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2013 Audi A5/S5

Sharper, restyled Audi sports coupes don’t mess with success Add to ...

Sincerity is rarely characteristic of speakers touting new models at international press presentations, but Ann Catherine Lang of Audi’s design department seemed as forthright as she is tall – which is very tall, in her towering, fashionably strapped shoes.

Even in simultaneous translation via headset with her German transformed into a syrupy, cynical mid-U.K. accent, the 20-something Lang sounded as though she’d never tell a whopper.

Marketing executive Markus Aigner had jumped all over the word “sharpened” when describing changes in the A5 and S5 that goes on sale this month in Europe and in North America in the second quarter of 2012 as a 2013 model.

But Lang enumerated the most dramatic styling changes – headlamps newly wedge-shaped, slimmer fog lamp enclosures, the characteristic gaping Audi grille now with angled upper corners – and the truth emerged that this latest incarnation has hardly messed with the success of the original A5 introduced in Verona in 2007.

“It was a huge challenge making this design better,” she acknowledged. Done. The A5 sold on style from the beginning, and this incarnation looks better. The altered front end magically intensifies the A5’s unique shoulder line sculpted from nose to tail, rising above the wheel wells and rendering the car among the most elegant of sporty luxury coupes.

On the two-laners winding through Andalusia, Aigner’s “sharpening” took on real meaning. The A5 is more agile than anticipated – and the sportier S5 more so – profiting from revisions to the dampers and suspension bushings. Electro-mechanical steering that is new to the A5/S5 after being introduced on the A6, A7 and Q5 hybrid is sharper than the previous hydraulic assist system.

Power? Smooth, ample and newly sonorous. The exhaust system of the S5’s 3.0-litre, supercharged V-6 “now roars even more powerfully under load,” as Audi puts it. The 4.2-litre V-8 that previously powered the S5 coupe? Gone from the new S5. Although it remains in Audi Canada’s current lineup, it’s destined for the corporate scrapheap as a result of Audi’s focusing on reducing its fleet fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. (Other V-8s continue in higher-performance models.)

Whatever the number of pistons and cylinders, whether roaring as Audi claims or bellowing as it did to my ear, the supercharged V-6 pulls like a rodeo bull set on mayhem. This engine, earlier restricted to the S5 cabriolet, generates 325 lb-ft of torque from 1,500 to 4,200 rpm – the same peak pulling power as in the V-8 but over a wider range. Horsepower is down to 333 at 5,300 rpm, compared to the V-8’s 354 at 6,800.

Acceleration to 100 km/h is claimed achievable in 4.9 seconds. More important in today’s consumption-conscious Europe: the V-6 requires 20 per cent less fuel than the V-8 in standard test cycles. In fact most of the features and innovations trumpeted here related to progress in efficiency. The new electro-mechanical steering, for example, is said to save 0.3 of a litre per 100 km.

Automatic engine stop-start at intersections is newly standard on all A5/S5 models, although it’s undecided if cars exported to North America will be so equipped. One downside with engines turning off can be reduced air-conditioning effectiveness, not likely pleasing customers during heat waves in Texas or, for that matter, Toronto.

Whether real-life Canadian fuel consumption is improved remains to be seen. Certainly the V-6-equipped S5 will suck back less premium fuel than the V-8, but otherwise our cars aren’t nearly as far evolved as those sold in Europe.

Whereas a redesigned 1.8-litre base engine and a variety of diesels raise standards on the continent, the revised A5 coming here retains the same award-winning engine as in the car currently on sale, a turbocharged, 2.0-litre four with 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. It attains 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds.

A so-equipped Shiraz Red coupe is our choice for the final drive of this presentation, leaving our hotel before dawn, the navigation system set to guide us the 70 km to the airport. The drive into the dawn is a reminder of all that’s great about the Audi A5.

Effortless, comfortable cruising. Adaptive headlamps showing the way around sharper curves. The six-speed manual transmission encouraging frequent usage. Even the nanny features are charming: at 130 km/h a bell chimes and a “caballero” warning appears in an instrument – there may be a police car around the corner. (In altogether different traffic conditions, at speeds below 30 km/h, the car reacts with automatic hard braking to slower or stopped vehicles ahead, minimizing if not preventing altogether a collision.)

As the sun rises on the horizon, the arid landscape all around us assumes a golden hue. Clusters of red roses paint the median. It’s other-worldly. The navigation system’s voice is in German. Missing one command altogether, we drive 60 km out of our way and still make the flight. A triumph.

Ann Catherine Lang had talked about interior colours. It’s her specialty, actually, within the design department. Whether a car’s interior is largely red, beige or grey connotes something beyond the obvious, the graduate of fashion design said. Ours was beige, which she associates with poetry. To be sure, this drive was pure poetry.

Tech specs

2013 Audi A5/S5

Type: Sports coupe

Base price: Not available

Engine: 2.0-litre, DOHC, inline-four/3.0-litre supercharged V-6

Horsepower/torque: 211 hp/258 lb-ft for four; 333 hp/325 lb-ft for V-6

Transmission: Six-speed manual or seven-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy: not available

Alternatives: BMW 1-Series; Subaru Impreza WRX, coupe models of BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti G37, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Hyundai Genesis

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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