A5 Sportback TDI is nice but pricey

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IOL mot pic apr19 Audi A5 1

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Audi A5 Sportback is one great-looking car. Our test model was fitted with a two-litre turbodiesel and multitronic gearbox.

Surprisingly, with the Audi and Volkswagen group’s extensive array of engine and gearbox combinations, the swoopy A5 body style has never been available with their seemingly ubiquitous two-litre turbodiesel.

Until recently, that is, when the A5 shape underwent a mid-life facelift and a 2.0 TDI option was added to the range. We took one on test to find out how well the pairing works.

The answer is, it’s good. This two-litre engine is sold in numerous models across both brands’ ranges, with varying power output levels, and we’ve rarely been let down by any of them. In this particular car, the four-door A5 Sportback, there’s 130kW and 380Nm available from the smallish 1968cc displacement, which makes for a nice balance of performance versus fuel consumption.

UNREALISTIC CLAIMS

Over a week-long test period we averaged around nine litres of diesel per 100km. That’s some way off Audi’s unrealistic claim of 4.8, but we’re still happy considering the levels of pull-off and overtaking power.

A much less-powerful version of the same engine is also available as a kind of environmentally-friendly penguin-saving effort in this car’s less-sporty-looking a4 sibling, but with the look-at-me lines of the A5, we appreciate the extra shove.

IOL mot pic apr19 Audi A5 2

Latest A5 boasts a new steering wheel and some interior mods.

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Of course, both cars are sold with mucho-torquey three-litre V6 diesels as well, but then you’re forced into more expensive and average fuel consumption-killing quattro all-wheel drivetrains.

Both A4 and A5 2.0 TDI’s are front-wheel driven only. The trade-off, however, is that Audi reserves its better dual-clutch s-tronic transmission for the bigger three-litre model, and the version on test here is sold with an older-style multitronic continuously-variable automatic gearbox as the only option.

PLAYSTATION TRANSMISSION

As CVTs go, this one isn’t terrible, but fact is the car would be better with the DSG type unit. Under acceleration, the multitronic hovers at a specific rpm as speed increases and there’s no sensation of gear changes (there are no actual gears per se) unless you shift with the steering paddles and even then it seems very Playstation-like.

Not only is acceleration very artificial-feeling, but it’s clear that Audi’s “dumbed-down” the gearbox’s electronic settings to be very conservative in terms of performance. No doubt this betters diesel drinkage, but an s-tronic would offer less compromise. Sport mode improves things, but not greatly.

Audi says demand for s-tronics (which it has to share with VW, Seat and Skoda brands globally) far outweighs production capabilities, and it is forced to use the CVT variant as a capacity buffer in lesser models such as this one. It plans to kill off the multitronic completely in 2014.

UNJUSTIFIABLE COST DIFFERENCE

The A5 body style is very pretty, but you have to pay for it. The equivalent A4 model with an identical engine and drivetrain is a crazy R70 500 less. As tempting as the slinky A5 is, the cost difference is just plain unjustifiable.

Our test car was fitted with optional 19” rims that make the A5 look even more irresistible, but bump cost up another R18 400. In total, our car, with navigation, parking sensors, sunroof and electric seats (can’t you include these as standard, Audi?) comes to just over half a million bucks. And this is the bottom-of-the-range model! Ouch.

As part of the facelift, the A5 gets a slightly re-styled exterior, some chrome accents here and there, a new steering wheel design, Bluetooth phone pairing, and a fuel-saving automatic idel stop system, but it’s the new electro-mechanical steering system that represents the biggest change from last year’s A5s.

Normally, I would have nothing nice to say about electric steering, but Audi’s done a good job here. At slow speeds there’s an almost laughable amount of assistance, and to negotiate parking places the one-finger-twirl method is entirely possible.

I enjoy overly-light steering when I’m parking - doesn’t everyone?

The system then tightens up as speed increases, but never to exaggerated levels as in some “sports” sedans which often confuse heavy feel with feedback. The A5’s new system doesn’t. At least not in my opinion.

Another thing I like about the A5 is the boot area. Unlike the sibling A4 with a normal bootlid, the A5 Sportback features a hinge atop the rear glass, meaning the whole reare section opens hatchback style. This makes it very easy to load awkwardly shaped and sized items, and a privacy cover that’s cleverly built into the lid itself never needs to be retracted or adjusted as it would in most SUVs.

I was also surprised that, considering its sloping roofline, there’s still decent space at the back. Compared to the A4, the rear chairs are lowered by 100mm in the chassis so that heads won’t knock the roof over bumps, and so long as you’re not Shaquille O’Neale there’s good legroom as well.

Comfort level in the cabin is hardly worth mentioning, given that it’s a modern Audi with excellent materials put together by a team of obsessive compulsives. In other words, it’s great. But we still hate Audi’s climate control system that thinks it’s smarter than we are ...

VERDICT

Until now, there was a hole in the Audi range unoccupied by a sexy, mid-sized, four-door saloon with a two-litre diesel engine. Leave out the sexy part, and this gap was covered by not one, but two A4 models and a couple of slightly down-market Volkswagens as well.

Did we really need a 2.0 TDI A5 Sportback multitronic? Probably not. And especially not at such a premium over the nearly-identical A4. But that won’t stop Audi from plugging away at tiny niches in the market anyway. It can afford to. And we don’t mind. Variety is the spice of life - keep ‘em coming. - Star Motoring

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