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Bar a few of the predictable, hapless Chinese and Indian whipping boys, almost all cars are good these days. And a lot are superb. Take the Teutonic triumvirate of Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW.
All offer products that are so crushingly competent that it’s difficult to imagine how they could be improved upon – although with each new incarnation the manufacturers achieve the improbable, and do precisely that.
Differences between any given class or category from these three car companies are so negligible that buyer choice will really be motivated by abstracts like brand allegiance, styling – and the way they make the driver feel.
And not only is the Audi A5 beautifully built and engineered (more of which in a minute), but it’s also one of the more magnificently styled large cars on our roads. Perhaps even more important, it made me feel sleek, sophisticated, and bereft of any desire or need to prove myself to the grubby world.
Indeed, pulling up at the superlative Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga, with my equally superlative partner, the Audi helped make me feel like a Master of the Universe. Not in a crass Sherman McCoy idiom, as in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, more in a subtly powerful, quietly confident way.
But enough of subjectivity.
The A5 models are now more striking than ever, with redesigned rear lights and xenon headlamps, and while the 2.0 TDI that I was piloting slots in at the bottom of the 18-car range – which includes Cabriolets, Coupes, Sportbacks and the pumping, thumping RS5 halo model – it hardly feels budget.
Its two-litre diesel motor includes forced induction and direct injection, mated to a Multitronic transmission – that’s Audi’s term for a CVT gearbox – with electromechanical steering as well.
Of course, the A5 line-up has been around since 2008, but recent subtle improvements have rendered it even more striking. And I especially enjoy the road presence imbued by the LED daytime running lights, which, to use Audi’s terminology, “form a narrow homogenous clasp framing the headlight”.
Its new 130kW 2.0 TDI motor sips a claimed average of 4.7 litres of diesel over each 100km, and emits just 149 grams of carbon dioxide a kilometre, while making 380Nm of torque at just 1 750rpm – another reason to love turbodiesels.
Top speed is pegged at 225km/h, and the car will hiss to 100km/h in about 7.9 seconds, if knowing things like this is important to you.
I’m not going to bang on about the styling too much. I like to think the pictures speak for themselves. But in the week I had the A5 (which I can see on my driveway as I write), I was time and again enthralled by its elegance overlaid with that quality I myself so desperately seek: gravitas.
Inside, that elegance continues. Fit and finish are seamless and superb and attention to detail stuns.
At the recent launch of the smaller, refreshed A4, Timo Resch, head of international markets, products and price planning, Audi AG, was out from Germany.
An amiable and animated individual, he told the media contingent that at Audi there’s one person whose sole job is gearknob design. I believe it. The A5’s shifter fits in one’s hand so beautifully and is such a tactile treat that when driving I caressed it almost as much as I did Ciara, my partner’s God-sculpted little hand.
Equipment levels are high, even in this, the baby of the range, and the A5 comes standard with all the sybaritic electric add-ons that you’d expect of an upper-echelon German car, including of course an ESP stabilisation programme with electronic limited slip differential.
You also get a crystalline CD- radio with eight speakers.
On the road, the A5 simply sights along. At any sane speed – and even at felonious velocities – it’s cathedral-quiet and supremely unflustered and unfussed. It is, in short, bred for autobahn-eating, and even with that relatively small-capacity turbodiesel, will munch miles with startling ease.
As a British motoring journalist once wrote many years ago of the Rolls-Royce Corniche, this is that rare, rare sort of car that leaves you more refreshed at the end of a long journey than at the beginning.
But cars like this can make me feel strangely redundant as a writer.
Just as with the magnificent Mercedes-Benz M-Class I last wrote about on these pages, the A5 defies criticism. In a week I did well over 500km in it, on urban and open roads, and am still unable to think of one possible shortcoming.
I challenge readers – even and especially those automotively aware enough to be able to make informed comparisons – to sample a car of this calibre and see if they can find fault, however minor.
Spend a bit more than the R439 000 required for the A5 .0 TDI, and you can begin accessing the likes of Quattro drivetrains and shattering, as opposed to serene, levels of performance.