Audi has lobbed with a slicker, more stylish and tech-laden petrol and diesel A7 Sportback range. Just don't call it a hybrid...
I decided that, for once, I would give particular credence to a carmaker’s communication and marketing ‘message’ of a new model, so as to frame up what it is in order to assess if it’s any good.
As a journalist, I ordinarily take cursory note of this message, apply much salt, then report to readers that black is black when the message aims to convince that black is actually white. Devil’s advocate and the voice of doubt and reason wedged between product and consumer: that’s the job. To simply regurgitate the message – hello influencers – isn’t my role in the plot.
It could be easy to miss the point of the 2019 Audi A7 Sportback. Its maker’s product portfolio is a huge matrix with much of the style, size and segment pigeonholes firmly plugged, and it might be remiss to presume its “all-new” line is merely another lengthened take on the A4 or A5 with a six-figure price tag. A similar claim can be made of the new A6, after all, and that's a model this new A7 shares plenty with.
There are exciting, unique, unprecedented facets, I’m promised: specific stuff targeting specific buyers.
The A7 Sportback introduces new twists to the Audi brand portfolio. Along with the A6, it debuts a new numeric naming structure – a 45, 50 and 55, bottom to top in powertrain and spec hierarchy – and presents a vastly more streamlined approached to options where, for this model line at least, there’s only one upgrade package per variant.
Like ’Benz’s newly revised nomenclature methodology, Audi's former change will likely confuse customers (and journos alike), while the latter concept – a single Premium Plus cost-option package – is a real boon. Add only a few other upgrades, such as four-wheel steering and 'Matrix LED with laser light' headlights, and Audi can now more easily keep supply of fuller ranges and deliver cars to buyers with a slimmer prospect of delay.
“Buyers have no desire to configure their cars,” says Audi Australia. “They want their cars immediately.”
Those buyers? They’re mostly married (89 per cent) males (88 per cent), professional (72 per cent) with mostly private (62 per cent) usage who, if traditional A7 buyer trends continue, hold design, luxury, tech and driving fun as the main reasons for purchase… And aren’t simply chasing a stretched five-door A4 on a leisurely budget. Stands to reason, then, that these four areas are where the new-gen A7 Sportback needs to lift its game in order to become a critical success, right?
Choice? Three variants, kicking off with the 45 TFSI quattro at $113,900 list, with a 2.0-litre turbo four making 180kW/370Nm and ticks the requisite tech and luxury boxes confidently in standard spec by bundling in adaptive suspension, 20-inch wheels, a dual haptic touchscreen cabin revamp, a ‘large’ Virtual Cockpit digital display, top-spec Valcona leather trim, and a vast array of active convenience and safety gear. That Premium Plus option costs a further $6500 and adds 21s, a panoramic glass roof, four-zone climate control, extended upholstery kit and fancy 30-colour cabin lighting goodness.
Both the 210kW/610Nm diesel-powered 50 TDI quattro and the 250kW/500Nm 3.0-litre petrol six-banging 55 TFSI quattro lob at $131,900 list apiece and, powertrain lifts apart, also add HD Matrix LED headlights and funky ‘light animation’ (strobing and whatnot) front and rear, as well as sporty S Line accoutrements inside and out, electric steering column adjustment and fancy B&O 17-speaker 3D surround sound. The Premium Plus upgrade is $8000 for either, the $1500 extra sting adding additional adaptive air suspension goodness beyond other features mentioned above.
At the local launch, the only version on show to sample was the high-spec 55 petrol version – or Audi A7 Sportback 55 TFSI quattro S tronic in full – with the primo pack fitted that, with a nominal $2500 extra splurge for the excellent Matrix LED with laser light option, lifts as-tested pricing to $142,400 before on-roads.
Squint in twilight and you might mistake it for the old A7, but its design is all new across every surface. A longer wheelbase, wider track, broader single-frame face, ‘power dome’ bonnet stying, and more pronounced front guards and rear haunches provide a subtle, more squat aesthetic. It’s a handsome specimen with ample devil in detail, from the sculpted and techy headlight and tail-light treatments to the removal of exhaust outlets that, instead, exit under the rear diffuser.
It’s more a design sea change inside. Gone is the circular horizon line of old, replaced by lots of block surfaces with myriad steps and edges, anchored in a theme Audi calls Black Panel. This features broad glossy and metallic surfaces that ape smartphones, and conforms with the current trend away from dedicated buttons – replaced by slick haptic touch controls anchored in neat dual stacked touchscreens. “Futuristic lounge-like ambience,” is Audi’s buzz phrase.
The cabin makeover works a treat and is quite the A7 highlight. I’ve always been first in line to give Audi a kick for being unadventurous in differentiating its cabin designs across model ranges, but this is quite a distinctive departure that plays on upmarket techiness with convincing delivery. It’s not just the lashings of metal, those screens and their razor-sharp graphics, but also the more ornate door trims, the funky flat-bottom wheel, frameless rear-view mirror and lovingly supple Valcona leather, decoratively stitched front and back, where the large five-door really feels six-figure luxurious.
If there’s a slight markdown in-cabin it’s that, despite cleaning up the button frenzy, the car’s various displays are still information overloaded, even after a good fiddle attempting to configure them into simpler and cleaner themes. And, as a nitpick, there remains that annoying driver’s dead pedal set far too deeply into the footwell.
There’s a nominal 21mm increase in cabin length, and it is roomier by the tape measure, though row two really only shines in a plus-two format where knee, shoulder and elbow room are generous, but the coupe-style roof line does make head room a little cosy. Three adults across is a bit of a squeeze.
Our optioned test cars get full four-zone climate control – it’s three zones standard – with dedicated fan and temp controls all round, dual USB ports in the back to match up front, plus 12V outlets in both row two and the boot space, which is incredibly deep in length and converts 535 litres to 1390L with the 40:20:40 rear seatback folded flat. The powered and gesture-controllable tailgate, too, has a massive opening for ease of access. And as an all-round package, the Sportback five-door format makes for a more compellingly practical solution than that of a sedan of similar size.
So, the good ship A7 Sportback is sailing nicely indeed on the seas of design, luxury and tech, if in a direction straight towards an iceberg with ‘driving’ writ large across its dangerous surface.
Audi calls the A7 Sportback a “mild hybrid”. It even has a catchy ‘MHEV’ acronym, ‘mild hybrid electric vehicle’, so as not to misconstrue what the term ‘hybrid’ specifically relates to. But here’s the problem. It’s. Not. A. Bloody. Hybrid. Not even close. The A7 Sportback is as much a mild hybrid as it is, say, a mild aeroplane.
Let’s be perfectly clear. There is absolutely no electric motivation. There is no electric motor. Be it petrol or diesel, any of the three variants currently on sale is propelled solely and exclusively by fuel and the internal combustion process.
What the A7 Sportback – and, for the record, A8 sedan – has is a clever and techy coasting feature that uncouples the engine from the drivetrain on the move once the throttle is lifted. It’s a similar function to that found in the very non-hybrid Porsche 911 Turbo.
Audi’s system goes further by adding a Stop-Start feature (not uncommon in un-hybrid motoring) that shuts the engine down while the car is coasting. To quickly and smoothly restart the engine in any situation, Audi adds a 48-volt electrical system (in V6) with a large battery pack and a belt alternator starter that recoups an impressive 12kW of power. Great stuff, with a claimed average 0.7L/100km fuel-saving benefit. But precisely none of the electrical system contributes to forward motion.
The powertrain it actually uses is great. The ‘55’ spec is a new name for a familiar 3.0-litre single-turbocharger V6 favourite adopted liberally across the VAG group landscape. Its 500Nm clocking on responsively at just 1370rpm, thrusting the five-door’s considerable 1890kg kerb weight forth assertively towards a claimed best 0–100km/h sprint of 5.3 seconds. There’s no perceivable dip in thrust between the 4500rpm peak torque ceiling and the full 250kW of power at 5000rpm, and there’s a nice, dignified, muted hum as the seven-speed dual-clutch nips its upshifts cleanly around the engine’s 6500rpm redline.
Sure, there’s no high-performance fanfare, but this version promises no emphatically sporty ‘S’ or hardcore ‘RS’ pretension. In fact, as a powertrain spec, the flagship petrol trim offers a balance of muscle and civility that perfectly fits the more tempered sports grand-touring theme this car aims to capture.
With the Premium Pack’s continually adaptive air suspension and 21s fitted, if without the optional four-wheel-steering smarts, the jury is out on the A7 Sportback’s ultimate dynamic potential. But in assessing what’s at hand, the car-sickeningly twisty route of Mount Nebo and Mount Glorious west of Brisbane, Queensland, probably doesn’t shine the most positive light on what’s clearly a large, comfort-leaning package.
Hooking through a relentless barrage of tight corners, the chassis offers ample road-holding grip and composure, tracking faithfully and accurately to steering input, and offering surprisingly assertive and fatigue-free braking power on the long, steep downhill run out of the mountain and into the D’Aguilar State Forest. Point to point, it happily generates satisfyingly brisk pace, but there’s a little too much mass and inertia at play to deliver a genuine sports car experience.
The key shortcomings in the thrills department are steering feel and the lateral support from the front seats, though the Dynamic drive mode in use, which is a bit softer, rounder and less frenetic than found on RennSport-badged Audis, is really key to the pleasant grand-touring temperament. I’m left wondering if the ‘regular’ steel-sprung, 20-inch-wheel architecture and 4WS smarts might inject a bit more fizz into the dynamic vibe; though, as is, it’s quite the neat and disciplined back-road bomber.
Around town, including a good dose of Brisbane CBD peak-hour, it’s impressively comfortable and unflustered where it counts – at low-speed ride compliance and powertrain response. The A7 Sportback boasts some 39 different driver-assistance systems, and there was little opportunity to test their integrity during our manicured drive program.
While I’m unable to report whether Turn Assist, Swerve Assist, Exit Warning, Efficiency Assist, Emergency Assist and whatnot function as designed, the Audi seems pleasantly bereft of false positives or hyperactivity. Although, I can say the Active Lane Keep, like most other applications on the market, fails to be anything other than a hindrance along a mountain road.
Where the A7 Sportback feels most at home is, unsurprisingly, eating up the kilometres as a long-distance tourer. It rewards with a nice, quiet and calming ambience free of much in the way of noise penetration as a trade for not possessing much of a muscular vibe. But then again, it’s delivering its best where it promises most.
After a cursory steer, I’m inclined to believe Audi has indeed delivered on its claims of high-brow design, luxury, tech and driving fun – or perhaps, more accurately, satisfaction – with the new A7 Sportback. Well, at least most of them.