Audi won’t quite confirm that the new 2018 Audi A5 Sportback is coming to the U.S. market. But trust us, it will. And when it does, it will continue the work begun by the grander A7: redeeming the hatchback in the eyes of Americans. That’s why we got behind the wheel of this sleek variant of the A4 sedan on its German home turf.
The 2018 Audi A5 Sportback’s seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox has its own character that differs from that of a conventional, torque-converter automatic. The torque multiplication during launches from a stop is missing, but it is supremely responsive in the 50-to-70-mph range. The gearbox can be manipulated with shift paddles, but drivers soon will notice that it generally does everything right when left to its own devices. Audi keeps improving this transmission; previously, we found the Sport setting to be a bit too extreme, but here it’s easy to live with.
We’ve praised Audi’s MLB-Evo chassis before. It yields a car that is light, precise, and graceful on the road. The steering is not artificially heavy, and the limits of adhesion are high, with the various electronic helpers discreetly working to keep the handling near neutral. As introduced for the European market, the 2018 Audi A5 Sportback does not yet have Audi’s Quattro with Ultra system, which does away with the center differential and decouples the rear driveshaft to improve fuel economy. That system has been deployed on the A4 Allroad, but we think it’ll be a while before it migrates into the A5 Sportback. The current Quattro setup, which is fully engaged at all times and defaults to a 40/60 front/rear torque split, works in perfect harmony with this car.
The interior is virtually identical to those of the new A4 sedan and 2018 Audi A5 coupe, and that’s a good thing. It’s a radical departure from the homely look of the last-gen models, and Audi’s Virtual Cockpit TFT-screen instrument cluster is highly futuristic. The interior also hits the mark in content, ergonomics, and style. What’s obviously different compared with the A4 is the big hatch at the rear, which makes the cargo hold more easily accessible; it also can be expanded from 17 to 46 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.
But the A5 Sportback is really all about looks. While virtually the same as the A4 mechanically, it presents a stylish alternative to the familiar proportions of a sedan. In Europe, the new Sportback has been criticized for looking too much like its predecessor; that’s not a concern in the U.S., where there was no predecessor. And anyway, the design is beautiful. Like the A7 before it, the 2018 Audi A5 Sportback should continue the redemption of the hatchback in the United States. When it does, pricing should be virtually identical to the A5 coupe’s, starting at around $44,000.