The Audi S5 Sportback is a firm favourite among Australians seeking a sporty, refined luxury car – but has the 2021 update to the S5 sufficiently moved the game on?
While Audi launched the regular A4 and A5 range of midsize sedans, wagons, coupes, convertibles and Sportbacks in mid-2020, there was quite a wait for the corresponding hot S4 and S5 to get to Australia.
It’s one of many delays across the industry attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the 2021 Audi S5 Sportback has now landed, just in time to take on the new BMW M440i, as well as the Mercedes-AMG C43.
Since the introduction of the ‘Sportback’ body style in Australia in 2012, Audi has enjoyed considerable success with its five-door hatchback form factor. To some, the S5 Sportback is a sedan, but really, it falls somewhere between the company’s traditional S4 three-box saloon and the upright S4 Avant station wagon.
All three are variations on a theme, with each car sharing a three-litre turbocharged petrol V6 engine. While they’re all similar, we love that Audi offers Australians such choice. After spending time in the S5 Sportback, we’ve repeatedly been won over by the combination of attractive lines and hatchback practicality.
Audi has priced the S5 Sportback sensibly, with a base price of $106,500 before on-road costs, though our car was optioned up to $111,985 with the Quattro Sport differential, black exterior package and carbon interior trim pieces all ticked.
For the facelift Audi has tweaked the front end with a broader and deeper grille design, new matrix LED headlights and fresh daytime running lights. The new A4 range received the lion’s share of exterior changes, but finished in Glacier White, our test car was a handsome vehicle – if a touch conservative.
Forget V8s – even six-cylinder petrol engines are becoming something of a rarity these days. That makes the S5 Sportback’s distinctive V6 ignition rasp all the more enticing. Audi’s S5 pleases the ear with a cheeky flare of revs, before the three-litre turbo six settles into its cold-start cycle.
Audi Australia opted to continue fitting a petrol V6 to the 2021 S4 and S5 lineup, while Europe have moved to a potent V6 diesel – the same one fitted to the recently reintroduced SQ5 TDI. In an ideal world, Australian buyers would receive the option of both – but we think most people will prefer the petrol.
The six-cylinder engine is a sweet one, with outputs held steady to the pre-facelift version. Power is rated at 260kW, while there is 500Nm of torque. Unlike the diesel engine, the TFSI zings towards the redline with glee. Progress is made swiftly without being downright stupid, and the S5 masks speed like any good German car should – best to keep a watchful eye on the standard head-up display.
The V6 is hooked up to an eight-speed ZF torque converter automatic gearbox which is tuned for relaxed and unobtrusive shifts in comfort mode. Switch to dynamic mode and shift with the paddles, and the changes take on a much sharper character, with a positive thwump accompanying every upshift.
Downshifts are a similar affair; the transmission obeys the paddles near-instantly with a cheeky blip to smooth things out. It is one of the most pleasantly tuned automatic gearboxes out there.
Naturally, the S5 features a Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and it’s a proper one with the ability to send up to 85 percent of the power rearwards. Combined with the optional Quattro Sport differential ($2,990, well spent), supercars will struggle to keep pace with the S5 on a twisting cross-country run.
All of this power and grip would be moot if the S5 weren’t such an accomplished corner carver. The steering feel is best in dynamic mode, where the extra weight adds confidence. Turn-in is crisper than the first ice-cold beer of summer and the S5 retains a neutral balance through corners. Over-ambitious turn-in speeds result in slight understeer but it only takes a fraction of a lift to straighten things out.
With a bit of gumption and commitment, the S5 will take on some attitude under power to help the driver out, and it’s addictive to slingshot out of corners with the throttle pedal buried in the carpet. The S5 is devastating both in accuracy and pace, without ever feeling unduly clinical.
No doubt this is helped by standard adaptive dampers which do allow some useful body roll. Despite large 20-inch alloys the ride is well judged and relaxed: flat roads translate to flat suspension without the fidgeting seen in some rivals. For whatever reason the S5 Sportback rides with more refinement than the four-door S4 sedan also tested.
Nearing the extremes of suspension stroke, the Audi keeps it all in check. Dynamic mode firms the dampers up noticeably to a point where they were too much for the rough roads on the test loop. Over consistent oscillations, trim pieces could be heard moving, which was a touch alarming for a car of this calibre. Where the homtix is smooth enough, dynamic is usable and does result in crisper responses.
In terms of safety equipment, the S5 Sportback impresses. There are no options to tick on this line of enquiry, with Audi’s generous safety suite included as standard.
The S5 is equipped with AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, reversing AEB, safe-exit assist and rear cross-traffic alert. Additional niceties include a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise – which sits closer than other marques – with stop and go and a fantastic lane-trace assist program to make highway cruising easy.
While the cabin design is getting on in years, there is still a distinct feeling of class and elegance inside the S5. Compared to Ingolstadt’s larger cars, like the new S8 sedan and SQ7 SUV, which employ vast touchscreens, the S5 is quite restrained using only a single – now larger – 10.1-inch tablet touchscreen and hard dials for the climate control.
Audi has ditched the MMI control centre in favour of a titchy storage cubby, which won’t be to everyone’s tastes. There’s a crisp 12.3-inch digital driver’s display that interfaces with the excellent navigation system as well as wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Equipment levels are generous compared to rivals with electrically adjustable Nappa leather seats with heating and massage function fitted standard, a heated round bottom steering wheel finished in perforated leather, wireless charging and a powerful 19-speaker B&O sound system. All materials are high class, with soft touch plastics everywhere they need to be and smatterings of leather on important touch points.
The front cabin offers reasonable storage space with room for a 700mL bottle in the door bins and generous central bin under adjustable armrest. However, tall bottles in the central cupholders interfere with crucial controls aren’t good for tall bottles.
When it comes to practicality a Goldilocks analogy is apt – the swish lines of the S5 coupe combine with the sensibility of the traditional S4 sedan. There is ample space for four passengers up to six foot in both leg and toe room – the hump in the floor means five is a squeeze – while headroom is about an inch tighter than the S4.
Back seat occupants are treated to their own climate zone and a plush centre armrest with deployable cupholders. Unfortunately, the tombstone front seats do compromise forward visibility for those in the rear, especially for shorter passengers, but the lovely Nappa leather upholstery and good bench support means the rear seat isn’t a bad place to be.
The boot is where the Sportback differs most from the S4 Sedan, offering a hatchback with electric operation. That broad boot opening makes loading bulky items simple and while outright cargo space trails the S4 sedan at 465 litres (15L less).
In practice, though, the Sportback has a more user-friendly boot with a cargo net to sweeten the deal.
Our test loop in the S5 was made up of mainly fast roads with lots of elevation change and some town driving, but little time on the freeway. We recorded a consumption figure of 11.5L/100km, adrift of Audi’s 8.5L/100km claim, but given the pace this car offers – and how readily we tapped into it – we reckon that’s good. The S5 requires premium unleaded at the bowser.
Audi backs their cars with three year warranty in Australia, which equals BMW, but lags behind Mercedes-Benz, which now offers a five year warranty. Five years of coverage is the industry standard now, while mainstream competitors like the Kia Stinger have a seven year warranty.
Three years of roadside assist coverage is included.
Servicing for the S5 needs to be carried out every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. This kind of interval is the norm, though the Mercedes-AMG C43 does allow up to 25,000km between annual services if you are a high-miler.
Audi does not quote the price of each individual service, but buyers can purchase a five year servicing plan when you buy an S5 Sportback. This costs $2,950 – a hefty fee compared to the rival BMW M440i, which offers a similar five year plan for $1,650. The only extra you get from the Audi plan is covered replacement of the air conditioning belt.
Audi’s tweaks may have made the S5 Sportback look only subtly different inside and out. But make no bones about it: this car is fantastic at what it does.
The level of performance and usability offered in Audi’s latest round of S-badged cars strikes a perfect midpoint between the daily drivability of the two-litre A5 Sportback 45 TFSI, and near-supercar pace of the 2.9-litre RS5 Sportback.
Put simply, the S5 Sportback has pace, space, and grace.
With more generous equipment for 2021 – how can you not love massage seats – the S5 Sportback even offers relative value for money.
If you need more space but the same spectacular balance of virtues, the S4 Avant station wagon is the pick – but the S5 Sportback’s stylish appearance will undoubtedly make it the first choice for most considering a vehicle of this sort.
Variant tested S5 Sportback
Key specs (as tested)
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