Audi S5

At the media drive event for its new A5 and S5 coupes, Audi repeatedly proclaimed the cars to be design icons, as if looking to imbue them with an ineffable status. When Ingolstadt trotted out the first A5 at the 2007 Geneva auto show, jaws quietly dropped.

It was a subtle car; its sinew was suggested, rather than paraded. It was an undoubtedly lovely automobile. Fine to drive, too, especially in manual-transmission S5 form, where it took on the character of a quietly brutish hooligan, more back-of-the-pub rude boy than flamboyant Ted or greased-up rocker.

This new S5, though, is more overt, its aggressively furrowed hood pulled down over its squat shield grille. From the side, the original car’s fine character line has been exaggerated into an overly defined, wavy crease that pulls double duty as the hood’s shutline—it seems a more impressive manufacturing feat than an aesthetic one. In back, Audi makes a big deal of its “3D” LED taillights, which look to be victims of a kick to the rump. In short, it comes across as a study after a masterpiece, bereft of fresh ideas. Audi’s bold claims on the design’s behalf had us looking at the car with more scrutiny and, at least at first glance, seeing more a caricature of its predecessor than a new icon. This design may yet grow on us, but it certainly doesn’t create the slack-jawed reaction the first one did.

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