Audi is poised to proliferate its model lineup with a pair of swoopy four-door coupes in the vein of the Mercedes-Benz CLS. The larger of the two, the A7, will be positioned between the A6 and A8 sedans and was previewed in concept form at the 2009 Detroit auto show. But the best look we’ve had so far at the smaller, A4–based A5 Sportback—as differentiated from the true, two-door A5 coupe—has been through a pair of renderings.
Fortunately, our spy shooters caught two A5 Sportbacks out for a late-night run, and the photos show that our illustrations were spot-on. Visible in these photos are the sweep of the roofline and the stubby rear deck. Also, look closely at the rear pillar and it is clear that a body-colored mask is camouflaging what is actually a large, sail-shaped rear quarter window that should visually expand the greenhouse.
With the A5 Sportback comes a new definition of the "Sportback" moniker, which heretofore was applied only to the practical five-door A3. Audi's chief designer, Stefan Sielaff, tells us that now the Sportback designation will stand for these types of slope-back sedans. “You have to look beyond the A3 Sportback. The A5 Sportback is clearly what we have in mind (for the name).”
The upcoming A7 would fit that bill, too, but since there is no notchback, standard A7, Audi feels it would be pointless to call it A7 Sportback. According to our intelligence, the A7 will differ from the A5 Sportback in that it will have a roofline that continues to the rear panel in one unbroken line, while the A5 Sportback features a slight counter-swing at the tail. And while the A7 will have entirely unique sheetmetal, the A5 Sportback will have a front end that is identical to those of the A5 coupe and convertible. Our illustrations show a variation of the front fascia that hints at a possible mid-cycle face lift.
The wheelbase of the A5 Sportback is identical to that of the A4, on which the A5 coupe is based. But the A5 Sportback will be lower and sleeker than the A4. It features historical references: "The side-window and rear treatments were inspired by the classic Audi 100 Coupe," says Sielaff.
Engines will be taken from Audi's parts bin and could theoretically stretch from efficient four-cylinder diesel engines up to high-performance V-8s rated at well over 400 hp. We expect the A5 Sportback to be offered with a version of the 2.0-liter TFSI engine and the supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 recently launched in the new S4 and refreshed A6 lineup. Europe will get four-cylinder and V-6 diesel options, too.
In the 1970s, many European carmakers offered four-door cars with a sloped roofline and a large hatch for accessing the cargo hold. Beyond the simple “hatchback” descriptor, designations such as fastback or aeroback were used in cases where the trunk opening remained small. The style even became fashionable in the U.S.—think Buick Century, Oldsmobile Cutlass, or Chevrolet Citation—but the fad was over by the mid-’80s. Only niche vehicles, such as the Saab 9000 or the Mazda 6 hatchback, carried on, as the typical sedan reclaimed its territory.
Today, though, we’re seeing a resurgence of four-doors with wide hatchbacks, led by the German premium brands. The movement is being spearheaded by the styling leaders at Audi, as well as by the somewhat less elegant Porsche Panamera. The shape brings more practicality than a notchback sedan, and it makes for a beautiful, sleek roofline. Plus, they’re kind of ‘70s retro. What’s not to like?
Audi remains tight-lipped on exact specifications and launch dates, but we believe the company could unveil the A5 Sportback as soon as the 2009 Frankfurt auto show. As of now, Audi says it has no intention of bringing the car to the U.S.