BMW 530d GT vs Audi A5 Sportback

Stylish five-door coupé provides the toughest challenge for blue propeller

The designers at BMW aren’t the only ones to have caught the hatchback bug. Audi has already experimented with the concept by adding a tailgate – plus a pair of rear doors and some extra length – to the handsome A5 to create the sleek new Sportback.

Measuring over 4.7 metres long and two metres wide, it strikes an impressive pose. However, next to the enormous BMW, the Audi shrinks into the background – it has been built to a completely different scale.

The 5-Series GT is a touch narrower than its rival, but it’s bigger in every other respect. As a result it carries much more road presence. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, though, and opinion is split on the GT’s styling. Is it a looker, or does the car’s sheer size alone give the imposing stance? One thing’s for sure – colour and wheel choice make or break the newcomer from a styling standpoint.

The silver paint and 20-inch alloys fitted to our test model complement its proportions, and it looks better in the metal than our pictures convey. Yet we’ve also seen cars on smaller wheels and with darker paint finishes – and these do the GT few favours.

Even a glitzy paintjob can’t hide the BMW’s occasionally awkward proportions, and the rear can appear particularly heavy-handed from some angles. In contrast, the Audi looks great all-round.

Smaller 18-inch rims fill the wheelarches, and give the flagship A5 Sportback a purposeful look without the awkwardness that afflicts the BMW. Plus, its tailgate is free from gimmicks and opens in the conventional manner.

Inside, the quality of the A5’s cabin is impressive, but its dashboard is shared with the A5 coupé and cabriolet – so it lacks the all-new appeal of the BMW interior. Even so, we’ve no complaints about the Sportback and it’s a fine place to while away the miles.

There is more standard kit in the GT, though, and for those who spend time in the rear it is the more appealing choice. Not only is there more leg and headroom in the back, but independently sliding rear seats also provide more luxury than the Audi. Our biggest complaint surrounds the centre rear seat. It’s purely for occasional use, the head restraint can’t be adjusted and the firm cushion makes it uncomfortable for anything longer than short trips.

This isn’t a deal breaker, though, because the A5 is strictly a four-seater with a pair of heavily sculpted rear seats and no option for a fifth seatbelt in between.

When it comes to luggage space, the huge BMW is left trailing with the rear seats in place. Fold them flat, however, and the 5-Series GT has comfortably the biggest load area – at 1,700 litres.

Even though the Audi costs nearly £7,000 less, both cars are powered by torquey 3.0-litre diesels. Performance is very similar, too, but the way they behave is very different. Where the BMW is smooth, linear and undramatic, the A5 feels much more urgent.

This is partly down to the seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission, which can be slow-witted compared to the super-smooth eight-speeder in the GT. While the quattro drivetrain ensures that the Sportback is quicker off the line and has impressive mid-corner grip, the BMW is better balanced and more rewarding to drive. And even with the £980 optional Drive Select system fitted, the Audi suffers from heavy and uncommunicative steering.

The 5-Series GT has a more engaging and accurate set-up, but low-speed ride comfort is a bugbear. The combination of its large alloy rims, narrow tyre sidewalls and unforgiving run-flat rubber sees it thump over manhole covers and into potholes around town. It’s smoother at high speed, but this is still an irritation.

Look at the numbers, and the balance swings back in the Audi’s favour. It is expected to hold on to 53.1 per cent of its original value after three years, compared to 43.3 per cent for the BMW. As a result, both cars will be worth roughly the same amount after that time, even though the BMW is much more expensive.

Neither model lived up to its claimed fuel consumption, yet the GT’s fuel return of 32.6mpg was nearly 6mpg up on the Sportback.

Styling and budget will be key to any decision between these cars. Both offer similar attributes, but present them in different ways. And we wonder if the Audi will hold the upper hand once the novelty of seeing a 5-Series GT on the road begins to wear off...

Details

WHY: New Sportback is the executive hatch of the moment. It’s smaller than 5-Series GT, but fast, sleek and luxurious.

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