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Audi S5 Sportback

Click to view picture gallery“Audi’s new S5 Sportback is a ‘bit
  of all right
. And when a car drives
  this entertainingly, goes this fast,
  looks this good and offers 30mpg
  economy, you just know it
s going
  to be a winner
...”


IN ALL MY YEARS IN CAR REPORTING, this is a genuine first. One manufacturer is offering two products with exactly the same badge, but with two entirely different engines: as a two-door coupe, the Audi S5 comes with a naturally-aspirated V8 engine whereas in new five-door S5 Sportback guise it's powered by a supercharged V6.

Baffled? Don't worry, even the folk at Audi needed to enter a huddle to confirm the reason why: apparently it's down to product life-cycles. The S5 two-door coupe that we know and love is continuing for the next year with the engine it always had — a 354bhp V8. And very nice it is. After a year, it will then switch over to the all-new 3.0-litre supercharged V6 that's in the spanking-new S5 Sportback five-door hatch.

The reason why Audi is lopping off cylinders is — surprise, surprise — down to the inexorable march of emissions regulations. While the 4.2-litre V8-powered S5 chucks out 288g/km of CO2, the new V6 emits just 219g/km. Crucially that brings it under the punitive 225g/km cut-off point, beyond which you have to send your unmarried daughters to the Inland Revenue to pay for your tax crimes [actually, not such a bad idea — Ed]. And you should get around 30mpg average from the new engine — pretty impressive for something putting out 333bhp.

The S5 is one very
quick car, and 0-62mph
in 5.4 seconds
only hints at the story.
It’s not just
the raw acceleration,
impressive though it is;
it
s the way
the power is delivered
...”
That 333bhp headline figure is not quite as powerful as the S5 V8's 354bhp but the V6 has better torque response — its identical peak of 324lb ft comes much lower down the rev range, at 2,900rpm — and Audi quotes identical performance figures for both models: 155mph top speed and 0-62 in 5.4 seconds.

In Audi's ever-increasing pantheon of models (it's now up to 38 distinct ranges, and will soon expand to 42), the S5 Sportback sits in a very odd niche. It's a five-door hatchback, so you'd be excused for thinking it's a practical choice. You'd be wrong.

Sure, there's 480 litres of luggage space which is easily accessible via the tailgate (in contrast to the S5 two-door's infuriatingly slender boot aperture), but it's in the rear where the problems start. That stylishly plunging roofline robs all but children of enough headroom to be comfortable. I'm only a 5ft 8in lower percentile statistic [I am not a number — Ed] but my head still hits the headlining. Considering this is Audi's largest-ever medium-class car (it's longer and wider than the S4 saloon), the lack of passenger space comes as rather a shock.

There are other surprises lurking in the S5 — but they are all positive. The new Sportback does look undeniably fantastic, and it drives as well it looks. This is one very quick car, and 0-62mph in 5.4 seconds only hints at the story. It's not just the raw acceleration, impressive though it is; it's the way the power is delivered.

The supercharger spins almost silently to deliver heaps of low-down grunt so that you really don't have to change gear very often. The V6 may not have the brutal growl of the V8 but it was mighty fast on every bit of tarmac I took it over.

While the S5 two-door can be ordered with either a manual or dual-clutch transmission, the V6 five-door is S tronic only. But that's no hardship since S tronic is one of the best transmission systems out there.

The seven-speed two-pedal system changes up and down with the speed of a light switch going on and off and is fun to use in tiptronic mode with the paddle-shifts behind the steering wheel. The gearbox doesn't have quite the race-car incisiveness of its RS5 sister but hey, if you want that, you'll have to stump up an extra 15K.

“Its very grippy,
very forgiving and very
quick — and feels more
like a rear-driver than
most Audis.
The ‘fun
feel is also
helped by direct
and well-weighted
steering
...”
Chucking a car that weighs 1,755kg into corners might sound a challenge, but the S5 hunkers down extremely well. Of course the S5 has quattro all-wheel drive with, in normal use, 60% of torque going to the front wheels and 40% to the rear.

My test car was fitted with the optional sport differential which allows torque to be transferred between wheels on the same axle, as well as between front and rear. Audi's torque vectoring system also makes the most of keeping you safe as you corner by diverting more torque to the wheel with grip, rather than braking the inner spinning wheel as many other systems do.

It's very grippy, very forgiving and very quick — and feels more like a rear-driver than most Audis. The 'fun' feel is also helped by direct and well-weighted steering.

Okay, maybe the S5 Sportback is a case of style over substance but then quite a few Audis could be argued to sit in that camp. One thing I am sure of, though, is that the S5 Sportback is going to be a big hit. When a car drives this entertainingly, goes this fast, looks this good and offers 30mpg economy, you know it's going to be a winner. It may even be the 'it' car of its age. — Chris Rees

Audi S5 Sportback
| 40,965
Maximum speed: 155mph | 0-62mph: 5.4 seconds | Overall test MPG: 30.1mpg
Power: 333bhp | Torque: 324lb ft | CO2 219g/km