It has been an interesting year behind the wheel at Cars Technica. Quite a few of the cars I've tested have delivered surprises – underwhelming ones when it comes to bestsellers like Toyota Camry and Nissan Rogue, as well as unexpectedly lovely like Kia Niro and Honda Accord. Think of today's history as a microcosm, then. It's about two cars from the same OEM, built on the same architecture, which looks like a cross-trade. The brand is Audi, the cars are 201
No car is strange to these pages. We drove first A4-sedan back in 2016 at the launch, proclaiming it "for nerds, at nerds." Our first taste of the heavier, more expensive S4 sedan and the S5 coup came a year later, and it made our first drive to Sportback, a slimmer but practical, five-door alternative to the sedans. First stations are certainly informative, but you will learn a lot more to live by car for a week than you want to share it for the day with another auto journalist. And during the summer I got the opportunity to get to know these four-siblings.
The car I thought I would love
OK, that subheading gives the game away, but it's true: I thought the S5 would be the one I would love. After all, there is a Sportback name Audi provides for five-door fastback sedans. My love for five-door body styles is well documented at this point; I used my own money on a Saab 9-2x, and I'm a true believer that five door wagons, hatches and fastbacks really offer the most practical, while looking better than almost anything else on the road.
The 4th of July weekend and the annual IMSA Six Hours of the Glen endurance contest at Watkins Glen in the upstate New York proved to be the perfect test for S5 Sportback's practical features. With the rear seats folded, Audi lighted easily selected camping equipment, and despite the lack of adaptive cruise control, the 400-mile north journey was far from a chore. The front seats were comfortable, the adaptive sport sprang us when the asphalt was bad and if you need a red leather interior, then this one (Magma Red in Audi-speak) looked so great and not at all like the workplace of a person with negotiable devotion.
But the longer I used to admire S5 hard not to do when it was parked next to the tent – the less I liked the shape. From the back I'm still a fan, but it's something about the hotline and the way it bends down towards the A column that gives the car air of bulbiness. This can be color sensitive; I do not notice the same effect on S5 Sportbacks painted in darker metallic tones. The look is subjective and all that, but when a car looks like part of its USP (unique sales car in car language) and they seem to fall a little flat, it's a refusal. In Sportback's defense received a lot of positive attention from passers-by, so maybe I'm alone on this.
The second USP for the S5 Sportback (and this also applies to the coupé) is that more powerful turbocharged 3.0L V6 engine and maintained driving equipment should be more exciting to drive. With 354 hp (260kW) and 369ft-lbs (500Nm), it's actually more powerful than 2.0L in regular A4 and A5, and it will reach 60mph from a twelvebox more than a second earlier than the four-cylinder model. However, despite a rear-wheel drive system and the optional Audi Sport rear differential-a torque vector unit, it's not really engaging to drive. This confirmed something we noticed in 2017 at the S5 launch; despite being smaller and a bit lighter than the S4 sedan, the latter was more fun when the road was winding.
The car I did not expect to love
I did not even have to drive A4. Originally, the company managing one of the local presses planned a week with a Dodge Challenger Scat Pack, which I had to pick up at Dulles International Airport (saving a taxi and killing two birds with one vehicle when it was). It obviously happened to the piece of four-wheeled Americana because instead the blue A4 was seen in the gallery above. Like the S5 Sportback, it was used for a press car, which had recently nudged over 10,000 miles.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this particular A4 came with three pedals. I've been up for automatic gearbox, and the automatic box like Audi uses-ZF's 8HP eight-speed-is the best in business. (I swear that you will be able to read a feature of this mechanical amazement on this website, in the end.) But after a few days of spelling, I could not escape the fact that it was just more engaging to drive than any other A4, S4, A5 or S5 I have tried. The coupling action was nice and light, yet positive, and the engine's boot start system also provides an anti-stall function that should save beginner any awkward moments.
A4 fun was helped by the fact that it came with the Sport Plus package. It means the same slight steering wheel three-spoke steering wheel, a sporty suspension that is 0.9 inches (23mm) lower than normal, and some other bites and bobs that lift the interior in the same league as the more expensive S * models. It is obviously slower than the V6-powered car, with only 252hp (185kW) and 273lb-ft (370Nm) on pressure, but it never feels slow or underpowered.
A4 also has a new driver's assistant that is currently exclusive to Audi, and one that only works in a handful of cities. It's called Traffic Light Information, and lets the car communicate with stoplight to tell you how long you have to wait for the signal to change. It's not a function to change one's life, and yes, you can usually get countdown to green by viewing the pedestrian sign. But I have to confess that I found it quite convenient, more then when it told me how long a light would turn green – when it worked, at least. Although the District of Columbia is one of the ten cities where Traffic Light Information is in operation, it did not work at every traffic light, or even consistent (ie sometimes it would work for a light and then fail a bit later in same light).
A4 has it
By the end of my week with the manual A4, the conclusion was inevitable. I found A4 more engaging to drive, just as nice to sit in, and almost as practical as its sporting stable mate. And that's before we talked about the respective prices.
The A4 Premium Premium Trimmer MSRP is $ 43,700, and our test car tipped the scale of $ 51,650 (for the Sport Plus package, the blue paint, and the navigation and telematics package that gives you Virtual Cockpit). The S5 does not even go out of bed for less than $ 54,400, and when you add options-Navigation, the S Sport package, plus some other pieces and the bobs-S5 sticker was a hefty $ 63,975. On top of that, the letter switch A4 reduces gas, with a combined 27mpg against 24mpg for S5.
Less is not always more in the automotive industry – the four-cylinder Kia Stinger is not as good as the V6 model, for example. But in this case, the cheaper, slower, less powerful Audi I would pick, especially when it comes to a manual gearbox. It makes it even more difficult to know that unless you shop fast, you never try it yourself. Thanks to a worldwide lack of demand, Audi will release the manual gearbox completely for A4 and A5 from the 2019 model in the years to come. Insert sad face mood here.