Audi takes on the Benz CLS with its own version of a four-door luxury \'coupe\'.
The Audi A7 Sportback is proof positive that the boys at Ingolstadt appear to be hell bent on filling every possible niche in the marketplace, even ones we didn’t think we needed.
What exactly is it? Who knows? Does anybody actually care? Audi seems to think so and, to be fair, rarely (if ever) puts a foot wrong these days, so maybe they’re onto something. From the new Audi A1 supermini to the genre-defining Audi R8 supercar and soft-roaders like the Q5 and Q7, Audi seemingly had all bases covered.
And the company bean counters obviously thought they needed to enlarge the already bewildering array of body styles available. The last count was 20 but watch this space.
Purporting to be a sporting, four-door coupe with a hatchback rear, the Audi A7 certainly makes a strong visual statement. It’s way better looking than the mish-mash that is BMW 5 Series GT and offers greater levels of practicality than the Mercedes CLS (both are undoubtedly the A7’s closest rivals) and it sits in size somewhere between the Audi A6 and the Audi A8.
It’s a big, bold car that cannot fail to grab your attention. And it’s actually the first of a new breed of Audi, introducing the platform that the next A6 will share so yes, it’s worthy of an in-depth examination on that basis alone.
Basically it’s a stretched version of the platform already used in the current Audi A4 and Audi A5. It’s a lightweight construction and permits the engines to be sited further back than before, which should improve the handling, but the whole car still weighs a not inconsiderable 1770kg. The body is made from a mixture of steel and aluminium panels.
Audi is at pains to point out the ‘passion’ in the A7’s design and proudly states that its huge radiator grille is unique to the model. Well, you could have fooled me because, from the front at least, the new Audi looks the same as any other, only much bigger.
The side profile is where things get a bit more unique and from the rear is where the A7 is best appreciated. It has an almost Aston stance and is quite handsome – if only they’d been a bit more brave at the front end.
Ignore the marketing waffle – for ‘Sportback’ read ‘Hatchback’. Obviously trying to distance the A7 from its more normal brethren in name, what this car offers is a remarkably practical, electrically operated rear tailgate. Behind it is an impressive load space of 535-litre load space that more than doubles to 1390 with the rear seats folded down.
Those rear seats, by the way, are a missed opportunity because there are only two, individually sculpted items where there really should be three.
Rear legroom is adequate for adults on longish journeys and, as a whole, the A7’s cabin is extremely well designed with high quality, tactile materials and ergonomics that could teach Mercedes a thing or two.
For tech fans there’s no shortage of delight, especially if one has plundered the extensive options list. Be warned, however, because if you spec the Audi A7 to the absolute hilt you’ll more than double the initial asking price and this would put it squarely into Porsche Panamera Turbo territory.
Toys on offer include a night-vision camera, radar cruise control, a head-up display that warns you if a hapless pedestrian wanders into the road in front of you, full internet browsing and a staggeringly good navigation system that’s hooked up to Google Maps.
There’s a touch pad adjacent to the gear shifter that you can scribble a phone number on with your index finger while the computer works out what you’re drawing, which seems quite unnecessary.
Tick the right option boxes and it’ll also reverse park for you, prevent you from straying out of your lane, side-illuminate crossroads as you travel across them, dim the lights when it knows you’re entering a town and apply full braking if you’re too slow to avoid rear-ending someone.
This is worrying. Sooner than we perhaps predicted, you won’t even need to steer an Audi or touch the throttle – you’ll be completely emasculated, simply along for the ride. The machines will have taken complete control. Can the A7 manage to dispel those fears and deliver some much needed thrills for its driver? Time to press the starter button and find out.
The Audi A7 is available in other markets with front-wheel drive and a range of engines, though in Australia there's simply the choice between 3.0-litre six-cylinder all-wheel-drives that are either fed with petrol or diesel.
The Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TDI quattro starts from $137,750 and the Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TFSI quattro from $143,800.
Being a front-wheel drive 201bhp V6, I expected the A7 to be more sprightly that it actually is. It’s terminally boring, feels underpowered, sounds rough when you floor it (something you need to do to get it to move) and kick-down makes the engine shout a lot but doesn’t seem to make it any quicker. Best avoided, then. The 300bhp 3.0 TFSI, thankfully, is an altogether different beast.
Only available with quattro four-wheel drive and Audi’s excellent seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission, the supercharged petrol V6 immediately feels sporting, delivering the kind of hit promised by its sleek, masculine exterior. The V6 sounds gruff though still highly refined and the supercharger whine that blights so many cars is conspicuous only by its absence.
Floor the throttle, take control with the steering wheel shift paddles and this thing guns down the road like a teenager on a promise.
Go for the diesel, and you'll find a smooth performer that is still decently quick and while slower than the petrol A7 offers superior fuel economy (6.0 v 8.2L/100km).
Grip, predictably, is monumental and cornering is flat and true, inspiring massive levels of confidence from driver and passenger alike. Select the Sport setting on the Drive-Select system and the ride becomes firmer.
Never truly harsh but probably a bit tiring for long trips and the steering feels a bit too light when pressing on, but in all honesty it provides all the performance most potential A7 owners will ever require. And, if you fancy the looks but want a properly mental experience, there’s bound to be an RS7 appearing sometime soon. Now that really would be an awesome piece of kit.
For all its technical wizardry and inherent levels of safety, somewhere along the line Audi is forgetting to involve the driver with the A7. Which is a pity.
The Audi A7 Sportback is still an accomplished car, though. Brilliantly engineered, and beautifully designed inside and out, it is a strong rival for the car that started this trend - the Mercedes-Benz CLS.