A5 turns over new leaf

Andy RussellAudi's new A5 Sportback appeals to the head and the heart says ANDY RUSSELL.Having passed the slow-moving Audi A5 Coupe on the dual-carriageway I was surprised when it suddenly caught up, then came alongside before pulling in front and dropping away again.Andy Russell

Audi's new A5 Sportback appeals to the head and the heart, says ANDY RUSSELL.

Having passed the slow-moving Audi A5 Coupe on the dual-carriageway I was surprised when it suddenly caught up, then came alongside before pulling in front and dropping away again.

It had really sparked their interest for, judging by the way the passenger was craning round their head, they were having a good look at the car I was driving.


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And if I had been driving that A5 Coupe I might have felt more than a mite miffed when I saw the third model to join the A5 range - the Sportback.

The A5 debuted as a coupe, developed into a cabriolet and now the sleek and highly practical Sportback - a sort of one-size-fits-all car aimed at a younger market.

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It may carry the same name as the five-door model in the smaller A3 range but it's a very different beast. With its elongated, elegant styling and four frameless door windows Audi says it has the emotive appeal of a coupe, is as comfortable as a saloon - with rear legroom and headroom comparable with the A4 saloon - and is as practical as a small estate with boot space not far short of the A4 Avant. Enticing marketing speak, but, having driven it, this is a car that appeals to both the heart and the head.

As well as those looks and versatility, a wide range of engines, gearboxes and the availability of Audi's acclaimed quattro four-wheel drive system add to the all-round appeal with 180 and 211PS 2.0-litre TFSI turbo and 265PS 3.2-litre V6 petrol engines and 170PS 2.0-litre and 190PS 2.7-litre and 240PS 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel engines. The range will be completed with a 160PS 1.8TFSI turbo petrol and 143PS 2.0-litre TDI along with wider availability of engine/transmission and two/four-wheel drive combinations and more models with the traffic jam fuel-saving, emission-cutting stop-start system.

I drove the more powerful petrol 2.0 TFSI quattro with the seven-speed S tronic automatic gearbox which can be shifted manually via the gearlever or paddles on the steering wheel.

While diesels are the best bet if economy and emissions are your priority, the 2.0 TFSI - a class-winner in International Engine of the Year five years running - is a gem and so well suited to the Sportback with bags of power across the rev range, spinning freely to the red line with no loss of top-end refinement and seamless gear shifts. Running around I was getting just under 30mpg but stretching its legs on a run pushed the average to 35mpg.

The ride is a little firm around town even on the SE model (S line gets lower sports suspension), heightened by bigger, optional 18in wheels, but is more compliant at cruising speeds. Quattro models have oodles of grip and good body control through corners but there's a lot of road noise from the fat tyres and they tend to follow worn channels in the tarmac which could be felt through the steering. Despite it sporty pretensions, the Sportback has more grand tourer capability than out-and-out entertainment value.

Inside, it is surprisingly spacious - even if it does seat only four - and, built on a longer-wheelbase A4 platform, long-legged adults won't feel cramped in the back while decent side windows making it light and airy. That said, despite headroom being comparable with the A4 saloon thanks to back seats set lower, the sloping roof means tall passengers may find their hair brushing the rooflining - not a problem for a short, balding man like me!

The 480-litre hatchback boot has a large floor area but the long, gently-sloping tailgate means it gets shallower towards the back, but with careful packing it takes a useful load of luggage. Despite having only two shapely rear seats and a fold-down centre armrest, the backs split 60/40 and fold flat on to the cushion to free up 980 litres of cargo capacity.

The classy interior exemplifies Audi's understated elegance but the dashboard is easier on the eye than it is to use until you get used to it. Major controls are well placed but finding your way around the array of buttons for the heating and ventilation system and the MMI (multi-media interface) controls on the centre console between the front seats is not so straightforward and means taking you eyes off the road to look down at it.

Available in standard, SE and S line trim levels, all get acceptable levels of equipment for the money while there are plenty of options to tailor the A5 to individual desires. To put it into perspective my �30,325 test car was a tenner short of �38,000 with all the add-ons!

The A5 Sportback fills a gap in the A4/A5 ranges and, with its handsome coupe good looks and hatchback versatility, holds more appeal for drivers who want sporty, practical premium transport.

Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TFSI SE quattro S tronic

PRICE: �30,975

ENGINE: 1,984cc, 211PS, four-cylinder turbo diesel

PERFORMANCE: 0-62mph 6.6 seconds; top speed 150mph

MPG: Urban 30.4; extra urban 44.8; combined 38.2

EMISSIONS: 172g/km

BENEFIT-IN-KIND TAX RATE: 22pc

INSURANCE (1-50 GROUPS): 31

WARRANTY: Three years/60,000 miles

WILL IT FIT IN THE GARAGE: Length 4,711mm; width (excluding door mirrors) 1,854mm; height 1,391mm

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