The problem with the ‘hot hatch’ is that they are generally overstated, in your face and a bit yobbish. Now when you’re a young 20-something, that’s precisely what you are looking for. But as you get older, priorities shift. Family is important. Your career is important. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still enjoy driving. So what do you choose? If you find the Focus RS and Civic Type-R a bit garish, then how about this: the Audi S5 Sportback. Whilst ‘RS’ Audis have always been a bit bonkers, ‘S’ models have opted for a more reserved approach. So I grabbed one to see how it measured up.
Looks – 10/10
For those of you who have read my introduction wondering what ‘Q-car’ means, it is a car with exterior styling that does not give away its true performance. A ‘sleeper’ car, if you like. And I think the S5 Sportback falls into this category. Look hard and you will spot the quad tail pipes, the smallest of boot spoilers and a handful of S5 badges. But that’s it. This is still a very handsome car. The nose is poised, and from the side it even has a bit of a snarl to it. The bumpers are angular. The lines flow beautifully from the front, past the 4 pillar-less doors, to the coupé roofline at the back. The proportions of the Sportback are just spot on: I actually think it’s better looking than the coupé. My test car had the optional 19-inch turbine alloy wheels. They cost a mere £150 and I would have to have them.
Once you open those pillar-less doors – yes, they are cool – you are greeted by one of my favourite ever cabins. The diamond-stitched, nappa leather super sports seats brandish the ‘S’ motif with pride. Nicely bucketed from shoulder to knee, they are a fitting centrepiece to the S5 interior. The carbon inlays (£425) are the most sophisticated level of sportiness. From the driving seat, the Audi Virtual Cockpit (£250) is an essential option – it looks superb as a focal point. Whilst I missed the 007-style hideaway media screen, the Audi MMI system works well and is easy to use. The gear selector looks like it would control the throttle of a large aircraft, but sits nicely in your hand. The flat-bottomed steering wheel (£100) may be an extra but again this is a must, as it completes the sporty cabin. The overall build quality is much higher than you’d get in the likes of a Focus or Civic too: this is an executive car after all.
Handling/Performance – 10/10
The biggest question you will want answering is how the S5 Sportback stacks up on performance? Well, how does a 3.0-litre, turbocharged V6 sound? I can tell you it sounds delightful: barking its way to the red line with glee. And it has the bite to match, with 354PS and 500Nm of torque. Thanks to the AWD system and 8-speed automatic box with launch control, it will dash from 0-62mph in a brisk 4.7 seconds. Top speed is limited to 155mph. If you didn’t know, you would bet this car was naturally aspirated. There is just no turbo lag, and it has all the character of a N/A engine. There are a few pops and bangs from the exhaust once you get giddy with the loud pedal, but generally this is quiet and reserved enough to be called civilised. You can even set tell the exhausts to be quiet via the customisable drive modes.
The Quattro AWD system I renowned for its capability and sure-footedness, and that’s certainly the case. But what it means from behind the wheel of the S5 Sportback is that there’s no drama. Despite having all that power and torque, the S5 is calm and composed. It handles a tight, twisting B-road as easily as it handles a blast up the M65. But don’t for one second think that it’s any less capable than competing hot hatches. Oh no. The S5 will take corners at speeds you wouldn’t think possible. The steering is pin-sharp and direct. The ‘S’ suspension with damping control (£900) ensures the car corners flat, and those super sport seats hold you in place at all times. The beauty of the damping control is that it can make the S5 a soft, comfortable cruiser on the motorway, yet not compromise handling when you want to push. It’s the best of both worlds.
Economy – 9/10
Despite having that 3.0-litre V6 lump, a Quattro AWD system and bigger 5-door body, the S5 Sportback does well on the economy front. It has start/stop technology, and the 8-speed automatic gearbox helps to ensure the engine doesn’t have to work hard when you tootle around town. The results are average fuel consumption of 37.7mpg and CO2 emissions of 170g/km. Road tax in the first year is £500, and then £450 thereafter (thanks to the £340 surcharge on vehicles over £40,000). That is a little annoying, because cars with similar performance, such as the Ford Focus RS, are only £140 to tax in the subsequent years.
Practicality – 9/10
Not only does the Sportback look better than the coupé, in my opinion, but it also benefits from the added practicalities of being a 5-door hatchback. There’s more legroom in the back, and it’s easier for adults to get back there. The boot has a larger opening, making the loading of larger items (such as prams) easier. The S5 Sportback is easy to drive, and easy to live with. The equipment list, and especially the options list, is extensive. The driver assistance pack (tour) costs £1,250 but includes adaptive cruise control, predictive efficiency assistance, collision warning with emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, lane assist and turn assist. The parking assistance pack advanced is another pricy option at £1,350 but the 360-degree camera, self-parking (you need move forwards/backwards) and the cross-traffic alert are well worth it. One thing that I did find annoying id that despite the standard car costing almost £48,000, you still don’t get keyless entry as standard. Come on, Audi…
Fun – 10/10
From the second you plonk yourself behind the steering wheel, in the snug super sport seat, you get an overwhelming sense of immersion and driver focus. From the visual pleasure of the virtual cockpit, to the soundtrack of that barking V6, the S5 Sportback is a sensory delight. There’s more than enough performance to turn any of your favourite roads into a playground, especially when you get into manual mode on the gearshift paddles. But despite all this, the S5 is not at all yobbish. And that is a good thing. You see with any hot hatch you can enjoy yourself, but then get the sense that other road users may be scoffing at you, wondering what a respectable 30-something is doing in a family hatchback with stuck-on bits of trim. But not in the S5. It’s sophisticated, executive and, best of all, respectable. Which means when you park up at the local Booths you can pick a spot at the front of the car park.
After handing back the S5 – reluctantly, I might add – I could reflect on the week. I like the subtlety of the S5’s exterior styling, and the quality of its cabin. The beating V6 heart is a masterpiece, and the Quattro AWD system provides sure-footedness and makes the most of the engine’s power. This is an easy car to live with, and one I could happily own. Prices start at £47,875, and for that I think you get a lot of car. Go mad with the options and you’ll head up towards £60k. For more information log on to the Audi website or visit your local dealer. And I will leave you with this: the Audi S5 Sportback is fast, fun and makes a wonderful noise. But it’s wearing a suit. This, then, is a grown-up hot hatch.
Total Score – 48/50