Audi RS5 Sportback Review: Niches Aren't Always Stupid

A five-door 'coupe' should be a ridiculous, cynical contradiction of a car, but somehow, the RS5 Sportback works brilliantly

There’s an unwritten rule suggesting that people who spend their working lives writing about cars should call out niches for what they usually are. And by that, I mean silly compromises that are lead by cynical marketing decisions. Cars that offer no tangible benefits compared the cars they sit between.

Initially, the Audi RS5 appears to fit that mould. It’s the five-door version of a coupe, which surely means it ceases to be, y’know, a coupe. Wouldn’t it be better to just make an RS4 saloon to go along with the existing Avant?

Late to the party - the UK has only just received the RS5 Sportback, which has been on sale in the USA for some time
Late to the party - the UK has only just received the RS5 Sportback, which has been on sale in the USA for some time

At least, that’s what I thought, but the more time I spent with the multi-door RS5, the more it made sense. First off, it does still look like a close relative of the two-door version. It’s still all sporty and stylish, with its sloping rear roofline and cheeky rear spoiler. I reckon it’s more handsome and better proportioned than its less practical sibling.

And speaking of practicality, the RS5 SB scores pretty damn well here. The wheelbase is longer to accommodate the new rear doors, also giving whoever’s in the back a decent space to stretch out their pins. At 480 litres it has an identical amount of boot space to an A4 saloon, but with a huge hatchback opening that makes it so much easier to load up.

Drop the rear seats and you can even get a mountain bike back there with only the front wheel taken off. Try that with a saloon, and it’s going to result in a lot of swearing.

Audi - Audi RS5 Sportback Review: Niches Aren't Always Stupid - Features

The weight penalty for all this? About 35kg. Granted, the coupe isn’t a light car to start with, meaning the five-door version is over 1700kg. But 444bhp from the 2.9-litre twin-turbo V6 combined with an all-wheel drive system means it’s still outrageously quick.

At anything over 2000rpm, the throttle pedal feels more like a switch for engaging an afterburner. Response from the turbos is decent, and the eight-speed gearbox - a torque converter unit rather than a dual-clutcher like the old RS5 - is surprisingly aggressive. Shift manually and leave it a bit too late, and there’s a hard rev limiter to collide with. Nice.

Audi - Audi RS5 Sportback Review: Niches Aren't Always Stupid - Features

It is, unsurprisingly, just like driving a two-door RS5 coupe. That means you get all the good bits - like the speed, the incredible front-end grip, the all-weather traction - along with the bad stuff.

The main bone of contention is the body control. ‘Our’ RS5 test car came on the passive dampers which allow for more lean than you might expect, yet are somehow firm enough to give a ride that never settles. You could go for adaptive dampers, but from our experience with a thusly-specced RS5 coupe a while ago, this gives a brutally firm ‘Dynamic’ mode, a soft and wallowy ‘Comfort’ setting and ‘Auto’ which only just about works on the road.

Audi is selling 250 Sport Edition RS5 Sportbacks for £68,985 a pop, before the model is taken off sale in preparation for WLTP regulations
Audi is selling 250 Sport Edition RS5 Sportbacks for £68,985 a pop, before the model is taken off sale in preparation for WLTP regulations

Then there’s the attitude of the all-wheel drive system. The likes of BMW, Mercedes and Porsche have shown us it’s still possible to have a conspicuously rear-led car even when the front wheels are powered too, but for Audi, it’s still business as usual. So, we’re looking at utter neutrality with only the occasional nudge from the rear axle.

Factor in the overly-light and mostly feedback-free steering, and you’re in for a much less engaging car than the Mercedes-AMG C63. But this brings us back to this particular RS5’s bodystyle - in a more practical setting that ticks so many more boxes, it doesn’t matter as much that the RS5 isn’t the last word in back-road thrills.

Audi - Audi RS5 Sportback Review: Niches Aren't Always Stupid - Features

We came to the same conclusion when we tried the RS4 Avant for the first time. Again, it drove much the same as the RS5 coupe, but with a completely different remit to its cousin, it all made sense.

I’d almost always favour a fast wagon over, well, pretty much everything else, but here, I’m leaning towards the RS5 Sportback. It sits between the other two V6-powered RS cars brilliantly, blending some of the RS4’s practicality with the look at me styling of the RS5 coupe. So tell your friends - niches aren’t always stupid.