The facelifted 2014 Audi A7 Sportback is less about major change and more about detail improvements and a pricing structure shift that will see entry to the edgy five-door ‘coupe’ fall by about $20K when it arrives locally later this year.
The $140K 3.0 TFSI petrol model will remain, but the 3.0 TDI diesel that currently opens the A7 Sportback range will lose some power, gain efficiency, and drop to around $120K, leaving some space for the carry-over $160K bi-turbo diesel range-topper.
The duo of 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engines in the A7 Sportback range include the new entry A7 which generates 160kW and 500Nm, down 20kW from before but with unchanged torque. Meanwhile the flagship twin-turbocharged version now produces 235kW (up 5kW) but also with an unchanged 650Nm.
Squeezed in between is the 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol A7 Sportback that now claims 245kW (up 14kW) but an unchanged 440Nm.
Performance increases and consumption falls across the board.
In fact the entry diesel, despite its all-wheel drive hardware (that usually adds consumption) claims to sip just 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres – fully 0.8L better than the current most frugal A7. The twin-turbo diesel drops an incremental 0.3L to 6.1L/100km, but it’s actually the petrol V6 that gains a 1.1L improvement to 7.6L/100km thanks to a new design that sees the supercharger deactivated at loads below 250Nm.
Even the new entry diesel gets from standstill to 100km/h in a peppy, claimed 6.8 seconds, compared with 5.2sec for the bi-turbo, and a near-identical 5.3sec for the supercharged petrol.
At the international launch in Denmark, however, we were only able to drive a couple of models not quite to Australian specification – the base A7 was front-wheel drive with 100Nm less torque and a 4.7L/100km claim, while the A7 bi-turbo included a Competition package not slated for our country, although it only adds a modest 5kW.
Beyond the new headlights, there isn’t much external change to the facelifted A7 Sportback. Nor inside, where only the keenly trained eye of an A7 owner may notice the new transmission shifter and trim grain changes.
There are technological differences, though. Audi’s matrix LED headlights are now available in the A7 Sportback, which work with active high-beam assistant to detect oncoming cars or cars in front, and then deactivate the portion of beam that affects each car, retaining a flood of high-beam light everywhere else. In each headlight there are 19 clusters of intensely-packed light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that can individually be switched off or dimmed in 64 stages to eliminate glare for other road users.
If you switch on the indicator in the facelifted A7 Sportback, the 13 LEDs that make up each blinker light up sequentially from the tailgate outward rather than simply flash on and off.
Open the pillar-less doors of the A7 Sportback and the interior remains lavish enough to feel beyond its price point, with lovely textures, lush leather and superb plastics quality.
The A7 Sportback is the first Audi to run brand new Nvidia hardware for its Audi Connect system, which in addition to many features already sampled including Google and Wikipedia search capabilities and 3D and Streetview mapping (see our full Audi Connect Review here) also joins the Audi A3 in including LTE network capability, though it’s yet to be approved for Oz.
Audi says social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter have now been better integrated, with the system continuing to allow you to read, write or store texts and emails. The latest Audi Connect also features two new services – Online Music Streaming, a home-brand app that works like Pandora and Spotify, and a Voice Assistant that teams up with smartphone voice recognition programs such as Siri for iPhone. Again, however, Audi Australia can’t yet confirm whether these will work locally.
The centre screen, which elegantly slides out from above the air vents, is at 8.0-inches not as large as those found in BMW and Mercedes-Benz rivals. However the screen is high-resolution, the graphics are top-notch, and access to Audi Connect via a large touchpad and shortcut rocker switches is superbly intuitive.
There is decent rear legroom, but not an abundance considering the A7 Sportback body stretches to 5.0 metres, beyond that of a Holden Commodore that’s far roomier in the rear. Headroom from that sharply descending roofline is also affected to some degree, with my 178cm-tall frame just missing the roof lining – anyone taller may have to crouch forward. Test cars at the launch came with only two seat belts at the rear, but it’s understood Audi will continue to offer the A7 Sportback with five seats.
There continues to be practicality benefits to the A7 Sportback as well as styling ones. Volume of 535 litres is about average for a large sedan, but the fact the rear tailgate lifts as a complete hatchback unit including the glass, makes loading larger items in and out much easier. Fold the 60:40 split rear backrest down and volume expands to 1390L, though snow-goers will have to option (at least overseas) a centre-section port for load-through versatility without forcing out outboard passengers.
First up in the A7 front-driver, and the first thing that comes to mind is that this is a sweet cruiser of balanced abilities. It has 400Nm, which as mentioned is 100Nm less than we’ll get locally, yet it’s plenty enough to feel brisk, if not fast. The seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox is a slick operator, but we'll score an eight-speed automatic for our all-wheel drive versions in Oz. The V6 diesel is much smoother than, for example, the 2.1-litre twin-turbo diesel you get in the Mercedes-Benz CLS250 CDI, which incidentally also produces 500Nm. When it launches early next year, that similarly-priced arch rival will claim to be more economical (5.0L/100km) but is slower (7.7sec 0-100km/h).
The optional adaptive air suspension fitted to our test car provides lush enough ride quality in its normal mode to fool you into thinking it was riding on more sensible tyres than the aggressive 40-aspect 19-inch Pirellis fitted. There’s a bit of floatiness in comfort mode, but at the other end of the scale, a firm dynamic setting doesn’t ruin the ride. Thanks to tight suspension and plenty of grip, the baby of the A7 range feels enjoyable enough to back its sharp looks, never feeling emasculated nor obviously the poverty-pack grade.
Stepping into the A7 bi-turbo is something else, though. This is the diesel to make a driver never choose petrol again, such is its vibrant, throaty bark, which comes in two stages of refinement depending on whether you have the exhaust set to sports mode and its inner flaps are open. There’s lovely throttle response, torque everywhere, and even a keen-ness to rev – it is one of the great diesels.
The A7 bi-turbo we drove also had optional sport steering, which completely varies the ratio to reduce the twirling of arms around town. It works superbly enough to expose the standard A7 ultra steering as a bit less than great, tightening up the noticeable on-centre dead patch and generally feeling more alive, which in turn makes this large liftback feel smaller than it is. Also fitted was an optional sport differential that juggles torque between the rear wheels. Riding on 20-inch wheels, the handling is superb, yet ride quality barely suffers – there’s perhaps a tad extra intrusion.
The A7 bi-turbo also came overflowing with driver assistance technology, most of which will be optional locally. In addition to blind-spot assistance and active cruise control, there is also a night vision assistant (which uses a thermal imaging camera to highlight people and animals at up to 300 metres); lane keeping assistance (which detects white lines and helps move the steering to keep the A7 inside them); and pre-sense, which automatically brakes the car to avoid a collision below 20km/h, applies brakes with full force below 30km/h, and above that speed the system will brake with some force before full force is applied a half second before impact.
More than just a pair of new headlights, the facelifted Audi A7 Sportback has enough new technology and detail efficiency improvements to keep it competitive against the also-facelifted Mercedes-Benz CLS as a large sedan alternative. Between the new entry diesel and flagship bi-turbo, the buyer can use the range as if it were an abacus shifting gradually between luxury and sports, and in all instances doing it very well.