2020 Audi S5 Sportback review: The perfect compromise

The Sportback is the S5’s best body style.


Steven Ewing/Roadshow

You know, much as I love the 444-horsepower Audi RS5 Sportback, it’s just a little too buttoned-up for its own good. And after a week with the 349-hp S5 Sportback, I can’t imagine why you’d ever need something more.

Like

  • Hatchback versatility
  • Comfortable and luxurious
  • Sporty when you want it to be
  • Best cabin tech in the segment

Don’t Like

  • V6 doesn’t sound that great
  • Rear headroom is in short supply

All the things I love about the RS5 Sportback carry over to the S5. It looks great, it’s quiet, it’s comfortable, the tech is top-notch and you can throw a bunch of stuff in the back thanks to its hatch. The S5’s 3.0-liter turbo V6 makes 349 hp and 369 pound-feet of torque, which is plenty, and with Quattro all-wheel drive and a quick-shifting, eight-speed automatic transmission, this S5 will hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.

Yeah, the RS5 Sportback will do the 0-to-60-mph dash in 3.8 seconds, but unless you’re regularly taking your four-door luxury hatchback to the track (you aren’t), that 0.7-second discrepancy means next to nothing in the real world. Besides, one of my key complaints about the otherwise flawless RS5 is that it’s kind of sterile — like, sure, it’s quick, but there’s no raw emotion. The S5 is like this, too, but it’s a little more appropriate in a car that’s supposed to be a midtier performer. There’s a big difference between a Mercedes-AMG C43 and C63, but the S5 and RS5 feel remarkably similar most of the time.

The S5’s 3.0-liter V6 is a nice engine. There’s lots of low-end torque and the twin-scroll turbocharger spools up quickly to deliver boost on demand. Having fun with the engine doesn’t totally tank your fuel economy, either. I got 23 miles per gallon during a week of playing around in the canyons and running errands around Los Angeles, matching the EPA-estimated combined rating.

This top-level Prestige trim has the $2,500 S Sport Package add-on, which is a pretty solid upgrade. You get a stiffer suspension with adaptive dampers, though it’s not so harsh that it’ll punish you over highway expansion joints. But the real reason to grab this option is the sport rear differential, which adds torque-vectoring to the rear axle. And since the Quattro all-wheel-drive system is rear-biased anyway, this makes the S5 a little more lively in tight corners. You’ll never mistake it for a rear-wheel-drive car, but that’s fine. And if you reside in a cold-weather state, slap a set of winter tires on this bad boy and live it up when the roads are empty after a fresh snowfall.

This is the main reason why you go for the Sportback.


Steven Ewing/Roadshow

In addition to the usual Comfort, Auto and Dynamic settings, the Audi Drive Select has a customizable Individual mode, which I use all the time. My favorite way to drive the S5 is with the chassis on its softest setting, the steering in Dynamic and the engine in Auto. There’s a variable-ratio Dynamic Steering option that you can add for $1,500, and I like the way it quickens up the response in its sportiest setting, though it’s pretty light in the default Comfort mode.

The best thing about the S5 Sportback is a trait I’ve found in Audi’s other S cars: great balance. With everything turned to Dynamic it’s a hoot on twisty roads, but dial it back to Auto and the S5 chills out and just exists as a luxury car, which is perfect for when you’re sitting in traffic or just picking up some carry-out from the taco place down the street. The RS5 has this nice balance as well, but it’s $20,000 more expensive than an S5, and the extra power doesn’t come with the extra excitement to make it worth the surcharge.

The S5 gets a few little updates this year, including refreshed LED headlights and taillights that don’t really move the attractiveness needle for me one way or the other. I’m all for adding the $2,200 Black Optic Package, though; the 20-inch wheels look awesome and I like the darker trim around the outside of the car. I’ll always prefer the Sportback body style to the two-door Coupe and Cabriolet, mostly because it adds a ton of functionality without screwing up the design. Pop the hatch and there’s 21.8 cubic feet of storage space, more than doubling that of the S5 Coupe. Plus, you can easily fold the seats down to haul longer items. I’d say, “Who needs a crossover?” But I’m not about to open that can of worms.

The 10.1-inch center display gets Audi’s latest infotainment tech.


Steven Ewing/Roadshow

There’s some new cabin tech in the S5 this year: Audi’s MIB 3 multimedia system, housed on a 10.1-inch display. The good news is that the main menu tiles are colorful, the screen immediately responds to inputs and the overall menu structure is pretty easy to learn. The bad news is that the S5 doesn’t get the second screen below the dash — like what you find on the S6, for example — so there isn’t a huge pad for handwriting recognition. Instead, there’s a simple row of climate controls which looks fine in this sophisticated cabin. Besides, the ace up the S5’s sleeve is the Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster, which continues to be one of my favorite bits of car tech after all these years.

All that stuff comes standard on the Prestige, which is an $8,400 upcharge over the S5 Sportback’s $52,895 starting price (including $995 for destination). You also get all of Audi’s driver-assistance features, like full-speed adaptive cruise control with traffic jam assist, lane-keeping assist, a head-up display, traffic sign recognition, parking assist, a Bang & Olufsen premium sound system, wireless phone charging and a whole bunch of other goodies.

This is the best S5.


Steven Ewing/Roadshow

A fully loaded S5 Sportback like this one comes in at $69,240. That feels like a lot, but it’s totally in line with a Mercedes-AMG C43 (which isn’t even a hatchback and therefore not as good). I think most people will be fine with a midlevel Premium Plus and a few choice options. I fooled around on Audi’s configurator and came up with my perfect S5 Sportback and it’s a slightly more reasonable $63,340.

The S5 Sportback is a really good all-rounder that’s hard to top. Its main rivals are the BMW 440i Gran Coupe and Kia Stinger GT, unless you want to expand your thinking to include crossover-coupes which, well, no. The BMW is pretty old at this point and I’m not sure Audi buyers are open-minded enough to consider stopping by a Kia dealer just yet, no matter how cool the Stinger is. Honestly, the S5 Sportback’s closest competitors are other Audis — namely the S4 sedan or, really, an SQ5 crossover. But I’d totally have the S5 Sportback over both of those options. After all, I’d have it over the hot-shot RS5, too.

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