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New Audi A7 Sportback review – four-door coupe falls short of all-round excellence

Antony Ingram
7 Feb 2018
Verdict:

The new Audi A7 technologically bests its predecessor and rivals, but poor ride detracts from the luxury feel

Evo Rating: 
Price: 
From £55,140
For 
Exterior styling, interior design, refinement
Against 
Poor ride, dull dynamics
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Audi says its new A7 combines the elegance of a coupe, the functionality of an Avant estate, and the prestige of a luxury saloon in one convenient package. Reading between the lines, it’s difficult not to imagine that in trying to combine the qualities of three cars it will end up being slightly worse than all of them at those respective disciplines.

The company has surprised us in the past however and the original A7 remains one of the more successful proponents of the four-door coupe genre. In styling terms alone the latest A7 lives up to its predecessor, despite a this being a busier market these days, but style can only go so far – the A7 needs to work on the road, too.

Engine, transmission and 0-62mph

At launch Audi will offer a pair of engines in the A7 Sportback, both displacing three litres, both V6, but one running on petrol and the other diesel. We’re familiar with both now, as they’re used widely elsewhere in the Audi range, and predictably Audi expects around 80 per cent of A7 sales to go to the diesel when it lands in the UK.

Both are competitive in terms of power and torque, the 3-litre TFSI (badged 55 TFSI) making 335bhp and 369lb ft of torque, and the 3-litre diesel (50 TDI) producing a lower 282bhp but a meaty 457lb ft. While both send their power to all four wheels, the route there is different for each. The TFSI gets a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, but the diesel, on account of its extra torque, uses the eight-speed ZF torque-converter auto used widely across the industry.

Those power figures are reflected in the cars’ respective performance numbers. The petrol is quickest off the mark, crossing the 62mph barrier in 5.3sec, four tenths ahead of the diesel. Both are limited to 155mph at the top end, and while combined economy and CO2 figures haven’t yet been confirmed for the diesel, the petrol is claimed to achieve 40.4mpg (on 19in wheels; 39.8mpg on 20in wheels) with 158g/km of CO2 (161g/km on 20s).

Machinerynical highlights

Much of the A7’s technology has filtered down from the larger A8. Four-wheel steering is one component, turning the rear wheels by up to five degrees in the opposite direction at low speeds to improve manoeuvrability, and up to two degrees in the same direction at higher speeds for improved stability and response at higher speeds.

A7s also use 48-volt mild hybrid technology as standard, with a belt-driven alternator-starter and a small lithium-ion battery hidden under the luggage compartment that can recuperate energy under braking or coasting and firing up the engine as part of a start-stop system. The system can also shut down the engine when coasting for further fuel savings, while a regular pinion starter motor is included for cold starts.

Inside, the A7 Sportback’s interior is much like that of the A8, most notably using a pair of touchscreens on the centre console (10.1in for the upper screen, 8.6in for the lower) to handle most minor functions. They use haptic feedback to simulate real buttons (quite convincingly, actually) and respond to smartphone-style prods, pinches and swipes.

What’s it like to drive?

The balance of luxury and dynamism you expect from a car like this is a hard one to achieve, and unfortunately, Audi hasn’t quite managed it – with the caveat that all cars on the launch were equipped with both adaptive air suspension and dynamic all-wheel steering, both of which are optional rather than standard. We also tried cars on both 20in and 21in wheels.

On the air suspension, the ride quality falls some way short of what we’d expect from a car of this type. Even in its most comfortable setting, the A7 never really settles other than on the smoothest surfaces, and the constant joggling on rougher roads isn’t just surprisingly uncomfortable, but also sends a resonance through the shell that compromises the otherwise excellent refinement.

Switch to Dynamic mode and the A7 doesn’t ride a great deal worse, but nor does it turn into a sports saloon. Even with the rear-wheel steering, the A7 doesn’t feel all that agile – curiously so, since a similar system did make the larger A8 feel more nimble than you’d expect for such a large car. And while the launch roads in South Africa don’t necessarily show a car off in its best light, the A7 also subtly but noticeably wandered on the motorway – a demerit to the otherwise accurate (if feel-free) steering.

It’s not all bad news. The cabin is fantastic and that double touchscreen system among the easiest of its type to operate safely. The seats are comfortable and the driving position can be adjusted just-so. In addition, resonances aside, the A7 is otherwise very quiet – acoustic glazing keeps wind noise to an absolute minimum, tyre noise is relatively low, and the petrol and diesel engines are hushed at a cruise.

The petrol feels like the engine you’d pick if fuel costs aren’t a factor. It feels more than quick enough, is tuneful if not stirring, and pulls consistently and smoothly to the red line. The diesel feels stronger for a brief few moments in the mid-range, as you’d expect, but doesn’t react as keenly and runs out of interest if you try and extend it further – though the gravelly tone lower down isn’t unpleasant. Gearchanges from the two different transmissions are smooth too, though changes in the dual-clutch car are ever so slightly more noticeable than those of the ZF models.

Given the slightly disappointing behaviour of both air-suspended, four-wheel steered cars, we’ll reserve final judgement until we’ve had the opportunity to drive cars on regular adaptive suspension and conventional steering.

Price and rivals

UK customers will have the option of either Sport or S Line trim, and the two engine options when the car goes on sale. Pricing for the TDI hasn’t yet been confirmed, but the petrol Sport will begin at £55,140, while S Line will lift that to £58,040. S7 and RS7 versions are likely in future.

That pricing puts the A7 Sportback roughly on par with its closest rivals. Audi marks out the Mercedes-Benz CLS 450 4Matic in AMG Line trim (£57,610) as the nearest competitor to the 55 TFSI S Line, as well as two BMWs – the 640i Gran Turismo (previously 5-series GT) with xDrive coming in at £57,570, and the 640i Gran Coupe in similar trim but rear-wheel drive, at £64,680.

The Mercedes is quickest, the Audi most frugal, the rear-drive BMW the lightest, and each is as likely to be chosen on its badge or styling as any objective measure. The Gran Coupe is by a small margin the drivers’ choice of the group and rides a little more fluently than the Audi too – though no car in this group stands head and shoulders above the others overall.

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