Good: very handsome styling, practical for a 'coupe', quality, refinement.
Not so good: handling slightly inert, cabin too similar to a standard A4's.
I have to admit; I wasn't expecting much from this. The previous Audi A5 Sportback was a great looking car (one family member, seeing it for the first time, said it looked like a panther, thus fulfilling the dreams of every car designer...), but had feet of clay when it came to handling. Leaden steering, dull chassis responses, lumpy ride. Audi's former design guru, Walter Da Silva, claimed the A5 was his best work, ever, but the engineers let him down.
Recent conventional wisdom has it that the new Audi A5 is less good looking than the old one, less pure somehow and there are those who have even taken against the faint ridges on the bonnet as being some sort of gimmick. To which I can only say, should've gone to Specsavers (other opticians are available).
This is not just a good looking car; this is a great looking car. If you'll forgive a quick cult movie reference, it's a Derek Zoolander car; really, really, really, really, ridiculously good looking. From that low ant-eater nose (with the grille from the stunning Audi Prologue concept car) to the pert rear, this is a proper stunner, and doesn't seem to suffer much from the addition of two extra doors and a sloping rear hatch. True enough, I do just fractionally prefer the looks of the more traditional A5 two-door coupe, but this Sportback is by any measure a handsome thing.
One caveat to that - car-spotting anoraks may be prone to exclaiming, upon looking at the car from a rear three-quarter angle, "it's a Ford Mondeo!" and there is an undeniable similarity in the shape of the windows and chrome trim, but let's gloss over that for now, shall we?
If the beauty is but skin deep, then the engineering goes to the bones of the A5. It's based on the same MLB platform as the closely-related Audi A4, so this is the rare current Volkswagen Group car that doesn't use the Golf's MQB chassis as its basis. Enjoy such diversity while it lasts.
The MLB is hardly lacking in sophistication though - it helps the A5 trim its weight by around 15kg compared to the old model and the packaging of the bodywork and cabin means that there's a very useful 480 litres of space under that fastback hatch. Here then is a car with beauty and practicality combined - somewhat like a supermodel wearing Ecco shoes.
Mechanically speaking, of course, it is all very familiar. The 190hp 2.0-litre TDI diesel engine has generally been an engine I've said is not really worth upgrading to. The extra performance over the 150hp model, in cars such as the A4, the SEAT Ateca, the Volkswagen Tiguan and more, hasn't been, to me, sufficient to justify the extra costs. Here in the A5, things are a little different. The A5's lower weight allows the 190hp engine to stretch its legs more effectively than it does in the chunkier SUVs, and it can do so without sacrificing much in the way of fuel economy. Would you, probably, be just as happy in a 150hp version? Yes, I think you would, but there were a few times (strictly within the bounds of the law, obviously) that the extra 40hp and 60Nm of torque were really, truly welcome. That said, in concert with the seven-speed dual-clutch S tronic automatic gearbox, the A5 does suffer a little from the same problem we noted in its cousin, the Audi Q5 - annoyingly switching the engine into stop-start fuel saving mode just when you're trying to turn right across a junction. Still, one can hardly argue with this much grunt, decent acceleration and 111g/km of CO2, can one? Official fuel economy of 68mpg (closer to 50mpg in actuality) is good too.
Forward of that practical boot, the A5 Sportback doesn't actually have any more rear legroom than that of the two-door coupe, but it's actually pretty decent (there's an extra 24mm of rear knee-room than in the old model) and the extra rear doors do make things easier when people are getting in and out. My usual yardstick for rear seat space (my lanky 11-year old son) was uncomplaining so it can't be too bad back there.
Up front, things are a little less impressive. I mean, the usual unimpeachable Audi quality is there, and there in buckets, but the cabin has basically been lifted from the A4 with almost no changes and that is disappointing. If you're spending extra on the slinky coupe, surely you can expect something a little more special inside? The A5's saloon-car roots also show in a driving position that's about an inch too high, and you can't get the seat down into the snake's underclothing position that some might like.
To drive, the A5 is both an improvement and something of a faint disappointment. Compared to the old A5, it's far lighter on its toes, with genuine precision in the steering and a delightful sense of adjustability and deftness to the way it goes around corners. Keen drivers will mourn the total lack of feeling and feedback from the over-light steering though, and there's no getting away from the fact that the S line sports suspension does make the urban ride a touch lumpy.
Is the A5 a bit of a curate's egg, then? Good in parts, less good in others? Yes, I think that's a far assessment, but the stunning (and I don't use the phrase lightly) styling lifts it over many obstacles. Appreciation of beauty might be shallow, but in the words of Woody Allen, as far as shallow goes, it's pretty good.