The past year has been interesting driving at Cars Technica. Some of the cars I've tested have delivered surprises, including bestsellers like the Toyota Camry and Nissan Rogue, as well as unexpected cars like the Kia Niro and the Honda Accord. Think of the story today as a microcosm. These are two cars from the same manufacturer, built on the same architecture, similar enough to be bought separately. The brand is Audi, the cars are the 2018 A4 sedan and 2018 S5 Sportback, and the surprise? For this you will have to continue reading.
No car is foreign to these pages. We drove the A4 sedan for the first time in 2016 at its launch by proclaiming it "for the nerds, by the nerds". Our first experience of the S4 sedan and S5 coupe, more powerful and more expensive, came a year later, as did our first ride of the Sportback, an elegant and practical alternative to five-door sedan. The first readers are certainly instructive, but you will learn a lot more about living with a car for a week than you will share this day with another automotive journalist. And during the summer, I had the opportunity to really get to know these four ring brothers and sisters.
The car I thought I loved
OK, this subtitle gives the game, but it's true: I thought the S5 would be the one I'd love. After all, it's a Sportback – the name Audi gives to its five-door Fastback sedans. My love for the five-door body style is well documented at this stage; I've spent my personal money on a Saab 9-2x and I'm convinced that five cars, hatches and fastbacks really offer the most practicality while offering a better appearance than almost all the rest of the road.
The weekend of July 4th and the IMSA Six Hours of Glen's annual endurance race at Watkins Glen, in upstate New York State, have proven to be the perfect test of the practicality of the S5 Sportback. With the rear seats folded flat, the Audi easily swallowed various camping accessories and, despite the lack of adaptive cruise control, the 400-kilometer journey to the north was far from a chore. The front seats were comfortable, the adaptive sport suspension cossettait when the tar became poor and, if you had to have a red leather interior, this one (called Magma Red in audiophone) looked classy and did not look like nothing at the workplace of a person of negotiable affection.
But the more I spent time admiring the S5 – hard not to do when he was parked next to the tent – least I liked the form. At the back, I'm still a fan, but there's something about the bonnet line and how it curves to the A pillar that gives the car a bulbous look. This could be sensitive to color; I do not notice the same effect on S5 Sportbacks painted in darker metallic tones. Appearances are subjective and all that, but when the appearance of a car is part of its USP (unique selling proposition by car) and that these appearances fall a little flat, it's a detour. In defense of Sportback, it has attracted a lot of positive attention from passersby, so maybe I am alone on this point.
The other USP for the S5 Sportback (and this applies equally to the coupe) is that the 3.0L turbocharged V6 engine, more powerful, and improved undercarriage should be more exciting to drive. With 354hp (260kW) and 369ft-Lbs (500 Nm), it is indeed more powerful than the standard A4 and A5 2.0L, and it will reach 60 km / h with a toll more than a second earlier than the four-cylinder model. But despite a more rear-facing all-wheel-drive system and the rear differential (optional) Audi Sport – a uniting vector of the couple just as much – it's actually not so engaging to drive. This confirmed something we noticed in 2017 when S5 was launched; Despite being smaller and a little lighter than the S4 sedan, it's the latter that was more fun when the road became winding.
The car I did not like to love
I was not even supposed to drive the A4. Originally, the company that runs one of the local press fleets had scheduled a week with a Dodge Challenger Scat Pack, which I had to pick up at Dulles International Airport (by saving Ars a taxi ticket and killing two birds with a vehicle because were). It is obvious that something happened to this slice of Americana with four wheels, because in its place was the A4 blue that you see in the gallery above. Like the S5 Sportback, it was well used for a press car, having recently exceeded 10,000 miles.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this A4 was delivered with three pedals. I am a fan of the automatic, and the automatic transmission used by Audi – the 8-speed 8-horsepower ZF – is the best on the market. (I swear you'll eventually be able to read an article about this mechanical wonder on this very website.) But after a few days with the Stick Shift version, I could not escape the fact that it was more engaging. drive that any other A4, S4, A5 or S5, I've tried. The action of the clutch was nice and light, but positive, and the engine start-stop system also provides an anti-stall feature that should prevent the novice from all embarrassing moments.
The A4's fun factor was made easier by the fact that it came with the Sport Plus package. This means the same thin-brimmed three-spoke steering wheel, a sportier suspension of 23 mm (0.9 inch) less than normal, and other central elements that elevate the cockpit in the same category than the S * models, more expensive. It's obviously slower than the V6-powered car, with only 252 horsepower (185 kW) and 273 lb-ft (370 Nm) of raw, but it never feels slow or so powerful.
L & # 39; A4 also offered a new driver assistance, exclusive to Audi, which only works in a handful of cities. It is called Traffic Light Information and allows the car to communicate with the stop lights to tell you how long you have to wait for the signal to change. It's not a function of changing lives, and yes, you can usually get a green countdown by looking at the pedestrian sign. But I must admit that I found it rather practical, especially when he told me how long a fire would stay green, when it worked, anyway. Although the District of Columbia is one of the 10 cities where Traffic Light Information is operational, it did not operate at all traffic lights, or even in a uniform manner (ie sometimes it would work for a fire, then fail some time later at the same fire.).
L & # 39; A4 has it
At the end of my week with the A4 manual, the conclusion was inevitable. I found the A4 more attractive to drive, just as nice to sit and almost as practical as its sportier companion. And that is before we talked about the respective prices.
The suggested retail price on the A4 in the Premium Plus mid-level versions was $ 43,700, and our test car tipped the scales at $ 51,650 (for the Sport Plus pack, its blue paint and the Navigation and Telematics pack that offer you a virtual cockpit). The S5 does not even get up for less than $ 54,400, and once you've added the options – Navigation, S Sport Package, and a few other little details – the S5 sticker cost $ 63,975. Plus, the A4 gear lever drinks less fuel, with a combined total of 27 mpg versus 24 mpg for the S5.
Less is not always more in the world of the automobile: the four-cylinder Kia Stinger is not as efficient as the V6 model, for example. But in this case, I would choose an Audi cheaper, slower and less powerful, especially with a manual transmission. This makes it all the more shocking to know that if you do not act quickly, you will never be able to try it yourself. Due to lack of demand around the world, Audi is abandoning the manual transmission entirely for A4 and A5 models starting in the 2019 model year. Insert the sad emoji face here.