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2023 Audi S5 Sportback: The perfect daily driver for people who want it all

Audi's newest offering combines sleek, sporty form with smooth and efficient function

Audi hasn’t focused on competing with Mercedes-AMG or BMW’s M division for years now. Besides the R8, the last car that Audi sold in the U.S. that could actually compete with its German rivals was the B7 RS4 from 2005. Since then, Audi’s cars, even its high-performance RS-badged models, have focused on other things, like daily use and comfort over lap times. They tend to lack the scruffy, I’m-trying-to-kill-you nature of over-500-horsepower machines and instead aim for a Mr. Rogers mentality.

In the real world, where you have potholes, deer, and speed limits, having a car that’s not trying to kill you or egging you on to race the Nissan Altima driver that’s weaving through traffic is a good thing. In the real world, with real-life challenges, a car like the 2023 Audi S5 Sportback is perfection.

2023 Audi S5 Sportback parked in a grassy field with trees in the back during a sunset.
Joel Patel/The Manual

Audi S5 Sportback driving experience: Just enough power

Having over 500 horsepower is great for when you want to brag to your friends or go to a track day, but how often are you actually going to spend your time and money driving to a track, driving around said track, and then driving back? Sit down, have your morning cup of coffee, and be realistic — you’ll find that a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine with 349 horsepower is just enough. It’s like comparing a cup of Devil Mountain Coffee to Starbucks’ Pike Place – one will get you amped, and the other will get you ready for the day.

Compared to the 380-plus-horsepower you’re getting in the M440i and C43 AMG, the S5’s output sounds mundane. Here’s the thing: In the real world, the S5 feels so much faster than its horsepower figure or zero-to-60-mph time of 4.5 seconds lets on. Passing people on a backcountry two-lane road is a game of predator catching prey with the S5 filling your stomach with butterflies when you pin the throttle.

Grocery getter to backroad hauler

Switch the S5 Sportback into Comfort mode and put on some soft rock, and you get an excellent cruiser or daily driver that you’ll want to drive for miles and miles. This is what makes the S5 such a well-balanced option. Anyone can make a go-fast, stylish sedan, but having one that can be a five-tool player is special.

Turn the aggro settings on and the car responds like it’s been given a rabies injection. The exhaust comes alive, the transmission holds gears until redline, and the engine responds much more quickly to inputs. The adaptive suspension stiffens up, and you can feel the all-wheel-drive system try to shuffle power around to slingshot you out of corners. The S5 has this unflappable nature, especially when optioned with the available torque-vectoring rear differential — you’ll have to actively try to push the car past the edge of grip to get in trouble.

Few cars offer this kind of dynamic range and do it so skillfully as the S5 does. Plus, with all-wheel drive, you’re getting all-weather capability that made Quattro a force in the auto industry.

Audi S5 Sportback interior: Dark, drab, depressing

A nice interior shade would fix the biggest problem we have with the S5 Sportback’s interior. Audi offers the cabin in two shades: Dark gray or light gray. There’s nothing on the inside of the S5 Sportback that evokes feelings of joy or fun. The S5’s cabin feels clinical, which is a trait of basically all modern Audis and Volkswagens. Drab doesn’t mean low-quality in this application, though, as the S5’s cabin feels and looks premium. The available carbon-fiber trim and S badges prove that Audi takes its sport vehicles seriously, but some color or something that grabs your eyes would do wonders.

Boring, but mighty comfortable

What the S5 loses in interior appeal, it makes up for in comfort. The sport front seats are heavenly, if a little stiff, and there’s plenty of room up front for long drives so that you can stretch out in the seat in the middle of a long drive. The sloping rear roofline that gives the Sportback its hatchback rear end does inhibit rear space to the point that the compact A4/S4 sedan is actually more spacious for rear passengers. Even still, most people won’t complain about sitting in a premium Audi.

Who needs an SUV?

You wouldn’t normally take a sedan to Home Depot to grab lumber or supplies to finish your basement, but the S5 Sportback has a nifty hatchback that makes it as versatile as some small SUVs. There are 21.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats and a total of 35 cubic feet of space with the rear seats folded. That’s plenty for road trips, small batches of lumber, or large shopping sprees at the mall for people who choose to continue buying things in person instead of online.

Should you get one?

The 2023 Audi S5 Sportback contradicts the stereotype of Audis being boring and one-dimensional. The brand’s vehicles don’t live up to the driving dynamics of rivals, and when you consider pricing and the cold interior design, you’re left wondering what people see in the automaker’s cars. The S5 Sportback isn’t like that. It still has an unemotional interior design, but its approachable V6, blush-worthy exterior design, hatchback versatility, and oodles of tech make it the kind of daily driver most people dream of.

Compromise sucks. It’s even worse when you’re forking over $60,000 for a vehicle and have to deal with something that’s not perfect. In the real world, where people aren’t chasing tenths, have no interest in visiting a track, and prefer their vehicles to instill them with confidence rather than fear, the S5 Sportback is perfect for nearly everyone.

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