Audi's tech-rich 2017 A5 coupe was worth the wait

Audi hosted a glitzy evening reveal ceremony for its second-generation A5 in early June. The proceedings from the company's home in Ingolstadt, Germany were simulcast on the web, and when the silk sheath was finally pulled on the new-for-2017 coupe, after much pomp and circumstance, the moment almost seemed...anticlimactic. Even with the sharp resolution of an HD stream, my initial impression basically amounted to, "Huh. They recycled the design."

Not that I minded. Despite having been on the market for a very long time, to this day the original A5 still catches my eye each time one rolls by. First shown in 2007, the Walter de Silva-penned two-door has aged beautifully, to the point where I actually think it's one of the cleanest, best-proportioned cars designed in my professional lifetime.

Seeing the 2017 A5 up close and in the metal just a few weeks later, I am quickly struck by the fact that my initial impression was wrong. While the two generations have similar profiles and measurements, they're actually very, very different in person. The outgoing model favored simple, occasionally voluptuous surface volumes and details. Not spare by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly restrained.

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The new A5 features a plunging nose and more angular details than its predecessor.

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By comparison, the 2017 model is both edgier and showier, with loads of surface tension and plenty of deliberate detailing that really pops in the light of day. Check out the prominent undulating "tornado line" on the body side that sharpens up to emphasize the wheel wells. Look at the hood, which used to be essentially smooth, but is now sporting four prominent ribs.

In fact, the A5's new nose dives visibly lower and wider thanks to the reimagined single frame grille, scowling xenon headlamps and vertical air guides bracketing the front fascia. Indeed, the car sits lower, but it's actually not broader, so there's some eyeball trickery at work here. Audi has taken pains to ensure that the new model is more visually distinct from its A4 sibling outside than before, and it shows in elements such as the car's unique light fixtures and fascias. Up front, this Audi almost looks as much like a Tesla Model S as it does the Ur-A5. To the wind, the A5 doesn't look like much of anything at all: its coefficient of drag is just 0.25, making it one of the most aerodynamic forms on the road.

Whether you're more of a fan of the new styling or the old one may come down to your approach to fashion. While I like this design the more I look at it, I still prefer the original's simplicity. In any case, the 2017 A5 snapped plenty of admiring necks as I test drove it through towns large and small in and around Porto, Portugal, and I suspect it will do the same when it arrives on US roads in the spring. On the luxury coupe continuum, this car's visuals are more dynamic and adventuresome than BMW's 4 Series, yet they're far more conservative than the mad slashings of Lexus' RC.

The new A5's view is certainly nicer from behind the wheel, too. There's the not-too-high beltline helping avoid the feelings of claustrophobia that can creep in with some coupes, aided by surprisingly slim A pillars.

The all-new dashboard helps reinforce a feeling of spaciousness, too, a byproduct of its slim design, enabled by an 8.3-inch freestanding central infotainment screen and a long, all-but-uninterrupted band of air vents. Small details including a bezel-less rearview mirror add to the airy nature of the cabin, which is itself slightly larger thanks to the car's longer wheelbase. The moonroof now slides back properly, too, a welcome improvement over the original A5's frustrating tilt-only unit.

Cabin materials are all top-notch, as is the available tech, which includes Audi's optional 12.3-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster display known as the Virtual Cockpit. It's a system we Roadshow editors have fallen hard for in the TT sports car and A4 sedan, and it's excellent here, too. In fact, the whole interior draws heavily from the new B9-generation A4, which makes sense, as the two ride atop versions of the same MLB EVO modular chassis. Make no mistake, this is the segment's best-appointed interior.

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The A5's body sides feature much more sharply defined character lines.

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It's also one of the most pleasant cars in its class to drive.

While in its home market the A5 will have no fewer than five engine choices (three diesel and two gas), in the States, we'll be limited to the Volkswagen Group's well-known 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. (The uplevel S5 gets a forced-induction 3.0-liter V-6 as before, but this time it's turbocharged instead of supercharged.) This is no bad thing, as the TFSI four is a torque monster, putting up 273 pound-feet of the stuff from just 1,600 rpm, with peak horsepower -- 252 -- coming in at 5,000 rpm.

As is evident from those numbers, this little engine pulls from a stop like a freight train, with barely a whisper of turbo lag, aided by omnipresent grip from the A5's standard Quattro all-wheel-drive system. While a traditional six-speed manual will be available, I was only able to sample the car with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

With the A5's arrival in American showrooms still so far away, there are no official EPA fuel estimates yet. But Audi claims the new model will be around 20 percent more fuel efficient than the existing generation, which netted ratings of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 highway.

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Audi's 2.0-liter turbo four returns with more power -- 252 hp and 273 pound-feet of torque.

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Thanks to a blanket of sound-deadening material, the four-cylinder -- along with everything else in the car -- is impressively quiet, although if you use the paddle shifters to keep the engine in its upper rev range, it doesn't respond with the most sonorous of backing vocals. The DCT's programming is good enough that even enthusiasts caning this coupe down their favorite backroad will likely be better served by leaving the gearshift lever stuck in D, but quick manual changes are but a paddle-flex away. Annoyingly, however, even with the now-standard Drive Select system pegged in Dynamic mode, the transmission won't hold gears at redline.

The A5 is quite enjoyable to throw around corners, too. Quattro's default orders call for sending 60 percent of available torque to the rear wheels and up to 85 percent when called for, all of which helps this coupe feel more lively and willing to change direction when hurtling down twisty roads. Its electric power steering system still isn't particularly communicative while doing so, however, even with its optional variable-ratio hardware.

Feedback aside, the A5's steering is pleasingly accurate and nicely weighted, and the whole car feels lighter on its wheels and more balanced, because it is. Despite having a longer wheelbase, bigger overhangs and more equipment, the new car is actually lighter by up to 130 pounds, and you can feel it.

One area where the old A5 had clearly fallen behind is in the availability of advanced driver assistance systems. Some items, like blind-spot detection, were appended to the first-generation model over its nine-year lifespan, but semi-autonomous features remained unavailable.

Among other things, the new A5 includes active cruise control with a traffic jam assist feature, along with lane-keep assist, rear-cross-traffic alert, pre-collision warning and auto-brake. The cruise control incorporates a forward-facing camera to monitor and adjust to speed limits in an effort to keep the police's blue party lights from filling your rearview mirror.

There's valuable additional interior convenience technology, too, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, along with a wireless charging pad located below the center armrest. It's an impressive roster of equipment.

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The A5's new rear features LED tail lamps with dynamic sweeping turn signals.

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The popularity of traditional luxury coupes has ebbed thanks to the rise of four-door coupes and the proliferation of crossover SUVs, but slipping behind the wheel of a proper two-door coupe still reveals myriad charms, especially when they're as good as this Audi.

Even if Audi manages to price its new A5 similarly than the outgoing car -- roughly $41,000 to start -- this new A5 probably won't post huge sales gains over its predecessor. That doesn't mean, however, that it's not a comprehensively better car in virtually every respect, from dynamics and efficiency to interior tech and active safety.

If you dismissed the 2017 A5 upon first sight because it looked too similar to its precursor, well...know that it's worth a closer look.

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