Lotus wants a little more civility to its sports cars. Plus, of course, electricity
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£47,995 when new
Looks familiar, this… Quite. You’ll recognise the Audi S5 Sportback from our regular Audi A5 review and Audi S5 Coupe review, the S4 Avant not long before that and indeed the old A5 and S5 Sportback. Audi surprised precisely nobody when it revealed this thing at the Paris Motor Show because it looks more or less identical to the Coupe on which it’s based (and the car it replaces), save for the extra pair of doors that signal a larger, more practical cabin. Conservative evolution is, of course, the German way. And we’ve no problem with that whatsoever because done correctly, it produces rather good-looking cars. And you can hardly blame Audi for broadly sticking with a design it knows that A) works, and B) sells cars. It’s just good business. So this is purely a four-door version of the S5 Coupe? Correct – the four-door version of a two-door version of a four-door car. A more practical S5/A5 Coupe, or much less practical A4 Saloon. It’s longer, narrower and lower than the car it replaces, but somehow more spacious. Audi claims there’s an extra inch or so of knee-room in the back, and a bit more shoulder room too. The A5 Coupe isn’t as spacious as a BMW 4 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class Coupe - a six-footer would struggle to sit behind another for long periods of time – but you’ve no such issues with the Sportback, which is 100mm longer and 15mm taller than the two-door. Leg room is ample – even behind the S5’s sports seats (which are set a smidge too high) – but the especially tall will suffer a lack of headroom. Dashboard looks nice.
It is nice, and ready-proven because, predictably, it’s shared with all the other Audis based on the MLB (no, not Matt LeBlanc) Evo platform, like the A4, A5 Coupe, Q7 and new Q5. Audi’s excellent sat-nav comes as standard, but you ought to option the Virtual Cockpit for the full effect. Of all the digital instrument clusters that exist on the market, Audi’s remains the best. No contest. And of course, all the active and passive safety stuff is optional too, save for the Q7’s Night Vision Assist. Just how fast is it? The regular Audi A5 Sportback is available with an entirely predictable array of four- and six-cylinder diesel engines and a four-cylinder petrol. Keep an eye out for our review next week, because this one concerns only the flagship – the Audi S5. It has a turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 making 349bhp and 369lb ft between 1370 and 4500rpm, making it more or less mechnically identical to the S5 Coupe and S4 Saloon and Avant. 0-62mph takes 4.7 seconds thanks to standard-fit rear-biased Quattro all-wheel drive, and you’ll slam headlong into the limiter at 155mph. The gearbox is an eight-speed, torque converter auto (the seven-speed DCT can’t handle this much torque). Sounds exciting… Excuse us for repeating almost everything we said about the S5 Coupe, but the same really is true of the Sportback. It’s agile enough (the fact it’s 85kg lighter than the old S5 Sportback helps) and there’s a surfeit of grip that eventually turns into understeer if you’re massively ambitious on corner entry. The optional Sports Differential is supposed to bring the rear-end into play, overspeeding the outside tyre to help rotate the car. It’s great in the S4, but here its effects are so subtle you won’t notice at the kind of speeds you’ll (legally) get up to on a British B-road. Odd, that.
The engine is a lovely thing. There’s power throughout the rev range and the noise is pleasingly natural. And so it should be, because there’s no augmentation going on besides a bit of trickery within the dash that adds a bit of resonance. Kept in manual mode throttle response is keen, with a whiff of turbo lag that, though noticeable, isn’t pronounced enough to damage the S5’s point-and-squirt pace, which is prodigious. Downshifts are better than up, where the inherent characteristics of a single-clutch auto are more pronounced. Changes are smooth and swift but lack the whip-crack immediacy of a DCT. So fine, but not massively involving or especially exciting. What about when I’m not driving like a tool? Very mature, with a ride that, even in its stiffest mode, is way better than merely tolerable. It’s actually comfortable – something fast Audis of years past haven’t managed. Left to its own devices the auto goes about its business smoothly and unobtrusively, using the engine’s torque to drag you out of villages without kicking down many gears, if any at all. In all, even in maximum-attack Dynamic mode, it’s a very mature thing, its edges chamfered to, presumably, make room for the RS5 above it. Bit of a sleeper, no? Oh yes. The only real exterior differences between the S5 and regular A5 are the silver mirror housings and quad exhausts. De-badge it and most will be none the wiser when you thrap past that tractor at a rate of knots. That Audi has made 349bhp so utterly deployable, allied to the ace interior and subtle looks, makes this thing a very compelling daily driver indeed. Expensive? It’s £47,000. Brilliantly, the exact same price as the S5 Coupe, making the Sportback a bit of a no-brainer for anyone who needs usable rear-seats. Of course, the ultimate usable, fast Audi on this platform is the £45,400 S4 Avant, and if we’re honest, that’s the one we’d probably buy. Because we’re odd like that. For most the allure of the Sportback’s image and good looks will be enough to justify the extra £1,600.