Johannesburg - For a motor company that wasn’t previously afraid to shock (or rock) us with designs like the oversized single-frame grille it introduced a few years back, Audi seems to be walking a safer path of ‘quiet evolution’ these days.

That’s certainly evidenced by the recently-launched second generation A5 coupé, cousin to the four-door A4 sedan. Perhaps the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it makeover was partly due to the famous Walter de Silva hailing the previous A5 as the most beautiful car he’d created (above other lookers that came from his pen including the Alfa Romeo 156, Audi TT and Audi R8), and Audi didn’t wish to mess too much with a classic.

Either way, it’s a beautifully sculpted thing, this new A5, and it says much about Walter’s talent that the subtly changed shape still looks as fresh as it did ten years ago. Good design has staying power.

Now the two-door coupé has just been honed with a little more attitude, including a flatter and wider single frame grille and a wave-shaped shoulder line. The car’s also shed 60kg of weight thanks to an intelligent mix of materials, and it slips through the airstream with a segment-leading drag coefficient of 0.25.

The slightly reworked front and rear lights boast the latest technology, with LEDs standard at the rear and optional LED or Matrix LED headlights up front, and the cool-looking sweep-style indicators that also adorn the Audi R8.

The new skin wraps a car that’s undergone significant technology upgrades, and the interior acquires a ‘floating’ 21cm colour screen, a 30-shade ambient lighting system, and the optional ‘virtual cockpit’. Adding a real dose of Star Trek to the cockpit, this fully-digital instrument cluster offers a choice of views, for instance with the odo and speedo minimised against a panoramic navigation map.

The Audi A5 2.0TDI S Tronic Sport version on test here is priced at R653 000 but a lot of the cool stuff costs extra. Apart from the virtual cockpit, the test vehicle was specced up to an eye-watering R828 420 with items like a sportier-looking S-Line exterior package, blind spot detector, parking assist, electric front seats, and navigation, to mention a few.

Another option was the Audi smartphone interface for Apple and Android phones which allows smartphone contents such as navigation, telephone, music and selected apps to be accessed in the car’s menu screen.

A R4 800 option I’d happily pay for was the inductive cellphone charging pad in the central armrest, which conveniently juices-up compatible smartphones without any need for wires.

Interior space in the new A5 has been improved somewhat but it’s still rather cramped in the back seat for adults, and getting there requires the front seats to be tipped forward - that’s the price of opting for the sexy two-door cousin of the more practical A4 sedan. That said, the A5’s boot is a quite voluminous 465 litres - although you have to live with a skinny space-saver spare wheel.

There are four engine versions of the A5 in South Africa: a 140kW petrol turbo, a 185kW petrol turbo, a 140kW diesel turbo, and the flagship S5 petrol turbo which dishes out 260kW.

It’s the diesel version on test here, paired with front wheel drive and a seven-speed S tronic dual-clutch auto transmission. With that 140kW output, combined with a meaty 400Nm of torque, it’s the most powerful iteration of the 2-litre turbodiesel widely used in the VW/Audi family.

It’s a beaut of an engine, laying down effortless performance with great economy and hushed refinement. There’s an initial hesitation in standing starts while the turbo spools up, which cannot be clutch-cured as the car’s an automatic, but beyond that the diesel A5 blitzes distance very effectively. It’s a swift and spirited performer with a claimed 0-100 time of 7.7 seconds and 238km/* top speed that place this diesel Audi into distinctly sporty territory.

Our test car averaged a budget-friendly 7.4 litres per 100km, but never got close to the claimed 4.2 litres.

Audi’s two-door slices through corners with appealingly hunkered-down handling and there are drive modes to change the throttle, gearbox and steering feel to suit situation or mood of the driver. This Sport model gets lower profile 18” wheels compared to the standard version’s 17” mags, which sharpen the handling (and the looks, probably more importantly) but still retain a respectable degree of bump-absorbing comfort.

VERDICT

One could criticise the A5’s too-subtle redesign but Audi has taken the stance that if you look like Halle Berry, there’s no need to mess with the formula except perhaps for small dashes of silicone and botox.

The under-the-skin changes are more significant, with new technology and limousine-like refinement levels.

If your needs are more about style than practicality, the A5 lays on the charm way more than the A4 sedan.

FACTS: Audi A5 2.0 TDI S Tronic Sport

Engine: 2-litre, 4-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox: 7-speed automated dual-clutch
Power: 140kW @ 3800-4200rpm
Torque: 400Nm @ 1750-3000rpm
0-100km/h (Claimed): 7.7 seconds
Top speed (Claimed): 238km/h
Price: R653 000
Warranty: 1-year/unlimited km
Maintenance plan: 5-year/100 000km

ALTERNATIVES

Mercedes C200d Coupe auto125kW/400NmR643 300
BMW 420d Coupe auto140kW/400NmR650 600

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