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2018 Audi A5 Sportback

Upping the Ante

Last year, when we named the 2017 Audi A4 our Luxury Car Best Buy, we cited both value and luxury as the key reasons this elegant compact all-wheel-drive sedan took home the honors. We thought it would be a slam dunk to repeat, until we got our hands on the 2018 Audi A5 Sportback. Equipped with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine with a 7-speed transmission and all-wheel drive, the A5 not only shares the same powertrain and architecture as the A4, but pretty much the same road manners. Even the sticker prices are within the same range. What tilted the title to the Sportback, however, is the sleek styling, hatchback utility and slightly roomier feel to the cabin.

Instant Classic

The A4’s tailored styling holds up well, but the A5, though playing off the same single-frame grille theme and crisp character lines, has a bit more emotion in the shape. The hood has a steeper contour that gives the front of the car a more muscular and planted look. In profile, this Sportback is slinky with coupe-like styling that resolves itself cleanly at the back end. It’s not as droopy as the larger A7, but the idea is the same -- this is a fastback 4-door that looks like it’s about to pounce. As expressive as it is, there's nothing over the top about this design, meaning this is a look that will remain fresh many years after the first models have rolled out of the showrooms. It’s what Audi design has done and continues to do in this highly competitive segment where styling can seem almost faddish.

The Audi A5 is based on the same architecture on which the A4 sits, but it’s been stretched and pulled in various directions, resulting in a 111.2-inch wheelbase that’s 1.2-inch longer than the A4’s. It’s also slightly wider and has a bit more headroom up front, while sacrificing a half-inch of headroom in the rear as a result of the faster roofline. While the numbers are close, the A5 just felt a bit roomier inside and offers 21.8 cubic feet of storage space behind the second row beneath the large hatch, which also makes access to the load area a breeze. Fold down the second row and that load space grows to 35 cubic feet. So in addition to sleeker looks, the A5 Sportback also has the advantage of being able to carry a lot of stuff.

Poised and Polished

While the basic interior design is similar to the A4's, the Sportback we tested came with wood veneer accents and a rich nougat brown interior that gave it a more traditional luxury car feel than the more tech-oriented A4, which sported aluminum accents alongside beige and black upholstery. When you settle down into the A5’s comfortable bucket seats and look around, it has the look and feel of a true luxury automobile.

The added bonus is Audi’s commitment to the latest in technology. It’s all there, primarily in the form of the “Virtual Cockpit” that allows you to custom configure the displays both on the center screen and the display behind the wheel. It may sound complicated, but thanks to the straightforward MMI (Multi-Media Interface) designed by Audi, it’s fairly intuitive to use thanks to the quadrant layout that allows you to instantly access the systems you want to use. As a bonus, there’s no shortage of redundant switches to access the climate controls and other functions. All of this is presented in a layout that's straightforward and easy to understand.

Driving Pleasure

With 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque on tap from the turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, the Audi A5 Sportback has a lively feel to it. The 7-speed dual-clutch S-tronic transmission works well, smoothly moving through the gears and downshifting eagerly when your right foot asks for more acceleration. Paddle shifters at your fingertips give you another option when a sporty mood strikes. The steering is classic German sports sedan, weighted enough to give you a good on-center feel and delivering crisp turn-in with little in the way of body lean. There is slightly more noise transmitted to the cabin compared to the A4 -- noise suppression being an advantage for sedans -- but overall the A5 is quiet and controlled and has a comfortable ride.

Employing stop/start technology that is fairly unobtrusive, the A5 is rated at 27 mpg combined and delivers 24 mpg city and 31 mpg highway even though all four wheels are driven. That’s the virtue of having a turbo four underhood rather than a thirstier V6.

Surprisingly Affordable

Last year, our category-winning A4 clocked in at $54,275. This year’s winner actually cost less at $52,100, though it started at a higher base price of $42,600. The biggest option was the Premium Plus package which costs $3,000. In it you get heated, 8-way power front seats, LED headlamps, keyless entry and start, satellite radio, motion sensor car alarm and Audi's parking system plus. A $2,600 navigation package includes the MMI touch control, the Audi Virtual Cockpit and Audi Connect. We also had 19-inch wheels priced at $1,050, a premium Bang & Olufsen audio system with 3D sound at $950, high-gloss walnut inlays for $350 and the $575 Monsoon Gray metallic paint scheme. In comparison, the lower base-priced A4 we brought in this year actually had a higher-line Prestige Package and a driver assist package with adaptive cruise that helped push its final MSRP to $200 above the A5.

Both Audi models do well in our Kelley Blue Book 5-Year Cost to Own measurements, thanks to their timeless good looks and high marks for quality and dependability. The A5 actually gets higher resale marks, due in part to the history of the A5 Coupe on the resale market, with the Sportback predicted to keep as much as 54 percent of its value after three years as opposed to the 46 percent predicted last year for the A4 sedan. As a newcomer, the Audi A5 Sportback is not only a clear winner but, like the A7, it may also go a long way in changing luxury buyers’ perceptions of hatchbacks.

Video Tour: 2018 Audi A5 Sportback

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