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4T : Reviews & Road Tests

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7 January 2013


That the grass is always greener on the other side of the pond for import car enthusiasts seems to be a universal norm. As Americans we envision Europeans blasting away on empty autobahns in obscure Audi S or RS models that we simply don’t get and shifting their manual transmissions that, more often than not nowadays, they don’t even get. And while that may be what we imagine, the reality is that the autobahn is getting more and more congested and that a tank of ‘petrol’ is exceedingly expensive on the ‘right’ side of the Atlantic. Over there small displacement tends to be the more likely euro reality and cars like the A5 Sportback may already be Euro only, but ordered as a 1.8 TFSI and without quattro is a much more likely scenario for a German Audi owner than is an RS 4 Avant. Having always lusted for the A5 Sportback, we decided to sample the car and see if even the smallest engine variant would capture our hearts.

Even moreso than the vaunted Avant bodystyle, the A5 Sportback is pure unobtainium for Americans. Word from its initial development is that the roof line was too aggressive for U.S. crash test optimization, but the low arced roofline and the Aston Martin Rapide meets Audi A5 appearance of the thing makes it incredibly attractive… even in conservative Cuvée Silver Metallic.

Under the hood is Audi’s aforementioned all-new 1.8 TFSI engine. Though small in size, this engine is robust, with a 168 bhp peak and a virtually diesel-like 236 lb ft (320 Nm) maximum torque available between 1400-3700 rpm.

This new 1.8-liter turbo employs both direct and indirect fuel injection at the end of the intake manifold. Direct injection with a higher pressure 150 to 200 bar rail is utilized more at launch and peak throttle needs while indirect injection is used in partial load situations. There’s also a new turbo capable of 1.3 bar of boost and an advanced thermal management system that aids in bringing the engine up to temperature faster, thus lessening C02 emissions. Audi’s start/stop is also employed for further fuel efficiency.

Also new to the facelifted A5 range is Audi’s fuel-saving new electromechanical steering system that lessens drag on the drivetrain. Independent of the engine itself, the system can apply steering boost when needed such as parking situations or low speed turns. It can lower or even completely dial out assistance as well, like when the car is at cruising speeds. While it could be a little more communicative, we find the new system has a good overall feel with weight and ratio adjustable via the car’s Audi Drive Select system.

Combining Audi’s slippery Sportback bodystyle with the most efficient petrol turbo four-cylinder and a host of fuel-saving components, it’s not surprising that the 1.8 TFSI is quite frugal. Audi says the setup is good for over 40 mpg (5.8 liters/ 100 km).

Out on the road, this modest A5 Sportback 1.8 TFSI is surprisingly robust. Ingolstadt claims the car is good for a 0-62 mph run of a respectable 7.9 seconds. Top speed is 143 mph. Unlike other small displacement gasoline-powered cars we’ve tended to encounter when renting a car in Germany, the A5 Sportback 1.8 TFSI has enough power to hold its own on the Autobahn. It’s capable playing in the passing lane in no limit zones, just watch your rearview mirror for a ‘bahn burner flashing his lights as he races up behind you.

Another striking difference between the 1.8 TFSI and other small displacement diesels we’ve driven and are likely to be cross-shopped, is the overall composure. At idle and on up through the revs, the car is quite quiet and strikingly more smooth and refined.

As mentioned, our A5 1.8 TFSI Sportback comes sans quattro. In fact, the engine can only be ordered with front-wheel drive in the A5… probably just as well. Dropping the added weight and frictional loss of an all-wheel drive system helps give the impression that the engine feel much larger than one might expect. And traction is still very good thanks to standard ESP and electronic limited slip.

Though fitted with a most conservative mill and painted equally conservative platinum gold, our particular A5 tester came in heavily optioned with equipment like MMI Navigation plus, Audi Side Assist, sport seats in Fine Nappa Leather, Xenon headlights, sport steering wheel, Audi’s great-looking sandwiched wood interior trim and more. We could easily imagine a German driver with a long commute who might forego the visual flare and instead opt for the creature comforts and additional tech that this particular car has to offer. Still, were it ours to order, we think we’d still go S line as the Sportback has so much more visual character when more aggressively kitted.

The cabin of the car is very livable, and the back seat is much more usable than that of the A5 if for no other reason than those two extra doors make more approachable. In the meantime, the fifth door offers access to a trunk that is downright cavernous. It seems evident that a family looking for one very cool wagon or crossover alternative might be very happy in such a car.

Alas, there are still no plans to bring the A5 Sportback to America. Perhaps that might be a possibility when the B9-generation A5 is introduced, and only time will tell with that. As for the 1.8 TFSI, never say never. As Audi moves towards downsizing its range in order to up efficiency numbers, this new 1.8-liter TFSI remains a surprisingly powerful engine and is well tailored to the still gasoline-leaning American market. Its day very well could come, though perhaps in models like the upcoming next-generation A3 instead of this bit of Euro unobtainium.

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