The cars we loved.
Any petrohead who happens to be American is quite familiar with the term forbidden fruit where European cars are concerned. You might think expensive Ferrari’s or Lamborghini’s as unattainable, but there are plenty of interesting cars in the affordable spectrum that we might never get. It wasnt supposed to be that way for Audi’s A5 Sportback. As a sporty alternative to the A4, the A5 Sportback was designed for those wanting the looks of the A5 coupe in a more practical form factor. Audi even engineered the A5 Sportback to be sold everywhere – including the North American market.
The Sportback was a spinoff of the A4 sedan’s B8 platform. With a 110.6 inch wheelbase, it was planned to fit nicely between the A4 and A6. The Sportback goes head to head with BMW’s 3 Series executive cars in Europe. The broad 3 Series range has just about every configuration, except a fastback coupe like sedan. This is where Audi could have had an advantage in the American market. Audi has done prehaps the best job of designing coupe-like sedans. For the sake of brevity, the term “coupe-like sedan” will be replaced by “coupedans” for lack of a better term. Neither Audi nor the industry has not pegged a universal term for their coupedans. The word sport seems to the best descriptor in this re-emerging car type. With station wagon, crossover and SUV-like traits, the Sportback combines the charms of a coupe with all the practicality of a sedan or station wagon (avant). The frameless windows at the rear doors aid in establishing the couep like profile of the A5 Sportback. The look is in sharp contrast to some other coupedans like BMW’s clunkly 5 Series based Gran Turismo.
The A5 Sportback has close to a 50/50 weight balance thanks in part to its departure from the traditional overhung engine in the front of the axle. With the engine mounted just over the front axle and the powertrain behind it, Audi was able to achieve even weight distribution. The favorable weight balance enhances performance, but due to the broad range of powertrain options, the Sportback has been said to deliver varying and inconsistent handling and road feel, due to chassis tuning that attempts to cover all the bases from commuter to high performance sports sedan.
Power options for the Sportback are almost identical to the A4/A5. Many models featured Audi’s Quattro all wheel drive system with engines running the gamut of the Audi range. There were two petro engines and three diesels offered as of 2011. Power ranged from a 180 hp two litre four to a 262 hp 3.2 litre FSI V6. Buyers could choose between a 6-speed manual or 7-speed twin-clutch automanual transmission. In the top configuration, Audi reports a 0 to 60 time of 6.4 seconds with the dual-clutch automanual. Performance is aided by the Quarttro systems 40/60 rear biased torque split, which negates understeer and gives the A5 rear wheel drive like qualities under some situations. Big 18 inch wheels with all season tires look especially impressive on the Sportback due to it’s slightly more compact dimensions (compared to the A6).
Rear hatch aside, the Sportback is still a luxury car. It’s interior is very much like that of the A5, but with more leg room. Despite being a bit larger than the A4’s cabin, the Sportback is configured for just four passengers. Those sitting in the rear sacrifice headroom as the price to pay for swoopiness of the roofline. A few other car makers selling coupe like sedans have made this trade-off in the form of more headroom in the rear at the cost of having an awkward roofline (see BMW 5 Series Sport touring). Europeans are said to be smaller than the Typical American, so it may not be an issue anyway.
The price range in Europe (about $48,000 to $68,000 USD) reflects the broad ambitions for the Sportback. Plans were actually underway to include the Sportback in Audi’s 2012 US lineup until the
economy went sour. These ambitions might be part of the reason Audi of America requested that the car not be sold in its showrooms. The Audi range in America has become crowded with cars that are close to the mid-sized sweet spot in the A4/A5/A6 range. The deal sealer (or breaker) was the poor economy which axle the ideal of bringing over the Sportback indefinably. For now if Audi shoppers looking for a sedan with coupe styling will have to move up to the larger A7.
The timing might seem right to re-consider the Sportback for the American market. When the A5 was being planned, Audi must have taken note of Mazda’s failure to market the hatchback version of its 6 sedan here. Despite looking not much different that the regular 6 sedan, the 6 Sport Sedan nearly concealed its hatchback design in a regular looking trunk, yet was unpopular. Fast forwarding a few years and upping the price range reveals a changed market. Mercedes has achieved great success with its CLS sedan to the point of starting a coupedan movement in the upper ranges of the car market. Now every European luxury maker has a version of a coupe-like sedan. These cars are still a popular high-end items, but few have ventured to sell them down-market. The A5 Sportback is well suited to fill this gap in America.
With the A3 being too small and not quite hitting the mark for this form factor, the A5 Sportback would offer a nice step up. If BMW managed to release a coupedan version of its next 3 Series, Audi might think again. If that new BMW was as ugly as the 5 Series Gran Turismo, at A5 Sportback at your local Audi dealer might be a sure bet.