be impressed by the A5's interior - it really is very special. Four frameless doors set the scene and everyone sits relatively low down. The rear seat has three seatbelts, but the shape of the base and the high transmission tunnel make it clear that it's optimised for just two. Headroom and legroom are 'fine' - not cramped, but also not what we'd call generous. The boot holds 480 litres and the rear seat back splits and folds to create a long flat load area if needs be. It's expected that the tailgate will be powered as standard too.
Naturally, the front seats is where you'll want to be and everything we love about the new Audi A4 Saloon is present and correct here, with gorgeous switchgear and materials that wouldn't be out of place in the class above. It's at its best with the optional 'Virtual Cockpit' digital instruments, of course, and upgraded versions of the MMI infotainment system, though the standard car should be impressive by any measure.
Though we don't yet know for sure which versions of the A5 Sportback will be offered in Ireland, we can hazard a guess. The majority of sales will be made up of the 2.0-litre TDI model with 190hp. Buyers can choose manual or S tronic automatic transmissions and though front-wheel drive is the default, we expect quattro four-wheel drive to be available with this engine too. A 3.0-litre V6 TDI diesel should also feature, in 218- and 286hp states of tune. We drove the latter and it's probably the best all-round engine of the lot with huge gobs of torque from barely above idle, a smooth and cultured manner and the promise of acceptable economy. It's mated to an eight-speed torque converter automatic as standard, which is wonderfully smooth, plus quattro four-wheel drive.
And believe me: it needs the traction such is the grunt on tap from very low revs. In slippery conditions it's easy to feel the four-wheel drive system at work dividing up the power and if you go for the optional sport differential it's particularly engaging to drive, as that apportions power between the rear wheels for a more satisfying experience. Our test car was also fitted with the optional variable damping, though the differences between Dynamic and Comfort are not massively pronounced. We used the former most of the time as the road surfaces at the launch venue were exceptionally good.
What impressed us most about the A5 Sportback's demeanour was its rock-solid stability under heavy braking, plus an easy to modulate brake pedal. It may not be quite as involving to drive as say a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, but it's still hugely impressive and there's satisfaction to be had from its all-round competence and refinement.
What you get for your Money:
We're in a dark a little here for the moment, as Audi Ireland has not, at the time of writing, released prices. For reference, the current Audi A5 Sportback starts at €41,560 or €409 a month on PCP. Expect SE, Sport and S line specifications and plenty of tempting options.
Dismiss any thoughts you have of the new Audi A5 Sportback appearing to be a modest upgrade of the outgoing model, as it's completely new. It looks fantastic in the metal, has a sublime interior with more space than before, a great range of engines and reassuring on-road composure. Buyers of this car are sure to adore it.