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Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI SE

Click to view picture gallery“First drive of the new five-door,
  five-seater A5 Sportback, billed as
  offering the ‘best of three worlds’.
  The third and final model for the
  A5 range, which already includes
  the two-door, four-seater Coupe
  and the two-door, four-seater
  Cabriolet, the A5 Sportback costs
  from 23,710

THE NEW MODEL has the elegant styling of a coupe; the comfort of a saloon, with its extended wheelbase for better rear passenger legroom; and the practicality of a five-door hatchback for load and passenger carrying. All A5 models are based on the floorpan used by the new A4 range but the Sportback has a wheelbase extended by 60mm to provide that extra rear legroom as well as a huge boot and load area.

The Sportback uses the same front section from the nose to the A-pillars as the A5 Coupe although all bodywork from that point back to the rear is new. Although the new model retains the sleek low roofline and side profile of the Coupe, the addition of the two rear passenger doors means the new model will appeal to owners who regularly carry adult rear seat passengers. The neatly designed tailgate allows easy access to the load area: 480 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place; 980 litres with the 60:40 spilt-folding rear seatbacks folded down.

The current engine line-up — all direct injection engines — comprises of a 2.0-litre TFSI petrol (178 or 208bhp) with start-stop function; 3.2-litre petrol FSI 261bhp quattro; 2.0-litre TDI diesel (168bhp) with start-stop; 2.7-litre TDI (187bhp); and a 3.0-litre TDI (237bhp). There will be a main-selling 2.0-litre TDI 141bhp diesel engine to come and an S5, 3.0-litre petrol supercharged 328bhp powerplant carrying a near-38k price tag. Quattro all-wheel drive is available on a wide choice of these units.

The A5 Sportback's main appeal will be its coupe styling but with the big advantage of having four doors and a tailgate. The usual competitors are the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the underrated and often overlooked VW Passat five-door Coupe. The BMW remains top for driving refinement and handling; the C-Class for ride comfort and interior space; the Passat CC is cheaper to buy; and the A5 Sportback excels for looks, brand value, standard leather upholstery and the highest resale values.

On the downside, the longer wheelbase seems to have upset the balance and poise of the car. Consequently the handling is not as precise as that of the A5 Coupe or the A4 models. On country roads the ride is unsettled, the car floats over undulating roads and the steering gives little feedback to the driver.

That said, it is a comfortable vehicle and most high mileage owners will appreciate that. Road noise intrusion on motorways, which appears to enter the car from the load area, is also a tad irritating.

The sensible engine choice for high mileage users (until the 141bhp TDI engine arrives) is the 2.0-litre TDI 168bhp diesel unit with 258lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm with start-stop technology. In perfectly adequate SE spec, this car will cost 27,140. And with the six-speed manual transmission, the CO2 emissions are a low 137g/km — which means a VED tax bill of 120 (from April 2010, under the new First Year VED rating, this should go down to 110). Benefit In Kind company car tax is also rated at a low 18%, and the insurance group is 14.

During my brief test drive session this week, I also tried the 2.0 TFSI 208bhp quattro version and, because it produces 258lb ft of torque from only 1,500rpm, this petrol engine would be my recommendation for any private buyer who doesn't cover huge mileages.

Of course, the advantage of the quattro all-wheel drive is that it provides year-round security under all road conditions, and sharpens up the car's lazy roadholding. Even with the seven-speed S-tronic auto gearbox, the quattro I drove returned 38.2mpg. Only the price — 30,325 — will make your eyes water. Alternately, you can opt for the same engine with front-wheel drive in SE specification for 27,415.

Reasons to put an A5 Sportback on your drive include eye-catching and classy good looks, hatchback practicality, big boot, good rear seat legroom, leather upholstery as standard, high specification and a great engine. Not so good is the limited rear seat headroom for adults, a sloppy ride over country roads and little feedback from the steering. — David Miles

Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI SE with start-stop
| 27,140
Maximum speed: 142mph | 0-62mph: 8.7 seconds | Overall test MPG: 39.7mpg
Power: 168bhp | Torque: 258lb ft | CO2 137g/km | Insurance group 14