In 2004, Mercedes-Benz introduced the CLS-Class. It was, in effect, a swoopier and ‘sportier’ variant of their midsize E-Class sedan, with more rakish looks and a bit less practicality as a result. Every German automaker soon followed, creating “four door coupes” that obliterated all sense of the word “coupe” and its meaning. But where some chose to go exclusively for style, creating fastback versions of their traditional sedans, Audi went a slightly different route with their Sportback series. The 2022 Audi S5 Sportback is the latest variant on the theme, combining looks with practicality superior to that of the Audi A6 sedan on which it’s based.
Two years ago, I’d made plans to attend Radwood Philly, just before COVID-19 shut things down for uh, a while. With the pandemic under some sort of control, the show was finally back on in mid May. I booked a hotel, cut an old pair of jeans into appropriately-short length for 1980s cosplay, and folded myself into the Turbo Blue S5 Sportback with Philadelphia in my sights and Traffic Jam Assist on standby for the perpetual disaster that is I-95.
What Is It?
This is the 2022 Audi S5 Sportback, essentially the twin to the more staid (?) Audi A6 sedan and its higher-performance variants. Audi does sell an A5 Sportback if you prefer the same practical body and different looks but without the hotted-up drivetrain.
Speaking of hotted-up, the S5 is the “middle child” of the “_5 Sportback” family – A5 Sportback sits below and RS 5 Sportback sits above. Every 2022 Audi S5 Sportback is powered by a 3.0 liter V6 and twin-scroll turbocharger, pumping out 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque through standard Quattro all-wheel drive and an 8-speed torque-converter automatic.
Audi equipped my lovely Turbo Blue example with a few options packages – notably, the S Sport package. As in the Audi RS 7 Sportback I drove last fall, the S Sport package includes a crucial hardware upgrade in the form of a torque-vectoring rear differential. Not only can the differential limit overall wheelspin, torque vectoring means it can send all of the power it receives to one of the two wheels as it sees fit… say, exiting a corner. S Sport also includes adaptive dampers and red-painted brake calipers, and Audi included the Black Optics package (visual treatment) and variable-ratio steering.
MSRP of my 2022 Audi S5 Sportback was $70,670.
Highway Traffic Jams in the 2022 Audi S5 Sportback
It’s no secret that I-95 is a general tragedy of a highway, especially if you’re trying to go anywhere on a Friday afternoon as I was. The S5 Sportback was equipped with Audi’s Traffic Jam Assist, which effectively lets you turn driving duties over to the car at speeds below 37 miles per hour. Though it was a bit confusing to enable at first – is this on or just using adaptive cruise control? – I did figure it out and find it very helpful in the absolute slog that was my drive to Philly.
As the car and I took turns handling traffic, I had plenty of time to appreciate the comfortable, well-bolstered seats and very-good Bang & Olufsen sound system. Initially, I found the ride quality to be somewhat harsh over expansion joints and other rough parts of highway, but a change in drive mode from Dynamic to Comfort told the shocks to forget about sportiness for a while and soak up the bumps. It made a world of difference – not always something I can say about adaptive damper systems.
Once the roads cleared up, I found the Audi to be a really enjoyable highway companion. As with its larger RS 7 Sportback sibling, it feels immensely at home storming down the left lane of an interstate with the headlights on and slower traffic moving right for you to pass. Given Philadelphia isn’t in Germany, I had to keep my speeds to sub-Autobahn levels. The S5 Sportback felt hunkered down at basically-legal speeds, and as if it would be equally planted at triple-digits with your right foot in the carpet.
Back Roads Fun
Off the highway, I had some time to explore the S5 Sportback’s more flamboyant side. I poked the Drive Select arrows until Dynamic came back into focus, slipped the transmission into Sport, and spent a few hours blasting around (responsibly) some back roads on my way home from Philly.
Sport mode on the transmission is a must, using Drive leads to delayed downshifts and slightly laggy throttle response. You can, of course, slide the shifter into its manual mode and use paddles, but you’ll have to be quick on the draw. The V6 likes to rev and will reach the limiter faster than you think – pull the upshift paddle a touch early so you don’t run out of revs.
Approaching a corner, brushing the brakes does the appropriate amount of “setting the nose” and preparing the car to turn. And turn it does, surprisingly so for an Audi. The 2022 Audi S5 Sportback likes to rotate, almost to the point of oversteer if you’re heavy on throttle application as you exit the corner. That torque-vectoring Audi Sport Differential from the S Sport package does some work here – you’ll notice it moving power if you really focus, but if you keep your focus on the corner itself… it just rotates and goes.
Steering was my only – mild – letdown. Despite good feedback in the wheel, it’s a bit light no matter the drive mode. Audi’s variable steering ratio setup is fascinating, changing how much you have to turn the wheel based on vehicle speed. Parking lots are easier with less hand-over-hand, for example. It takes some time for your brain to acclimate, and I did find myself giving too much or not enough input until I re-calibrated my hands based on road speed.
Brakes, upsized over the regular A5 Sportback, are a strong suit. Pedal feel is good, both in initial bite and throughout its travel. When called upon for a mostly-cold emergency stop – seriously, Volvo driver, why did you use the middle of the road after a blind crest to make a nine-point U-turn?! – they performed very well with no drama. Except for whatever the hell that Volvo driver was doing.
The 2022 Audi S5 Sportback shows just how easy it is to have a fun car that can perhaps not “do it all” but instead “do it most.” It’ll handle fun roads with ease, can swallow your mountain bike or a West Elm dresser, and cruise for hours in comfort on the interstate. Compared to its Audi A6/S6 sedan sibling, I’m not sure why you’d go for the sedan assuming both were available for sale at the same time. One friend of mine had an easier time finding an A6 when he was shopping – though that is but one data point out of thousands of cars sold.
Traditional sedans have fallen out of favor for crossovers. Getting clever and practical with the sedan body style, as Audi is doing with this S5 Sportback, will help keep them relevant to a wider audience.